Let Children Learn to Read When Developmentally Ready

Written by on April 14, 2014 in Conscious Evolution, Conscious Living with 1 Comment

Laurie Levy  |  AlterNet  |  April 8 2014

How do we teach children the joy of reading? I’ll confess up front I am not a reading specialist, just an educator with 30 years of experience and a parent and grandparent of kids who love to read. And I’m concerned about the way the Common Core State Standards are promoting reading instruction by recommending the close reading technique for young children.

I’ll concede that close reading strategy, in which children read a nonfiction passage several times to extract key concepts, can be a valid tool when used appropriately with children who are old enough. The process calls for readers to reflect on the meanings of new words and make inferences based on what they have read. But my intuition tells me that this is neither the best way to teach young kids to love reading nor a method that will close the infamous achievement gap in our schools. If children don’t derive any joy from reading, they will see reading as a chore rather than a lifelong pleasure. When this happens, everyone loses.

In a recent Washington Post blog, Valerie Strauss highlights a rather sad resignation letter from Susan Sluyter, a kindergarten teacher in the Cambridge Public Schools and an educator for over 25 years. It’s a must-read for anyone who is concerned about what is happening to 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds in our schools. Sluyter shares:

“When I first began teaching more than 25 years ago, hands-on exploration, investigation, joy and love of learning characterized the early childhood classroom. I’d describe our current period as a time of testing, data collection, competition and punishment. One would be hard put these days to find joy present in classrooms….The overall effect of these federal and state sponsored programs is the corrosion of teacher morale, the demeaning of teacher authority, a move away from collaborating with teachers, and the creation of an overwhelming and developmentally inappropriate burden imposed on our children.”

Truth in Education confirms that child development experts are rightfully worried about our inappropriate approach to teaching young children.

I, too, lament the loss of developmentally appropriate teaching practices for our youngest students, especially those who are more vulnerable, less privileged, and less likely to learn the joy of reading at home. Recently, parents of second graders in my economically and racially diverse community received a note, co-signed by their school principal and PTA, extolling the virtues of close reading. The underlying message was that the teachers needed to “challenge each child to reach high levels of academic performance and personal achievement” in reading. The note said, in part,

Our 2nd grade team has started a cycle of inquiry focusing on a reading strategy called close reading. The team, through observation and data analysis, noticed that students were challenged in the following areas: vocabulary and extended response, difficulties locating textual evidence when reading, and low stamina when reading and conversing about text. Throughout the remainder of the school year, the 2nd grade team will monitor the effects of their shift in teaching practices through data collection and observation. This is a very exciting process for our teachers.…

Once I got past the education-speak, I wondered if this process is as “exciting” for the 7-year-olds who are supposed to derive a love of reading through this method as it supposedly is for the adults teaching them. But then I remembered: enjoying reading is beside the point here. The real point is for them to learn to achieve, both academically and personally. (The cynic in me can’t help but wonder if this isn’t just not-so-cleverly disguised test prep, in anticipation of a reading/writing test to be given soon.)

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