Why our reading curriculum is not effective

Much like there is a difference between speaking and teaching, there is a difference between decoding and reading.

Decoding is teaching someone to recognize that a certain grouping of letters represent a word. For instance the letters B-A-L-L together tell you the word ball. A decoder could see that. But a reader will immediately question, what kind of ball? A dance ball? A round, rubber ball? A ball point pen? Readers look beyond the word to the concept and ask questions for clarification. They read more to find out the what or the why.

Decoding is not reading.

Reading goes beyond the grouping of letters into a word. It is about the combination of words that represent concepts. This requires instruction on, for instance, understanding the voice of the narrator, character development, emotional language, subtle understanding of concepts, the desire to discover. Good readers make good writers. And good readers and writers make good speakers.

Reading-Writing-Speaking is the trinity of language arts, a three legged stool with no leg longer than the others or stronger than the weakest. A weak reader cannot be a strong writer or speaker. A weak writer cannot be a strong reader or speaker. And a weak speaker cannot be a strong writer or reader. The three are inexorably intertwined in the language center of our brains.

A good reading curriculum is built around creating a passion for reading, an actual desire to read, along with a strong writing and speaking. It creates a thoughtful, introspective, curious, and, most importantly, passionate reader-writer-speaker.

So it is fascinating to me that Montgomery County clearly understands the concept – “A child learns to read by fourth grade so that they can read to learn.” is the often used quote. But the practice, like so many things, does not support the words spoken.

The current reading curriculum that Montgomery County is rolling out is built around teaching children to decode to prepare students for testing. After all, you cannot test passion, you can only test concrete concepts which limit what you can do in a classroom when your whole focus is data collection.

Students and parents deserve better from their schools. Teachers do not want to teach cookie cutter curriculum that is failing students by teaching them to hate the very thing they should love.

Years ago we came to realize that punishing students by having them write sentences 100 times was really destroying any desire to write. That’s why we stopped. Now we need to do the same for our decoding curriculum which is destroying students desire to read. And crippling their writing and speaking skills at the same time.

This is why I need to be elected to the Board of Education for Montgomery County. To stop these sorts of things from passing through, give our teachers permission to teach our students what they really need to know, and give our students a curriculum that will help them in life, not the next standardized test.