What I KNOW to be true

Good God. I have just about had it.  I am at the end of my rope, the last bit of my patience, the final smidgen of my compliance.

I am being forced to teach my kids to read using a slick for-profit kit, written by the much admired Lucy Calkins of Teacher’s College.  This kit tells me that I have to reduce the great glory of reading to a series of minute, thinly sliced “skills” like “recognizing text features”.  I’m supposed to sit the kids down and overpower them with a “mini-lesson” where I cleverly explain/show/demonstrate/advertise the target skill.  In TEN minutes.

Then I’m supposed to have the kids “turn and talk” about the topic that I just taught at warp speed. Next in the script, I tell the kids “off you go!” and they are supposed to happily and successfully employ the teeny little micro skill as they read on their own.


I’ve been reading since roughly 1963 and at no time in my life have I ever stopped myself to ask if I am recognizing the story arc.

I believe, with every fiber of my being, that reading is a complex and wondrous human skill that evolves differently in every young child.  I believe that at the very same time that we are decoding, we are also making inferences, wondering about the motivations of the characters, recognizing the conflict and predicting the resolution.  I believe that children slowly and hesitantly grow into each of these skills.  This complex web of cognitive and linguistic processing skills is a marvel.  It should NOT be reduced to its smallest parts.

I believe, I truly do believe, that none of these “skills” will mean a thing to a child until the moment where he or she has fallen completely in love with a story.  If the child isn’t walking home from school while picturing himself as the hero of the adventure, no “mini lesson” on earth will get him to care about reading.  If the child isn’t soaking in a bubble bath and holding the book above the water to see what the bad guy does next, it doesn’t matter how carefully I follow the cookbook reading program.  If that child isn’t dying to know what happens next, all the “turn and talk” in the world won’t get her to really truly read.

I do understand that Lucy C is a reading guru.  She is clearly smarter than me, and I am sure that she’s done tons of research and is a major player and all that crap.

But here is the simple truth.

She has come up with a product that matches the “Common Core” and she has found a way to sell that product for a whole boatload of money by marketing the entire Teacher’s College pre-packaged literacy kit.

I’m not a guru. I’m sure as hell not an educational entrepreneur.  There is no shiny, glossy, expensive box of lessons with my name on it.

But I know kids.   I know language development, and I know reading.

And I know, beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt, that you CANNOT break a complex neuropsychological task like reading into the tiniest threads and try to teach those threads as discrete lessons.  It makes no sense to do it this way, because unless the students go on to synthesize those skills, they won’t be reading.

Or writing.

Or learning.  Or thinking. Or problem solving.

When my babies were little, they learned to walk.  I helped them.  But I didn’t try to separately teach them to flex their calf muscles and then a day later teach them to relax those muscles. When they learned to talk, I didn’t show them how to make the sound “b” and then wait a day to teach them “a”.

Complex neurological tasks cannot be reduced to their component parts if they are going to be mastered.

And that’s why I am frustrated beyond belief by the lessons I am being forced to teach.




6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by A. P. Bullard on February 1, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    One of my friends is an elementary school teacher, and she has had the same complaint. In terms of learning and comprehending the reading, have you noticed this new program adversely affecting your students? I wonder if parents would catch on and rebel against this. I would certainly not want my child to be so overwhelmed that the actual learning, and love thereof, does not take place.

    Overwhelming and frustrating a child will not teach anything, and will just lower the self-esteem and put a dent in any strong self-identity the child may be cultivating.

    This is truly a shame, and I can definitely see why you are so frustrated.



    • It is absolutely impacting my students. I am horrified by the number of young people I know who now say that they hate to read. It is all a part of the ridiculous push to reduce every child to a series of data points. I hate it SO much, because I am really really good at helping kids to love literacy and to love math and to love learning. That “art” of teaching is being taken away from me in the name of “education reform.”


      • Posted by A. P. Bullard on February 1, 2015 at 10:13 pm

        That is heartbreaking. I have noticed that the school systems seem to be more about numbers and statistics these days, than actually *teaching* the children, and instilling the love of learning that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

        I know that, to me, a lot of my teachers seemed to just be teaching what we had to know for the test, and nothing beyond. My AP courses were more memorization than actual comprehension. It’s bothersome that this attitude and “teaching” style has trickled down and continued on to the younger students.


  2. Are they trying to make kids hate reading?
    Congrats on the Patriots, that was quite a 4th quarter.


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