Dr Stephen Krashen wrote a letter that was published in Education Week on January 25, 2006. The title of the letter was, “To Raise NAEP Scores, Improve Access to Books.” This is an excerpt:

We should also consider the interesting case of California. That state’s extremely low score on NAEP in 1992 was blamed on whole-language reading instruction. Yet, despite the purge of whole language from California schools and the introduction of intensive, systematic phonics, there has been no significant improvement in California’s NAEP scores: The state still ranks near the bottom among states that took the national assessment, tied for next to last in 2005. California has the worst school libraries in the nation and among the worst public libraries. This was true in 1992 and remains so today.

If you are not familiar with NAEP, you might check out the WikiPedia entry for it. NAEP, or the “National Assessment of Educational Progress” or “The Nation’s Report Card,” is widely held to be a much more representative and accurate measure of student achievement and content knowledge than state-level tests since teachers and students do not “prepare for” NAEP, classrooms participating are selected at random, and the assessment is national in scope.

The suggestions here do not require either a PhD in rocket science or even curriculum and instruction to understand. Essentially, based on this letter and Dr. Krashen’s excellent presentation series last week at Encyclo-Media, I understand him to be saying:

  1. To read better and become more literate, kids need to be encouraged to read MORE.
  2. Toward this end, getting kids to engage in FVR (free voluntary reading) is the key.
  3. To promote FVR, adults must give young people a large amount of latitude to self-select texts they find engaging and want to read.
  4. In addition, schools must provide larger amounts of dedicated time for students to read.
  5. Schools and communities must provide GREATER ACCESS TO TEXTS for students! This is really the heart of his message. School libraries, Public libraries, classroom libraries, and home libraries need to be robust and filled with engaging texts for students.

Dr. Krashen shared his opinion at the end of his 3rd presentation last week (which is available as a podcast) that we should spend more on school libraries, and less on technology. Both Brian Crosby and Darren Kuropatwa responded to this, and I agree with their sentiments. I think that:

  1. Student motivation to read and write, and their “time on task” as they are engaged in these activities, really are the keys.
  2. Students that are online are NOT just playing games. They are also reading webpages, writing instant messages, collaborating via digitial social networking sites and resources, etc. These activities have value in terms of literacy development. I agree with Darren’s speculation that because things like blogging are so new, the “data may not be in yet.” This makes a strong case for action research in the classroom focused on the impact of both web browsing / voluntary computer use by students as well as blogging on reading and writing skills. The work Ewan is doing with his Scotland schools is likely to yield some good research results. We need more work in this area. My own academic research agenda definitely includes topics like these.
  3. We do need to find ways to improve student access to text, as Dr. Krashen persuasively argues. I think this DOES mean investing in libraries, but also investing in 1:1 laptop initiatives. We don’t just need “more technology,” we need the RIGHT technology put into the hands of empowered teachers and students, led by visionary administrators, who understand the need for whole-school reform focused on engagement, differentiated instruction and differentiated assessment. I think we could come up with a slogan here: Buy a child one book, and s/he reads one book. Buy a child a laptop with Internet access, and s/he can read a universe of text in a digitally interactive environment growing exponentially around the world. Will this happen for students in laptop projects irrespective of what teachers do or don’t do? Possibly. We don’t know yet, from a research standpoint. But I think we can confidently say that when the pedagogy changes– when teachers invite students to engage in deep studies of real-world problems using digital tools– the sorts of projects that EduTopia articles are frequently highlighting— then I think we definitely see the literacy improvements we’re looking for.

Let’s stop blaming teachers and stop pretending that standardized tests, the standards movement, and curriculum pacing guides can save us from the formidable educational challenges we face in our varied contexts. Let’s put recess back into schools, let’s give kids more time to read AT SCHOOL and provide them with rich choices for available texts, and let’s pursue 1:1 laptop initiatives as the price-point continues to make these projects more fiscally achievable for all schools.

Basic solutions. One might even say, “simple solutions.” Find creative ways to get kids to LOVE reading and spend time reading. As Dr. Krashen said, we need more credentialed librarians and teachers helping kids find the “home run book” that really “hooks” them into a lifetime of reading. Given access to engaging texts, kids as well as adults WILL read. The research Dr. Krashen shares demonstrates this persuasively. A big problem, however, is that in schools both teachers and administrators are so busy being stressed about summative assessments that they don’t feel the kids have TIME to read. And that, my friends, is a crime that must stop.

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4 Responses to Improve reading skills with basic solutions

  1. Doug Noon says:

    Readers’ Workshop is a great model for an alternative approach to reading instruction. It provides for student choices within a guided framework.

  2. Umm…in other words, School Libraries ROCK! Find out more @ your library!

  3. I am coming at this from a UK perspective but:

    The most basic solution to improve any skill is to employ teachers who are (a) passionate about their subject, (b) not so cowered by the naming and shaming culture that they never divert from the official path even when they know it is wrong, and (c) for teachers to have nothing to do with the painting-by-numbers schemes of work which, whilst presented as voluntary, become de facto almost mandatory.

  4. […] Wesley Fryer has an excellent piece on his Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog on this topic.  He even includes a podcast which is striking – take a look and listen! […]

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