Friday, May 2, 2008

Reading, and What People Know

Reading is crucial to success, to understanding our world. It is critical thought in action. And yet, we suck at motivating and teaching kids to read. Here's the lede from the NYT:
President Bush’s $1 billion a year initiative to teach reading to low-income children has not helped improve their reading comprehension, according to a Department of Education report released on Thursday.

Reading First did not improve comprehension, did not improve the percentage of kids in early grades who read "at level," as it's called.

Set aside the politics, such as the Education Secretary who spent so much time praising the program who suddenly found herself unavailable for comment. Get to what matters.

Kids. Reading. And how they learn.

A lot of puzzle pieces must be in place for kids, or anyone, to learn. We can't integrate new knowledge without some base of knowledge, just like you can't build a tower of wooden blocks without a good foundation. This works for learning from the news about public affairs, this works for kids learning geography or math or history. If they don't read, they honestly can't do much of anything else very well. If they can't write, they can't think well.

Teens write. A lot. Unfortunately it's not always the kind of writing we might want to see (or read). A Pew study gets at some of this, whether the kind of writing teens do in instant messaging and the rest is the kind of writing we want them to learn. Basically, teens do not see this messaging as writing. They separate one from the other, which I find heartening and disheartening in the same, confused, state. This is kinda off topic of the reading study above, but it does fit if you stand on one leg, turn your head the right way, and cough.

At the core, we have a large group of kids who we can't seem to teach reading. We have a (different?) group of kids who write, but in ways that do not resemble what we'd normally think of as writing.

And we have to ask: will they learn as a consequence?

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