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Is your school putting the reading cart before the horse?

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Cart and horse, with cart before the horse

In the aftermath of ‘Sold A Story,’ let’s also look at ways schools are failing students in comprehension and in writing.

Many teachers and parents are understandably concerned about reading comprehension. The one thing I can say with certainty is that if a student does not have excellent word reading skills, which means for any given passage 95% or more of the words are accurately read, then comprehension will be seriously impaired.

There is solid evidence which shows that reading comprehension is strongly influenced by background knowledge. My students have families who have provided numerous educational enrichment opportunities for their children so background knowledge is not typically an issue for them.

The details of reading and spelling, basic grammar and the rules of writing clear and coherent sentences are problematic because schools are not explicitly and sequentially teaching these topics.

Until schools are able to effectively teach ALL students how to accurately decode words in grades K through 3, focusing on comprehension truly is a ‘cart before the horse’ phenomenon.

Here’s my letter to the editor regarding OPINION: Why problems with literacy instruction go beyond phonics by Natalie Wexler: 

As a parent of three teens who all attended or currently attend public schools, and as a private dyslexia tutor who has been teaching reading, spelling, grammar and writing since 2013, I believe that the key problem is that schools are trying to do too much and subsequently, failing miserably at the basics which all students desperately need.

This failure cuts across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic demographics and hopefully, has now become a battle cry for ALL parents. For the 1 in 5 students with dyslexia, it is an unmitigated disaster.

I took on teaching my now 17-year-old son how to read and spell in 2nd grade when it was glaring apparent in 2012 that his teacher, who has a master’s degree in literacy, was ill-equipped to do so. In the fall of 2019 while in 8th grade before the Covid shutdowns, my son was reading at an 11th grade level thanks to the intensive instruction I provided which began with fundamental, accurate word-level reading.

All of the other issues you cogently described ARE important, but it is truly a ‘cart before the horse’ phenomenon and until schools actually teach students how to decode and to do that well, nothing else matters.

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