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November 26

Gail Brown

Supporting a call out: Let’s provide explicit reading instruction!

  • Mon 7th Jan 2013
  • Gail

Today’s post draws on a short article featured in yesterdays Sun Herald, page 20, titles “I feel terrible”: When your child can’t read… This post is supporting a call out, initiated by Professor Ann Castles, who gathered parent reports about how their children struggled to learn to read aloud, to decode text. This should be familiar to many teachers, and many other parents, whose children struggle with learning to read.

Ann Castles is a Distinguished Professor at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders at Macquarie University. Professor Castles is the program leader for the Reading Centre, and was responding to a quote by Mem Fox on a television show, claiming that “if every parent read three stories a day to their child, we could eliminate illiteracy within one generation” (Quoted from SMH article). Like Ann Castles and probably you, as well as many parents and teachers, I was offended by reading this quote. And I have three reasons:

1.     I was such a parent, who read to their children, and one of my children struggled with learning to read!

2.     I’ve heard this before, many times, as part of an old debate, that has ZERO evidence to support such a claim.

3.     This statement is made by a public figure, an acclaimed author, who may not have read the research, and has probably never conducted a study about students with reading difficulties.

I think that it’s important that we believe evidence from those who have worked with struggling readers and conducted research that supports these children, as well as their parents. Secondly, I think it’s important that, just because someone is an author and possible famous, that we think about what they say about learning to read – unless they’re quoting research about learning to read? Frankly, if they’re not quoting research, it’s just another personal opinion, unsupported by credible research evidence.

So, I’m writing today to support Professor Ann Castles, and her call out. At this time of year, many teachers are meeting with parents, so this is a time to both celebrate improvements and look to the future where students might need support. The most important messages, from many research studies and Professor Castles, are around explicit instruction and that learning to read takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight.

A second major message for parents is that reading to your children is important – also stressed by Professor Castles. This is an important loving time for parents to read to their children, and, as an aside, your children will have a wonderful vocabulary built from such reading. So, keep reading to your children – it’s important – BUT it won’t teach them to decode text, to read aloud.

Just reading to your children, and NOT providing explicit instruction, is like throwing them into deep water, and HOPING they will swim – they likely won’t! (Hence my combined image for this post!)

Let’s not have more children drowning in the task of learning to read – let’s explicitly teach! My small addition is that we need to explicitly teach BOTH reading aloud as well as reading comprehension – neither are learned by exposure!

Note: The SMH article concludes with “Ms Fox did not respond to requests for comment.”

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