This past week when writing a late-night article, I did a basic keyword Google search for “universal literacy” and was appalled (made physically ill would almost not be an exaggeration) to see the first result out of almost 11 million hits was for the Voyager Reading Program. Our school district back in Lubbock (which we left this summer for Oklahoma and Edmond schools specifically) had been implementing the Voyager Reading program for several years. If I start writing all my opinions about this program and its impact on reading and literacy development, I might find myself hit with a lawsuit for alleged defamation– I really do have strong opinions about how BAD the Voyager reading program is, along with the extreme overall phonics approach of NCLB and its Reading First programs.
Yes, kids should learn some phonics– and yes, I did learn a fair bit of phonics growing up in school. (My mom may point this out in a blog comment, so I’m pointing this out first!) Yet I think anyone who has worked for a reasonable length of time with young people helping them learn to read understands the idea that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to reading instruction or any other type of authentic education. This is why we hear an emphasis in many educational circles (but sadly not from the US DOE) for differentiated instruction, to meet the unique needs, schemas, and learning styles of the diverse students in our classes.
I am not going to more fully elaborate tonight on this point, but I will at a later date. Suffice it to say I am troubled that a Google search for “universal literacy” would suggest such a site as the top hit. This drives home for me the following:
- We have a dire need for adults as well as students to be able to validate the information they find on the web, and not just “go with” a link they happen to find on the first page of a google keyword search.
- Scientific Research Studies are supporting lots of big business profits in education today. Too bad in many cases, the kids are the losers.
- We need to move in exactly the OPPOSITE direction that NCLB and Reading-First initiatives like Voyager have pushed our teachers and our students. We need to move AWAY from curriculum pacing guides, and instead embrace curricular autonomy. For more on this, see my past posts “Advocating for educational deregulation!”, More thoughts on â€œderegulating educationâ€, “Standards and Accountability are not the answer“, and my last podcast from 2005: “Podcast28: Educational Banners and Resolutions for 2006.”
The best book I have picked up lately relating to these issues (and to date read about 1/4 of) is “The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions” by Jeff McQuillan. Here is a quotation from his book (on page 72) that I used in my article last week:
The connection between the amount of reading done and reading proficiency has been well known and accepted for a number of years. Less well known but of equal importance has been the finding that more acces to reading materals leads to more reading, and subsequently higher reading achievement, and can itself explain a great deal of variation in reading scores.
This core message is, more than anything else, we need to PROVIDE MORE ACCESS TO TEXT for our young people (better libraries, open more hours of the day) and encourage more FVR: Free Voluntary Reading. Yes, teachers do need access to high-quality curriculum, but no evidence I have ever seen AND ACTUALLY BELIEVE or educational experience I’ve had suggests that a RIGOROUS curriculum pacing program like Voyager is what our kids need. If you’ve just fallen out of your seat at the suggestion that we don’t need RIGOROUS, heavy-handed educational interventions, give a listen to “Podcast79: Reject Rigor: Embrace Differentiation, Flexibility, and High Expectations.”
I did email Dr. Stephen Krashen to see if he’s published articles or reviews of Voyager, so far I have not heard from him. (Not a surprise or a complaint– he is one of the top U.S. scholars on reading and literacy, and I’m sure he is deluged with email.) I am so thankful that someone with his credentials is speaking out about some of the educational technology “one size fits all” programs like Accelerated Reader that are force-fed down the throats of students around the nation. AR can be great for some kids, but I have seen it abused and used as a stick too many times by teachers and administrators who fail to understand the meaning of that all important educational word, DIFFERENTIATION. For some of Dr. Krashen’s ideas on that topic, read his letter to the London Times in February 2006 “Accelerated Reader not the Answer” and his formal, academic review of AR: “Does Accelerated Reader Work?” I found it fascinating tonight to read in the WikiPedia entry for Accelerated Reader that supposedly:
Renaissance Learning, the product’s developer, has stated that its intended purpose is to assess whether or not a student has read a book, not to assess higher order thinking skills, to teach or otherwise replace curriculum, to supersede the role of the teacher, or to provide extrinsic reward.
AR is ALL ABOUT extrinsic rewards for reading, unfortunately. Instead of digressing further from my original blog post here, I’ll direct you to my notes from Dr. Krashen’s keynotes at Encylo-Media in Oklahoma City two weeks ago. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and the podcast of Part 3.)
In closing I’ll quote Edward R. Murrow: Good night and good luck!
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