Published: December 12, 2019
On Dec. 5, 2019, The New York Times published “There Is a Right Way to Teach Reading, and Mississippi Knows It” by Emily Hanford. It speaks on the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a standardized test in reading and math given every two years to fourth and eighth-grade students across the country.
The article specifically calls out Mississippi for improving their fourth-grade reading scores by 10 points from 2013—the same year that they began training teachers in the science of reading. They were the only state to post significant gains on the fourth-grade reading test.
When teachers are prepared to teach, using research-based and effective methods, students win. Pacific Oaks ensures that its teacher preparation program focuses on the science behind reading.
Catherine Walter, Ed.D., an administrative faculty member in the School of Education at Pacific Oaks, reminds readers to remember that yes, reading is a science, but it’s also an art. See her comments below.
This article highlights some key factors about the complexity of reading instruction and learning to read. For most learners, reading is not an innate or natural process. Instead, it is a highly complex developmental process that typically begins in infancy and lasts a lifetime. While comprehension of the text is the ultimate goal of reading, readers need to not only decode text, but also utilize their knowledge about how words work and what words mean in order to summarize, analyze, and make inferences about what was read.
Since teaching reading is so complex, our teacher candidates at Pacific Oaks take two courses dedicated to best practices and strategies for teaching reading. While systematic phonics instruction is definitely important, we also discuss the significance of integrating a balanced literacy approach where vocabulary, spelling, writing, oral language, and comprehension instruction are equally important parts of the equation. All of these factors work together to help facilitate both decoding and comprehension.
Also important in this conversation is the opportunity gap present with early literacy experiences. While some students (especially those from middle-class backgrounds) may begin kindergarten with countless hours of early literacy experiences, this is not always the case for children who are English language learners, children with disabilities, or children living in poverty. For this reason, as teachers, we need to recognize reading as a developmental process, learn explicit strategies for teaching each component of balanced literacy, and broaden our awareness of opportunity gaps and how we can narrow these gaps through creating rich literacy experiences for all learners.
When looking at the rest of the results for the NAEP, this becomes especially clear. Mississippi is the only state to have improved their scores. Locally, for both fourth and eighth-grade students in California, there was no significantly different change from scores in 2017. Perhaps more concerning is the fact that California’s average reading scores are below the national average.
So yes, teaching reading is a science in that best practice strategies are based on decades of research about cognitive development and language acquisition. However, it is also an art. A teacher’s enthusiasm for teaching reading, their integration of authentic literacy experiences in their classrooms, and their advocacy for equitable learning opportunities for all students are also what grow skilled life-long readers.
In the wake of California’s NAEP scores dropping, this kind of teaching is more important than ever to create the kind of change our students need.
Learn more about academic programs available at Pacific Oaks College and discover how faculty like Dr. Walter can help you inspire the next generation of students by filling out the form below.