The Very VERY Best Way to Learn to Read

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The “VERY BEST WAY TO TEACH READING” to a particular learner is not debatable. It is discoverable.Phonics 1

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.

Phonics 2Predictably, 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.
Phonics 3

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??

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14 Responses to “The Very VERY Best Way to Learn to Read”

  1. dpallotti November 8, 2018 at 5:51 pm #

    Thanks for your comments. I absolutely agree that learning to read must be an enjoyable experience. As young children listen to their parents read to them, they will start to make the connection of how the words on the page go with the picture. They will then begin to repeat what was read to them as if they are reading. However, I do feel that early reading is also a connection of putting sounds together to make words. To this day, when I come across a word a do not recognize one of the many skills I will use, in addition to context clues, is to begin to chunk the sounds based on my phonics background. I guess what I am trying to say is that I feel that learning to read is a very complex process that requires many skills and experiences , including phonics, to be successful.

  2. Carol Lauritzen November 9, 2018 at 12:53 pm #

    When I saw the title of this post, I thought “oh, no, not Mark too!” But, of course not. I can count on you to support making learning to read meaningful for all readers. I know I had phonics lessons because I can remember words on a blackboard but mostly I learned to read by reading about Alice and Jerry and Jip, the dog. And, I had a father who read to me and my siblings.

    • dpallotti November 10, 2018 at 6:13 am #

      Learning to read is a complex process, we need exposure to both phonics and literacy to provide us with the tools.

  3. Christine November 9, 2018 at 2:18 pm #

    I love to read! And I loved your last paragraph. How true! Spot on.

    • Mark Condon December 6, 2018 at 1:08 pm #

      Thanks, Christine! It’s always great to know there’s somebody “out there.”

  4. Stephanie Darrow November 10, 2018 at 12:29 pm #

    Thank you, Mark, once again, for an inspiring post! Both of my parents were readers, and they shared their love of reading with me. As a child and a teenager, I went often to the library, looking at the books on display, and choosing one to bring home with me. This also nurtured my love for reading, in addition to my teachers reading novels, like “Charlotteʻs Web” out loud to my classes. Like you mention, reading involves joy, discovery, and human connection. Thank you, Mark! P.S. I got here from NCTE Connects.

    • Mark Condon December 3, 2018 at 1:29 pm #

      Great to hear your story, Stephanie. Your kids are soooo lucky!

  5. dpallotti November 11, 2018 at 12:10 pm #

    It is so important to develop a love for reading and the stamina to read independently. Without these two factors, there is no motivation to read.

    • Mark Condon December 3, 2018 at 1:25 pm #

      Right. and without motivation they’ll end up with a video game or some other time waster, Darlene

  6. Ginger DeHaan November 11, 2018 at 4:28 pm #

    One of the reasons I pursued a degree in education was to give back some of the greatest gifts I have ever been given. As a tiny second grader, Mrs. Whisenant brought to life the story of Brear Rabbit and the Tar Baby. I can still hear her deep, Southern drawl turning those words into vivid images. In middle school, Mrs. Wright shaped what would become a voracious reader. Her requirement of the Wrinkle in Time ignited the flame. As an adult, I have devoured the works of Stansfield, Lund, Woolley, Wick, and Lewis in series after series. Daily, I turn to the works of Carle, Wise-Brown, Henkes, Willems, Cazet etc. in hopes of creating more Ginger’s. I do this not because A says /ah/, but rather to paint pictures, belly laugh, and instill in my firsties they are worth every second of my time.

    • Mark Condon December 3, 2018 at 1:24 pm #

      I want my kids in YOUR classroom!!!

  7. dpallotti November 13, 2018 at 5:06 pm #

    I am glad that you have such fond memories of your childhood. How do you think your father reading to you and your siblings impacted your literacy today?

  8. Ginger DeHaan November 13, 2018 at 6:54 pm #

    I am a first-grade teacher who instructs via scripted phonics program for 40 minutes 5 days a week. More and more I am astounded that anyone learns to read and write in English. Today we were working on wh blends. By the time we were done, I felt like I had scrambled their little brains like eggs in a frying pan. Everyone, “Got it,” but then again, “They didn’t got it.”

    • Mark Condon December 3, 2018 at 1:11 pm #

      These scripted programs are an insult to teachers and to anyone that cares about lifelong reading and learning. Sorry you are trapped in this situation. I hope you can find instructional practices and time for actual reading, so that your kids begin to eagerly remind you it’s time for reading. If not, you may end up with kids who can read but don’t. The worst!