A third of all the children in the United States graduate the 8th grade with below-basic reading skills. At this level of illiteracy, many of them are unprepared for the workplace or other factors of adult life. Dr. Mark Seidenberg, research professor in the department of psychology at University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Language At The Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, and What Can Be Done About It, explains that this problem arises from an improper understanding of how to teach reading, which itself comes from a disconnect between teachers and researchers.
While many teachers believe that every child must be uniquely tailored to, the research shows that there is still a level at which children converge when learning to read, specifically how and what they need to learn. Dr. Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy development at New York University, says that when a child starts to understand that the letters they see in the written word correspond to the sounds they know from spoken word, they begin to learn how to read. This practice of teaching how to decode language is called phonics and has often been ignored in traditional teaching methods. On the other hand, too much reliance on phonics can also be harmful. Dr. Marie Ann Donovan, associate professor of teaching education at DePaul University, encourages a balanced literacy approach, which includes a phonics component but also focuses on reading comprehension- learning to identify words, know what they mean, and put them together into sentences.
Parents often think that simply reading to their children will teach them to read. Although reading with your child prepares the way and motivates them, it isn’t enough by itself. Dr. Seidenberg says that no matter how hard it is, we need to focus on getting kids prepared for the real world with adequate reading levels. What we can do right now is to ask questions about what our teachers are taught and believe about the process of learning to read. Bridging the gap between education and research may be the first step to solving American illiteracy.
To learn more about literacy or about our guests, visit the links below.
- Dr. Mark Seidenberg, research professor in the department of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Language At The Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t and What Can Be Done About It
- Dr. Susan B. Neuman, professor at New York University
- Dr. Marie Ann Donovan, associate professor at DePaul University