When teachers identify goals for what children are supposed to learn, there are three parts to consider:
- What should kids KNOW and UNDERSTAND as a result of the lesson(s)?
- What should they be able to DO with that knowledge?
- How INCLINED are they to do that on their own?
Sometimes we all do things we don’t fully understand. We feel like we know how something works and we go through some steps and things seem to be okay so we do it, without much thought.
It’s only if something goes wrong that we can find ourselves in the embarrassing position of not being able to explain our actions or to problem solve our way through a situation because we never really UNDERSTOOD the problem that the ritual was designed to address in the first place.
We see this often in math. As children, we long ago learned to do long division. When called for, we probably still talk ourselves through the steps: This number goes-into that number so many times, which we write above one of the first numbers and we need to takeaway one number from another one and we bring-down a next number in a sequence and voila! We have an answer. It works just about all the time…until it doesn’t.
Sadly, however, many, many people who can DO long division don’t really understand the actual reason why they do things like determining goes-intos, conducting take-aways and executing bring-downs.
Lack of full understanding is less obvious in literacy, but kids can learn to read—or should I say, seem to learn to read—in the same manner. They can learn to identify all of the letters, and the sounds of letters and letter combinations. They can rapidly say words in lists. They can repeat back the basics elements of a story. Some can even spend time with books and pass tests that indicate they certainly must have read the book.
They can do much with books and print.
Yet, they may not actually understand what reading is. While they might know how to say words they see, some children don’t actually read them. They don’t know how to draw inferences and construct a sensible message from an author’s words and images. A significant number are foggy about why anyone would choose to read for their own education or enjoyment. So, while they are able to do what many adults accept as clear indicators of knowing how to read, they may not actually have learned much at all about the powerful use of just 26 letters and spaces and images to convey messages and ideas to others.
WHY people read, what books are, how they come to be written, what kinds of people write books and why avid readers are so eager to engage with books are all critical understandings for children to become successful, proficient readers (and writers) themselves.
Children who become lifelong readers must be taught to both understand and do reading and writing, not just to perform easily measureable skills that their families and teachers can mistake for evidence of full literacy.