Scientific research has shown how children learn to read and how they should be taught. But many educators don't know the science and, in some cases, actively resist it. As a result, millions of kids are being set up to fail.
United States


00:00:00for a long time and no one really knew how children learn to read it was more debates among people had philosophies lots of people believe that learning to read was as natural as learning to talk bye bye but it's not there's now been decades of scientific research this
00:00:17is the most studied aspect of human learning and yet across the United States schools aren't teaching reading in ways that line up with the science why is it so controversial shouldn't be but it is more than half of American kids are proficient readers I think it became easier
00:00:34to say well that's just the way it is the site shows pretty much everyone can learn to read if they're taught some schools are changing their ways we're going to start doing something today that we have not done before if it's brand %HESITATION today on the educate podcast
00:00:51we bring you the fourth and final program in our new season of education documentaries I'm Emily Hanford and this is hard words why aren't our kids being taught to read from a PM reports it was twenty fifteen and Jack silver had a problem he's the chief academic officer
00:01:08for the public schools in Bethlehem Pennsylvania and a lot of the kids in his schools were not reading while only fifty six percent of third graders were scoring proficient on the state reading test I didn't I didn't know what to do he knew nothing about how kids learn
00:01:22to read or how reading should be taught but he did know that even some older students were struggling with pretty basic stuff when it came to reading I was in middle school and high school teacher for many years and I could see students who had difficulty with breaking
00:01:38down individual words they come across a word they've never seen before and have no idea how to sound it out Kim Harper noticed the same thing she was a high school English teacher in Bethlehem and she says a disturbing number of her students were not very good readers
00:01:53even students and honors classes they didn't like to read they avoided reading they would tell me was too hard she didn't know what to do about it either so she kind of shrugged it off I think it became easier to say well that's just the way it is
00:02:05you're always gonna have experts scent of kids who is just going to be a a struggle for less than sixty percent of kids reading proficiently it wasn't shocking it's just the way things work it was always well that's not a reflection of Bethlehem that's a portion of us
00:02:20Mike fascinate %HESITATION is president of the Bethlehem school board well you know those kids our parents aren't around or maybe you don't have to parents or one parent may do a grandmother and that's the best they're gonna do it's true that the district's poorer schools have the worst
00:02:32reading scores there are lots of low income families here but their fancy homes here too and when she's academic officer Jack Silva was examining the reading scores he saw there were plenty of kids at the wealthier schools not reading very well either this was not just poverty since
00:02:49he knew nothing about reading he started searching online there's a whole lot of research about how kids learn to read there are thousands of studies this is Louisa moats she's been teaching and researching reading since then I eighteen seventies this is the most studied aspect of human learning
00:03:08one of the many things researchers have learned over the years is that virtually all kids can learn to read researchers have done studies in classrooms and clinics and they've shown over and over that somewhere between one and six percent of kids have such severe learning disabilities that they
00:03:25will probably always struggle with reading but everyone else can learn to read if they are taught the problem is lots of kids aren't being taught at least not in ways that line up with what science says about how children learn to read the results more than six in
00:03:44ten fourth graders in the United States are not proficient readers thirty million adults struggle to read a basic passage of text and this is not just a poverty problem one third of struggling readers are from college educated families from eight PM reports this is hard words why aren't
00:04:07our kids being taught to read kids who struggle to read are more likely to drop out of high school they're more likely to end up in the criminal justice system they're more likely to live in poverty when they grow up but we shouldn't have so many struggling readers
00:04:22over the coming hour we're gonna find out why we're gonna learn what typical reading instruction in American schools is like and why it's wrong we're gonna hear what scientists have discovered about how the brain learns to read and how kids should be taught based on that science and
00:04:38we're going to investigate why teachers and schools don't notice science and what needs to be done to change that we're going back now to Bethlehem Pennsylvania to find out what the chief academic officer Jack Silva decided to do about all those struggling readers in his school's he knew
00:04:58he had to do something it was really neat looking herself in the mirror and say less than sixty percent of third graders and me being the chief academic officer was just okay let's let's go let's do something differently Jack Silva hired some people to help him and Kim
00:05:14Harper was one of them she's a high school English teacher you heard a moment ago one of her first assignments was to tour Bethlehem sixteen elementary schools and find out what were the teachers doing how are they teaching kids to read she went to a professional development day
00:05:29at one of the district's lowest performing elementary schools and they were talking about how kids attack words and a story when a child came to a word he didn't know the teacher would tell him to look at the picture and gas the most important thing was for the
00:05:45child to understand the meaning of the story so if the kid came to the word horse I can read that as house it's wrong but if the kids at pony it be right because pony horse mean the same thing Kim Harper was shocked first of all pony and
00:06:01horse don't mean the same thing plus what do you do when you're reading a book that doesn't have any pictures the teachers describe their approach to reading instruction as balanced literacy Jim Harper didn't really know what that meant but our colleague Jody Frank Kelly had heard lots about
00:06:19balanced literacy she was working with Harper to figure out what to do about reading she previously been a principal at one of Bethlehem's elementary schools Jody Frank Kelly says the main idea behind balanced literacy was give kids lots of good books and with some guidance and enough practice
00:06:35they become readers we never looked at brain research never brain research in the nineteen nineties scientists began figuring out ways to peer inside our brains and they learned a lot about how our brains learn to read the scientists were doing their research and labs that were sometimes right
00:06:56across the quad from schools of education but reading researchers and education researchers kind of live in separate universes they go to different conferences publishing different journals the big take away from all the scientific research on reading is that learning to read is not a natural process we are
00:07:15not born wired to read we are born wire to talk line yeah this is a toddler he's twenty months old it's actually my own son many years ago what's the sum of train me to kids learn to talk by being talked to being surrounded with spoken language that's
00:07:37all it takes no one has to teach them to talk by the time no no %HESITATION just my rubber Ducky that's my husband reading our son a story is pop in the cabinets no it's just my toothbrush and toothpaste all talking comes naturally reading doesn't our brains don't
00:08:05know how to do it that's because human beings didn't invent written language and tell a few thousand years ago and that's like last week in the course of human history be able to read structures in our brain that were designed for things such as object recognition have to
00:08:21get rewired but another big take away from decades of scientific research is that well we use our eyes to read the starting point for reading is sound what a child must do to become a reader is figure out how the words he hears and knows how to say
00:08:36connect to print on the page writing is a code humans invented to represent speech sounds and kids have to crack that code to become readers if you grew up in the nineteen seventies like I did you might have watch the Electric Company this is the part of the
00:08:59show I remember best silhouettes on each side of the screen would call out parts of words the letters that represent each part would flow out of the mouth of the silhouettes and blend together to make so to learn how to read they need to understand that words are
00:09:17made up of different speech sounds that's called for me Michael wariness once children are able to identify and manipulate the individual sounds and spoken words they can begin to understand how different letters and combinations of letters represent those sounds the producers of the Electric Company planted their flag
00:09:36firmly in the camp that said kids need good Finney Michael ware ness to be able to learn to read I use the word camp because back in the nineteen seventies there were two distinct factions when it came to beliefs about how kids learn to read they were mostly
00:09:51believes that that point because a lot of the science hadn't been done yet this is Louisa moats again it was more %HESITATION debates among people had philosophies Louisa moats was in the camp that believed in phonics that means teaching children how letters represent speech sounds the other camp
00:10:07believed in what is known as whole language this is mark Seidenberg he's a cognitive neuroscientist whole language essentially said if we create an and literacy region where it is highly motivating and provides the right sort of materials the children will figure out how reading books mark Seidenberg has
00:10:27been studying how children learn to read since the disco era that's how he puts it in his bio he says the core belief that underlies whole language is that reading comes naturally the essential idea is basically you learn by doing so the children are supposed to learn by
00:10:42doing not be told what to do so no phonics lessons for the whole language folks phonics was old fashioned kind of conservative in the nineteen seventies and eighties and nineties the big idea that took over in schools and colleges of education was the children don't need phonics in
00:11:01fact the belief was that phonics lessons might be bad for kids might get in the way of them developing a love of reading by making them focus on all these little tedious skills like breaking words into parts in whole language the battle was seen as are you in
00:11:16favor of literacy or are you in favor of skills and it was a battle people actually called it wore the reading wars it was an intense fight because whole language was more than just a set of beliefs about how kids learn to read it was a movement that
00:11:36said children and teachers needed to be freed from the tedium of skills based instruction the battle got so heated that Congress eventually got involved convening a national reading panel to review all the research on reading in two thousand the panel released its report the some of the research
00:11:55showed that explicitly and systematically teaching children the relationship between sounds and letters improves reading achievement there is no evidence to say the same about whole language non faced with all this evidence contradicting a very deeply held belief the educational establishment did an amazing thing they said balanced literacy
00:12:20balanced literacy that's the term the schools in Bethlehem were using after the national reading panel report in two thousand whole language proponents could no longer deny the importance of phonics but they didn't give up the reading programs they were selling and they didn't give up their core belief
00:12:37that learning to read is a natural process that occurs of kids are surrounded by good books instead they said let's do both a balance so whole language didn't disappear it just got re packaged and phonics was treated a bit like salt on a meal a little here and
00:12:54there but not too much because it could be bad for you mark Seidenberg knows of a child who was struggling so much with reading that her mother paid for a private tutor the tutor tauter some of the basic skills that child wasn't getting in her whole language classroom
00:13:09and at the end of the school year the teacher was proud that the child had made so much progress and the parents said will why didn't she teach this phonics than these other basic skills related to print in class and the teacher said %HESITATION I did your child
00:13:32was absent that day the problem with teaching just a little bit of phonics is that according to all the research phonics is crucial when it comes to learning how to read %HESITATION running kids with good books is a great idea but it's not the same as teaching children
00:13:51to read according to Marc Seidenberg the reading wars of the eighties and nineties are over and science lost the ideas that underlie whole language are still right now everywhere in American classrooms like that idea you heard earlier that if a kid comes to the war horse and says
00:14:09pony it's fine that comes from this whole language theory that reading doesn't involve exact detailed identification of letters and words instead the theory goes when readers come to a word they don't know they use context to figure out what the word is so if a child gets stuck
00:14:27on a word she's told re read the sentence think about a word that would make sense in the sentence look at the pictures she's told that's what good readers do but in fact that's not what good readers do studies that compare skilled readers to poor readers show that
00:14:44poor readers gas when they come forward they don't know because they have difficulty decoding when skilled readers control where they don't know they rapidly identify the sounds and letters in the word readers may guess at the meaning of the word but they don't gas at the print on
00:15:01the page we're going back to Bethlehem Pennsylvania now where balanced literacy was the prevailing approach to reading instruction and tell the district got serious about trying to do something about all those kids who are struggling with reading when landing I grant this is Kathy best she's walking the
00:15:21halls of calypso elementary where she's the principal back in twenty fifteen when Bethlehem realized it needed to change the way it taught reading district leaders decided the first step would be a series of trainings for all the principles of the district's sixteen elementary schools over the course of
00:15:37an entire school year the principles were going to be taught the reading science as it happened Kathy bast was out on medical leave when the trainings began but our colleagues warned her they said to me Cathy we know you you're not going to take well to this training
00:15:51the principles were learning about the importance of explicitly teaching children how to decode words and everyone was sure Kathy bass was going to resist they knew who I was and how reading was a passion and the to coding was never part of anything I ever did but Kathy
00:16:06bast had a secret even though she was known as the district's number one balanced literacy champion she had doubts before becoming a principal Kathy bass to better reading specialist it was her job to help struggling readers in her training to become a reading specialist she says she learned
00:16:25a lot about how to identify a child with a reading problem but she learned nothing about how to help a child actually learn to read I didn't know what to do except just give them more books and it wasn't working with time on our hands while she was
00:16:40on medical leave Kathy bast began reading about reading and she discovered the vast scientific literature and she returned to work from medical even joined her fellow principals in the trainings on the reading science she was ready to hear what the trainer had to say and it kind of
00:16:57blew her mind while we do okay let's go get that this the training the principles were doing used a curriculum written by Louisa moats you heard her earlier the curriculum is called language essentials for teachers of reading and spelling or letters for short the principles went through the
00:17:14training in twenty fifteen the kindergarten teachers went through at the next year then the district's first and second grade teachers did the training I got to sit in on it for part of the day blood morning everyone rating was led by Mary Jo Doniger she's an educational consultant
00:17:30which were doesn't begin with the same sound fury therefore fissile thinker therefore for children to clearly understand how letters represent speech sounds they need to be able to hear the speech sounds and teachers due to it's not always easy tell me the first sound you hear in Eunice
00:17:54new he yes before you get to the %HESITATION how bout Charlotte she once kids can isolate the sounds in a word their next task is to understand how letters represent those sounds in English we have forty four different speech sounds or phonemes each phoneme is represented by a
00:18:18letter or combinations of letters research shows when kids are explicitly taught how letters represent phonemes they become better readers phonics isn't enough kids can learn to decode words without knowing what the words mean to comprehend what they're reading kids need a good vocabulary to scientists came up with
00:18:43a model to explain the relationship between a person's ability to decode taxed and their ability to comprehend what they're reading scientists called it the simple view of reading and it's basically a math formula it says this reading comprehension equals decoding skills times language comprehension language comprehension is what
00:19:05develops naturally in children when people talk to them it's just my toothbrush and toothpaste all decoding is what kids have to be taught in some kids learn decoding quickly and easily others need much more instruction but a child who can't decode will never be a good reader because
00:19:29of that math formula zero times anything is zero in their training on the science of reading the teachers and principals in Bethlehem Pennsylvania learned about the simple view of reading and a lot more there's quite a bit to know about the structure of the English language to be
00:19:46able to teach it to little kids I sat down with three teachers who are in the first group to go through the training in Bethlehem I asked them what it was like at first I remember sitting there and like my head was throbbing because it was like how
00:19:59can I take all of this in all my god I'm never going to be able to use our I don't know how to use this and then them Kansi thing you're gonna get there you're gonna get the you're gonna get there that was Adrian I Berra and candy
00:20:09Maldonado they had learned any of this in their teacher preparation programs neither had teacher Michelle Bozak it was very broad classes vague classes and children's literature class but not actually teaching phonics and things like that when they became teachers they did a little of what they thought was
00:20:28phonics candy Maldonado's says it pretty much went like this so like we did like a letter a week so if the letter was a we read books about a week things with eighty we found things with the a and then but we never did anything else with it
00:20:43like we all we did was learned like a set ask and then there's apples and we take that apple's it when you were all being taught to use that way and teaching that way what was the idea about how children learn to read did you have a sense
00:20:58of that no at now that I think about it no not really it was just that they do almost like it's automatic yeah when these teachers started the training on the science of reading they felt overwhelmed by the time they were done they felt guilty I thought all
00:21:17these years all the students I feel horrible guilt the Bethlehem school district has adopted a motto to help ease the guilt when we know better we do better back in we're now in a kindergarten class at Bethlehem's calypso elementary school this is Kathy Abascal the principal everyone thought
00:21:36was going to resist the reading science but didn't her kindergarten teachers got the science of reading training last year now they're putting it into practice global %HESITATION okay job cutting it sound off guys the entire class is seated on a carpet while a student teacher holds up flash
00:21:55cards with pictures on them no letters the kids are just practicing the first sounds in words that begin with good and well water well well well teachers in Bethlehem use a curriculum that mixes whole class lessons like this one with group work that's tailored to the needs of
00:22:14kids at different points in the process of learning to read after the class lesson teacher Lyn Venable meets with a group of six students at a small U. shaped table so we're going to start doing something today that we have not done before if it's brand new alright
00:22:32this group of kindergartners is ready for something more challenging than words that begin with will and good so let's read it together with the tank I had read court wonderful these kids are writing a report about a pet they want they have to write down three things their
00:22:48pet can do but spelling is hard I need a pencil with an eraser says Roman the kids make lots of mistakes Quinn spells bark B. O. C. Bach he needs some help discerning the speech sounds in the word what is your job doing a dog can now I
00:23:11want to make all the towns and bark is you can do this for any spelling errors are like a window into what's going on in a child's brain when they're learning how to read whatsoever sound but we got that one that's being what's the next sound are we
00:23:27make our Quinn struggles for a moment but get some help from Mrs Venable how do you make a sound are with you prior are how do you how do you write are do you remember tell me with a little more prompting Quinn eventually gets an absolutely Lyn Venable
00:23:49has been teaching elementary school for twenty one years she says she used to think reading would just kind of fall together for kids if they were exposed to enough print now because of the science of reading training she knows better she says this year's class of kindergartners has
00:24:05progressed more quickly in reading than any class she's ever had my kids are successful and happy and believe in themselves I don't have a single child in my room that has that look on their face like I can't do this early can you tell me what your cat's
00:24:19going to do full time scratch and you're absolutely right is a wonderful list of things that your cat can do at the end of each school year at the Bethlehem school district gives kindergartners a test to see where they are with early reading skills the year before the
00:24:40science of reading training began sixty five percent of kindergartners at this school tested below the benchmark score meaning most of them were heading into first grade at risk of reading failure after the kindergarten teachers were trained zero kindergartners a clip so finished the year at risk of reading
00:24:57failure and at the end of this year same thing two years in a row every single kindergarten %HESITATION clip so was at or above the benchmark score on the reading test across the entire Bethlehem school district more than eight in ten kindergartners met or exceeded the benchmark score
00:25:16up from fewer than half before the science of reading training started chief academic officer Jack Silva is thrilled with the results but cautious he's eager to see how the kindergarteners do when they get to that big state reading test in third grade we may have hit a home
00:25:31run in the first inning but there's a lot of a game left here it's impossible to know if the science of reading training is what led to the test score gains some of the schools in the district including calypso move from half data full day kindergarten the same
00:25:44year the training started so that could have been a factor but Kathy bass to the calypso principal thinks that of her teachers had just been doing more of the same when it came to reading instruction she'd still have a lot of struggling readers at her school she says
00:25:58other school districts are taking note of Bethlehem's progress I've gotten calls from other administrators in other districts what are you doing differently in Bethlehem she remembers one call in particular tell me what you're doing the superintendents all your scores in the paper he asked me to call you
00:26:14I spent over an hour on the phone just detailing what I've talked to you about and after all of it was said and done all I don't think that'll work here they'll be too much push back and too much push back beliefs about how kids learn to read
00:26:33and how they should be taught run deep in American education you can find schools and school districts across the country that are trying to change things the way Bethlehem is but typical reading instruction in American schools is some version of a balanced literacy approach backed up by the
00:26:50core belief that learning to read is a natural process many educators don't know the science and in some cases actively resisted why is that that's what we're gonna hear about after the break you're listening to an eight PM reports documentary hard words why aren't our kids being taught
00:27:12to read I'm Emily Hanford you can learn more about the research on reading at our website you'll find this documentary they're and many more stories about education opportunity and how people learn it's all at eight PM reports dot org and if you missed any of the four documentaries
00:27:28in our fall season you can find the mall online if you have a story to share about reading we'd love to hear from you send an email to contact at eight PM reports dot org or find us on social media at eight PM reports and at educate podcast
00:27:43now back to hard words we're now in Jackson Mississippi where something unusual is happening all right colleague says go ahead and get started a group of teachers is gathered in a conference center for letters training it's what you heard the teachers doing in Bethlehem Pennsylvania but these teachers
00:28:05are college faculty from schools of education across Mississippi so I'm gonna go ahead and distribute some anticipation guide so to speak that's a euphemism for quiz the first question is true or false speaking is natural reading and writing are not these are the faculty who teach people who
00:28:26want to be teachers how to teach reading and they're being asked this question because they might not know the answer so I do I have every once the trainer and twenty of fear %HESITATION collects the quizzes I don't know how many of the professors got the question right
00:28:41the answer of course is true speaking is natural reading and writing are not most people in this class should know that by now because this is the third day of the series of letters trainings here they are reviewing the speech sounds or phonemes in simple words the next
00:28:59word is cloud what's the word cloud and tap it what a life like that first that first sound is right up there all right the trainer points to a sound wall posted to his right according to research this is what you want to see in classrooms not an
00:29:16alphabet wall that says for example %HESITATION was for octopus but is sound wall that has all forty four speech sounds in the English language with the letters and combinations of letters that represent those sounds octopus is a great example of the short %HESITATION sound but then there's owl
00:29:35which starts with the letter %HESITATION but begins with the sound owl represented by the letters O. W. the college faculty in this room a lot of them didn't know this is a lot to take in this is Roshan to harass Alan she's a professor in the teacher preparation
00:29:50program at Tougaloo college in tupelo Mississippi she says she was never taught this stuff about language not as part of a college education or her doctorate and not when she was a kid we weren't taught phonemes we weren't top sound recognition we were just taught here are you
00:30:07site where she need to memorize them she struggled with reading when she was little her colleague at Tougaloo Trish on the Dixon says she did get phonics instruction when she was young but she never learned how to teach phonics at think we did have issues with a lack
00:30:21of knowledge initially but I think we're making great strides here to correct that with your partner please discuss these simple view of reading the reason I started off by saying something unusual is going on here in Mississippi is that college faculty almost never come together like this for
00:30:46training and college professors getting training originally designed for elementary school teachers in the science of reading pretty much unheard of Louisa moats who developed the letters training told me Mississippi is the only place she knows of war college faculty are doing this and college faculty across the country
00:31:04needed a number of reports and studies show that many faculty members in teacher preparation programs don't know the reading science don't teach it and in some cases actively resisted we'll get to the resistance in a bit but first the story of how this training came to be in
00:31:21Mississippi it was the early two thousands Mississippi was and always has been at the bottom of the list when it comes to how well kids read that big national reading panel report had just come out and a wealthy Mississippi couple who'd started an institute to improve reading in
00:31:39the state wanted to know word teacher preparation programs in Mississippi teaching what was in the national reading panel report so they're gonna is ation the Barksdale reading institute did a study the study focused on the teacher preparation programs at the state's eight publicly funded universities the institute reviewed
00:31:58cell by in text books survey the students in the classes observe some of the classes an interview the deans and faculty Kelly Butler let the study generally I found that among the eight Publix you could go to any one of them and not necessarily be exposed to all
00:32:15five components of reading the national reading panel had identified five components of reading they are funny make awareness phonics vocabulary fluency and comprehension so you can go to an undergraduate program with the expectation you would graduate to be able to teach elementary education but not even know what
00:32:34the five components of reading were much less how to teach them the two components most essential for learning to read phonemic awareness and phonics or basically absent the study found that teacher candidates in Mississippi we're getting an average of twenty minutes of instruction in phonics twenty minutes over
00:32:53their entire to your teacher preparation program Kelly Butler was alarmed how are kids in Mississippi going to learn to read if their teachers were not learning the basics of the reading science in their teacher preparation programs Kelly Butler and her colleagues at the Barksdale reading institute went to
00:33:13state education officials and said you have to do something about this and in two thousand three in a rather extraordinary move the state department of education mandated that every teacher preparation program in Mississippi require two courses on early literacy to cover what was in the national reading panel
00:33:31report it was extraordinary because even those states have the authority to regulate teacher preparation programs they rarely tell them what to teach in their classes higher education does not like to be told what to do this is Kelly Butler again professors pretty much have academic freedom to construct
00:33:51learning in the way they think best faculty members close the door and do whatever the heck they want to that's Angela Rutherford she is a faculty member at the university of Mississippi she works with the bar still reading institute she knows the reading science and she says a
00:34:07lot of her colleagues in teacher preparation programs don't they believe in whole language that's what they believe I had a colleague challenge me and her question was well you know what do you believe I said I believe what I see in research once when Kelly ball it was
00:34:27talking to a dean about the reading science the dean said to her is this your sons are my science is this your science or my science that's what Kelly Butler and her colleagues were up against they wanted to change what prospective teachers in Mississippi we're learning about reading
00:34:47state officials did too but Kelly Butler says many deans and faculty still believed in whole language well fast forward to the twenty fifteen and we now have a liver see guys promotion act the state legislature had passed a law called the literacy based promotion act the law says
00:35:06that kids who are not reading on grade level by the end of third grade cannot move on to fourth grade what that precipitated was a re training of teachers because we knew the teachers really didn't know enough about what to do the teachers already working in Mississippi schools
00:35:22started learning the reading science but what about the new teachers just graduating from teacher prep programs if they weren't learning the science the state would be spending money for ever training teachers at this point no one really knew what inspiring teachers were actually learning in those required early
00:35:40literacy classes so in twenty fifteen the Barksdale reading institute decided to repeat the study had done back in two thousand three this time private colleges were included fifteen teacher prep programs overall the needle move son Kelly Butler says with one exception all the state's teacher prep programs were
00:36:00now teaching the five components of reading the deans and faculty all said they'd heard of the national reading panel report but most of them had not read it she learned other things that shocked her when I interviewed both faculty and students and ask them particular questions about the
00:36:17science of reading for example were they for me with something called the simple view of reading that's that formula scientists came up with to explain that reading comprehension is the product of your ability to decode taxed times all the words you know the meaning of not a single
00:36:33one that I talked to that ever heard the simple view free which is been around since nineteen eighty six the science have been around for a long time the state have been requiring college is to teach the science for more than a decade and still perspective teachers weren't
00:36:51learning it so the state legislature decided to do something else it started requiring teacher candidates to pass a test on the reading science if you don't pass the foundations of reading test you don't get license to teach elementary school in Mississippi %HESITATION soon okay yeah we're back in
00:37:15letters training with the college faculty in Mississippi there in Paris now working on from the mac awareness skills this is Roshan Heris Alan interest on the Dixon you heard them earlier what is the first in the following quiet there is college faculty in Mississippi are not required to
00:37:39do letters training but it's in the best interest of those who teach the early literacy classes since their students will not become licensed teachers unless they pass the foundations of reading test I interviewed several of the women in this training they were all women I was expecting to
00:37:54hear resistance in resignation about being here but I didn't as I'm Sittin there I'm thinking I wonder this a classic two acre %HESITATION my wish I'd done that have to make a note you know to do this next semester that was Kim Smith of Mississippi state and this
00:38:08is Barbara Bowman of the university of southern Mississippi I feel I'm blessed to be part of this change they were elementary school teachers before they became college instructors they didn't know the reading science when they were teachers and they're grateful to be learning it now I think that
00:38:24we all agree that that this is right or the best practices and maybe we're here because of that and the whole language ones are not here because I think they would really rude resists the faculty who believe in whole language didn't seem to be here I had to
00:38:47look for them I found two professors at the university of southern Mississippi willing to talk to me %HESITATION my name is Stacy Reeves I am an associate professor of literacy and other areas of elementary ed I'm merry aerial I'm a professor in the department of curriculum instruction special
00:39:06education merry Ariel had actually been the chair of the department until a few months before our interview she in states he reads both told me they had no interest in going to the letters training this is Stacey reads I am philosophically opposed to jumping on the bandwagon of
00:39:26the next great thing that's going to teach every child how to learn to read phonics for me is not that answer she says she knows this from her own experience she was an elementary school teacher before she got her PhD it was the early nineteen nineties her students
00:39:44did phonics worksheets and then got these little books called the Cobell readers that contained words with the letter patterns they'd been practicing sentences like the bad rap hit in the tin can they were boring for repetitive but as soon as I sat down with my first graders and
00:40:01read a book like frog and toad are friends they were instantly engaged in the story she says she ditch the phonics workbooks and the Dakota will readers and once I started teaching in a more whole way and more encompassing way of the whole child what does this child
00:40:19me what does that child need let's read more real books Whistler write more real language about your life once did that my teaching improve the students to learn more I feel I feel the came out the other side much better Stacey reeve says her students seem more engaged
00:40:39but she admits she had no evidence they were learning better one of the central tenets of the whole language movement is that teachers are best able to judge whether their students are learning not standardized tests another key idea is that all children learn differently and need to be
00:40:57taught in different ways but that's not true with reading our brains are much more similar than they are different and we all need to learn the same things to change our non reading brains into reading brains some of us learn to read more quickly and easily than others
00:41:15but everyone reads in basically the same way one of the most consistent findings in all of education research is that children become better readers when they get explicit and systematic phonics instruction quotable readers with letter patterns may be boring and repetitive for adults but they help children learn
00:41:34to read Mary Ariel the former chair of the curriculum in special ed department at the university of southern Mississippi remains unconvinced she's against explicit phonics instruction she thinks it can be helpful to do some phonics with kids as they're reading books maybe prompt them to sound something out
00:41:52to notice a letter pattern in a word but she thinks kids will be distracted from understanding the meaning of what they're reading if teachers focus too much on how words are made up of letters what it really does it makes it harder because we're trying to make meaning
00:42:07of it in when you you're teaching these meaningless symbols that it is actually make it harder so breaking it down into pieces makes it hard makes it harder to learn to read that's the idea that's one of the ideas the concepts behind how language is that it's that's
00:42:25when it's meaningful it's easy and one is broken down into little parts it makes it harder so it okay so so from your perspective how do kids learn to read well I think kids learn to read in different ways %HESITATION a lot of children come to school already
00:42:43reading because they have been immersed in print rich environments from the time they were born the underlying belief here is the reading comes naturally when children are read to and surrounded by books Ariel sees the effort to change reading instruction in Mississippi as an example of lawmakers telling
00:43:02educators what to do and she doesn't like it she actually left her job shortly after our interview in part because of her frustration over what's happening with reading in Mississippi she told me she does not like the term science of reading that's one of the bones of contention
00:43:19that the phonics based approach is the scientific approach al it's it's their science the belief that learning to read is a natural process that occurs when children are surrounded by books is a problem not just because there's no science to back it up it's a problem because it
00:43:37assumes the primary responsibility for teaching children to read lies with families not schools if you are not fortunate enough to grow up in a household where there are lots of books in adults to read to you you're kind of out of luck there is no debate at this
00:43:54point among scientists the reading is a skill that needs to be explicitly taught by showing children the ways that sounds and letters correspond here's Louisa moats again is so accepted in the scientific world that if you just write another paper another study about these fundamental facts and submitted
00:44:14to journal they won't accept it because it's considered settled science I think often of scientists in the area of climate change research all of this information about climate change was readily available decades ago and we still have prominent people in our government who are climate change deniers it's
00:44:45UPS hauling Louisa moats says it's not just faculty in dean's at colleges of education who resist the science it's also the publishing industry that continues to sell stuff that does not line up with what the science says American education system has bought into whole language literally it's hard
00:45:03to get rid of it districts have spent so much money on this stuff that they may feel that their resources have been used up and also of course the administrators who are responsible for making the decisions of spending the money want to defend their decisions she says educators
00:45:22convince themselves that what they're doing is best practice but if you believe that what you've invested in is the best there is when it comes to teaching kids to read and still more than forty percent of the students in your school district are struggling what do you do
00:45:38you blame the kids you blame their families for not reading to them enough you blame poverty and then it's no longer shocking that foreign ten kids can't read very well it's just the way things are you might be thinking if phonics and phonemic awareness are so important and
00:45:59lots of schools are doing such a poor job teaching those things how does anyone learn to read it's a good question I has lots of experts basically it comes down to this some kids cracked the code quickly and easily experts told me probably a third of children maybe
00:46:17a bit more don't need much instruction apparent points out some things about how words work a teacher does a bit of phonics the kid grows up watching electric companies like I did and she's off and reading it's not as if some students many students can't learn in ways
00:46:34that we taught reading before this is Jack Silva again the chief academic officer in Bethlehem Pennsylvania the question is do you want all of them to be able to read there is no evidence that phonics instruction is bad for kids not even kids who cracked the code easily
00:46:53in fact research shows good phonics instruction helps them become better spellers doesn't mean that phonics is all kids need remember according to that math formula kids also need to know a lot of words and what they mean and that's why reading to children and surrounding them with good
00:47:11books is really important the whole language proponents are absolutely right about that as I said before reading to kids and surrounding them with books is not the same as teaching them to read according to the research what you should see in every school is a heavy emphasis on
00:47:29phonics instruction in the early grades Louisa moats says the idea that this will make reading harder or somehow turn kids off to reading makes no sense it's the opposite she says if schools do a good job teaching phonics in the early grades the kids read better get off
00:47:47to a better start earlier and they accelerate their progress faster and read more and like it better and so it becomes a self reinforcing cycle I can read therefore I like to read therefore I will read where is the converse is true when you don't give kids insight
00:48:10into the code and don't arm them with insight into language both spoken and written what happens is this is a mystery I am not sure I'm getting what these words really say therefore I'm uncomfortable and therefore I don't really like it the kids who suffer most when schools
00:48:34don't give their students insight into the code our kids with dyslexia they have an especially hard time understanding the relationship between sounds and letters if you're a kid with dyslexia from an upper income family someone is probably going to notice that you're struggling and pay for you to
00:48:51get the help you need but what happens to kids from poor families all you need to do is look at our nation's prison population for an answer our prisons are full of people who grew up in poor families and according to a study of the Texas prison population
00:49:07nearly half of all inmates have dyslexia half they struggled to read his kids and probably never got the help they need it if you were a kid who was able to crack the code with minimal instruction you should count your lucky stars but a question we should all
00:49:26be asking is why are we helping all kids learn to read sure Kelly Butler of the Barksdale reading institute in Mississippi the main problem at this point is ignorance too many teachers school administrators and college professors don't know the science she's betting that teaching them the science is
00:49:46the answer part of my optimism about this is it's not like we're just setting out to try to figure out how to teach reading and so we can then teach everybody how to do it we know how to do so we need to get a gun mark Seidenberg
00:50:01is not as optimistic he's a cognitive scientist we heard from in the first part of the program he'd like to believe that teaching the science would be enough to change minds but he's not so sure he makes a comparison the climate change to and one thing that we've
00:50:16learned from climate change and the other issues over which we have polarization in this country is that facts are the thing that changed people's beliefs in fact confronted with data that contradict deeply held beliefs instead of bringing people closer together it can have the paradoxical effects of in
00:50:39trenching them further if there is one fact that everyone can surely agree on it's that kids need to know how to read the stakes are really high here the research shows children who don't learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers
00:50:57for the rest of their lives and they're likely to fall behind in other academic areas to right now in this country millions of kids are struggling and so our teachers dozens of teachers I've talked to have told me they knew when they're caught that the way they were
00:51:14teaching reading wasn't working for a lot of kids but they didn't know what else to do they felt helpless and guilty they shouldn't have to feel that way teachers need to be taught how to teach kids to read the research is clear about how to do it you've
00:51:37been listening to an EPM reports documentary hard words why aren't our kids being taught to read it was produced by me Emily Hanford the editor was crystalline with help from Katherine winter special thanks to emerald o'brien Tom Scheck Liz lion and Tim Shanahan our associate producer is Alex
00:51:56bomb heart our web editors are indeed cruise and Dave man the mix was by crystalline and Craig source in fact checking by Betsy town %HESITATION Levin theme music by Gerry Meister the APM reports team include such as Laney an executive editor Stephen Smith an editor in chief Chris
00:52:13Worthington we have more about this story at our website including a documentary about how schools are failing kids with dyslexia you can find it at eight PM reports dot org and on our podcast educate if you want more people to hear this program please share it on social
00:52:31media and review it on your favorite podcast app and if you have a story to share about reading please write to us the address is contact at eight PM reports dot org support free PM reports comes from the Spencer foundation and Lumina foundation this is eight PM American
00:52:48public media

Transcribed by algorithms. Report Errata
Disclaimer: The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from APM Reports, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.


Thank you for helping to keep the podcast database up to date.