Monday, May 24, 2021

Defeating the Science of Reading Narrative, Part 4: Addressing School Boards, Legislatures and the Public

This series of posts has taken aim at the false Science of Reading (SOR) narrative that posits that the Simple View of Reading (SVR; Gough and Turner, 1986) is the scientifically proven best way to teach reading and all schools and all teachers should be adopting it. The first post in the series showed that SOR was far from settled science. The next three posts addressed ways to defeat this narrative by first focusing on the individual child, then talking to parents about the child, and then working with colleagues to improve everyone's breadth of understanding of the issues. In this post, I would like to address the need for teacher advocacy on the political level. Several respondents to the previous posts have noted that school boards and legislators are forcing the SOR instructional design on teachers through policy and legislation. Neither the school board members nor legislators are the professionals here. Neither is the journalist, Emily Hanford, who first brought the SOR narrative to the public in a misguided and misleading editorial in 2018. 

It is past time for the professionals to push back. Here is what I would say to SOR zealots. Please use any of this that you think would be useful in your own situation with school boards, or legislatures, with parent advocacy groups, or as an editorial in the local newspaper.

Dear ______________

The American journalist, essayist and social critic, H. L. Mencken once said, "For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." I come to you today because I believe the currently proposed Science of Reading approach to literacy instruction is one of those clear, simple, and very wrong answers. The recent discussion of the best way to teach reading which has gained so much currency in the media, among parent groups, and in state legislatures needs to be clarified. The Science of Reading is based on a flawed model of instruction that has been around for almost 100 years and that has been tested and found wanting over all that time. The current Science of Reading rage is based on The Simple View of Reading from the work of theorists Gough and Turners in 1986. Since that time we have learned that the Simple View of Reading, which says that reading is simply a matter of decoding words and comprehending language, is overly simplistic.  Reading is a much more complex activity than the simple view would have us believe. As Duke and Cartwright have stated in a recent article in the Reading Research Quarterly, "Dictating a narrow instructional practice based on this Simple View of Reading leaves educators ill-prepared to understand and identify instructional targets for poor comprehenders with grade-appropriate decoding and listening-comprehension."

If the simple view is, indeed, too simple, what does a more complete view look like? The aforementioned Duke and Cartwright offer a more complete model that they call the active view of reading. In the active view of reading we find four distinct elements of a more complete model of reading and reading instruction. These four include 1) motivation and engagement 2) word recognition 3) language comprehension and 4)  bridging processes . Motivation and engagement involves the reader in actively using a variety of strategies to improve their own reading. As the term motivation implies, this means that students must develop the desire to practice reading. Word recognition includes all the abilities we usually think of as necessary for decoding words such as phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle. Language comprehension involves the prior knowledge and reasoning ability required to understand what is read. Bridging processes help readers connect words and meaning. These bridging activities include fluency, vocabulary knowledge, and flexibility in problem solving novel words. 

The active reading model holds out greater promise for successful literacy learning for all students. It also provides a more complete model for teacher professional development. With this more complete model as a guide, school leaders, administrators, and teachers can build a more complete picture of the reading process and guide more children toward both the skill to read well and the will to read well.

I urge you, as you consider what is best for the literacy instruction of all children, to take this broader, more inclusive view of the reading process. Simple answers are appealing, but a more nuanced view of the issues is more likely to lead to lasting success.

As we talk to Science of Reading advocates, let's be armed with a clear and much better alternative. Duke and Cartwright's Active Model of Reading provides the kind of balanced take on the issue I believe we can all rally around. Let's not allow this narrative  to be dominated by journalists and politicians. As professionals, we have a responsibility to make our voices heard.

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