When Science and Literacy Collide

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This last week I attended the Literacy Research Association conference, the largest literacy research-focused conference held each year in the U.S. The program was packed with hundreds of presentations, poster sessions, round table discussions, and special interest groups directed by the luminaries and newcomers in the varied fields associated with reading and writing.CITE 2

I share this slightly wonkish topic here to offer some essential perspective to assertions in the press that teachers aren’t using the science of literacy research in their instructional decisions. That’s of interest mostly because the disappointing end-of-year test scores of reading proficiency have stagnated for 20 years.

But what does science mean in this context?

Well, this could be a healthy discussion with active debate, but as one of the conference presenters suggested, citing scientific research to “settle” how things should be done tends to end discussions, rather than engender them. The reason that almost nothing is settled when it comes to science is that science never ends. It constantly moves us closer to a full truth.

CITE 1A research presentation that I found most compelling shared about A Critical, Interactive, Transparent & Evolving literature review in Initial Teacher Education in Literacy (CITE-ITEL for short). It is free online for anyone to explore hundreds of scientific publications curated, validated and then synthesized. These have been judged to be the most valuable for guiding the preparation of teachers for optimum literacy instruction.

CITE-ITEL is constantly expanding its collection of credible, current and historical contributions to knowledge about literacy teaching. Yet despite it all, none of this best information can prescribe how to teach individual kids in a class of children from diverse backgrounds, cultures and language communities.

Knowledge of excellent research guides teachers to take sensible steps in teaching reading based upon reliable data, not just the opinions of one loud group or another. Well-designed and conducted research can only suggest promising possibilities to the teacher working with a particular child or unique group. They put that together with their knowledge about their children to plan their work.CITE 3

Those seemingly simplistic solutions for ensuring progress in literacy learning don’t come from just a few research studies. With the help of their supervisors and administrators, teachers can take advantage of resources like CITE-ITEL to answer tough questions about next steps for addressing their particular student’s needs.

Many teachers end the year having said goodbye to <25% of their fall student group that has moved out during the academic year, slowly replaced with other children, with new histories and needs. So across-the-board gains in literacy comes down to individual classroom teachers making decisions with and for each and all of the +30 children on their class rosters on any given day.




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2 Responses to “When Science and Literacy Collide”

  1. Luqman Michel December 27, 2019 at 3:20 pm #

    I have written several emails to some of the gurus on education since 2012 as to why many smart children shut down from learning to read.
    The gurus have all asked me for my credentials and data and shut me off. They delete my comments in their sites.
    You have said, “…based upon reliable data, not just the opinions of one loud group or another.”
    Mark, in this instance it is not one loud group but just one person.
    I did research on why a smart child who spoke excellent English was unable to read in English.
    I quit my job in the accounting field to learn as I was curious about dyslexia which word I heard for the first time in 2004 from the father of the kid who begged me to see if I could teach his son to read. I am not a trained teacher.
    Since then I have successfully taught more than 70 so-called dyslexic children.
    What I have learned about kids who cannot read is all from the kids I have taught over the last 15 years.
    Mark, all these kids when they came to me for tuition on a one on one basis could read in Malay. Those who went to Chinese schools could read in Romanised Mandarin.
    I asked myself as to why these kids could read in two languages using the same letters as does English but were unable to read in English.
    I disagree with the Western world that it is due to phonological awareness deficit. If it is due to phonological awareness deficit then how is it possible to read in other languages?
    I have discovered that about 20% of kids in the world shut down from learning to read when they are confused.
    They are confused because phonics is taught wrongly.
    Can we have an open mind and discuss this for the sake of the future generation, please?
    I am prepared to answer any questions you may have. I will give you corroborative evidence supporting my findings.
    Wish you well.

    • Mark Condon January 24, 2020 at 11:47 am #

      Hi Luqman!
      I’m all for teaching phonics “right.” I’m for teaching everything RIGHT. However, “right” for any particular child can have many difference from right for another.
      I love your reference to kids getting confused. Smart kids look for help for a while and then eventually just give up and move on to things that make sense. Phonics must be taught in ways that make sense to the children (or to others new to reading).