There are scores of paths that lead from a baby’s first taste of a board book, to his life of joyful and informative reading. Those journeys are very complex. I’d predict that there are as many paths as there are people. Lights of realization go off for different kids at different times about different conceptual connections they make.
Like during lap-time reading with dad, a child realizes that when they come to that same page, Dad always says the same thing. “How does he know?!”
And children who have been told folk and fairy-tales have a cognitively explosive experiences when discovering that all of those magical stories can be enjoyed again, in full detail, any time they wish, when the tales are presented in print.
I’m sharing this perspective because once again, as seems to happen like clockwork in the U.S., an expert has declared, in the New York Times of all places, that without the benefit of intensive, systematic phonics instruction, we will leave behind a trail of damaged children, who can only be saved by immersion in ever more phonics instruction.
Predictably, this sermon about the fire and brimstone approach to the teaching of reading was commented on by over 1,200 people, a cursory review of which revealed personal stories of reading acquisition, including every possible response to this only path assertion, from “AMEN sister!” to “OH, don’t be silly.” Some of those can be read here.
As you can probably tell, I’m on the side of teaching reading in a manner that, regardless of the educator’s or parent’s curricular biases for teaching letters and their sounds, above all, joy and fulfillment from reading must be ever-present in any child’s lesson…or any adult’s for that matter.
I don’t use phonics much, rather I recognize all of the words I read, carried along by the language. I’m glad to understand phonics enough to pronounce the names on football players’ jerseys, pharmaceuticals or the ingredients in manufactured food. (What IS Guar Gum, anyway?). I glory in encountering words I don’t recognize and learning their pronunciations and meanings for my future use in communicating clearly with others.
Techies have taught computers to read text, but listening to most of those reading robots is cold and unimaginative, rote and frankly, inhuman. It is language to be sure, but saying words is not reading. Reading, as most often experienced by those of us who are lucky enough to have learned, is usually used as an opportunity for two humans to share something personal or profound.
The goal of learning to read cannot be saying words. The goal of reading must be to connect with others from far away times, spaces or personal histories, and doing it as naturally as walking. In reading and writing, we must think deeply about the message, not just the words, and fully appreciate the value literacy adds to our lives.
Care to share how YOU got here??