Monday, September 29, 2014

Pre-Reading Pre-Tirade

Following my previous post on Teaching Parents to Help Stop the Summer Slide, I did some web-sleuthing on the subject of "picture walking".  It turns out to be one of a set of practices described as "pre-reading".  At first, I thought "pre-reading" would refer to activities kids could do before they learned to read, but no -- it turns out "pre-reading" refers to activities you're supposed to do with kids before they read a book, even after they've (allegedly) learned to read.  (WHY?  Just read the book!)

The only way to make sense of "pre-reading" activities is to place them in the world of Whole Language, where the goal is not to sound out the words on the page but to guess what the words might be from context.  If you're into word-guessing, it makes sense to have a discussion about the book first --- with any luck, you could increase the rate of correct guesses.

In retrospect, there's a smoking gun in the article:  this is a mother describing the progress made by her 8-year-old daughter in learning to read:
“English is such a funny language — it’s frustrating to learn to read. But she can use the pictures to figure out words. When she can figure out a big word like ‘restaurant,’ she says ‘I can do this.’”
Why should anyone have to look at a picture to decode "restaurant"?  It's not even that difficult phonetically (like, for instance, "through".)  And what will this kid do when she gets to books with no pictures?

I found an interesting article about pre-reading techniques called  Pre-reading or Not? Although the author thinks there's a place for pre-reading, he gives a solid list of objections to the practice, with these headers:
1.  Pre-reading takes too much time away from reading.
2.  Boring!
3.  Pre-reading commonly focuses on the wrong information.
4. Previews can ruin the reading experience.
5.  Previews are rarely purposeful.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Teaching Parents to be Lousy Reading Teachers

(For former regular readers, it's been a difficult year in FedUpLand.  We'll see whether I do more blogging this year -- stay tuned!)

In today's NYTimes, Teaching Parents to Help Stop the Summer Slide, about a summer program that claims to teach parents how to teach their kids to read.  This has annoyed me to the point that I'm compelled to blog about it.

In the program, parents are taught to do the "picture-walk" with their kids -- that is, before you even attempt to read a book, first look at all the pictures and guess what the book is about.  Ugh.  I feel sorry for all the authors who have carefully designed their books so that the story -- yes, including the pictures -- will have dramatic tension and surprise.  Their hard work is completely negated by this clueless way of teaching reading. 

These methods are apparently designed by people who never read for pleasure, so I find myself making arguments from a skill that is not taught -- watching a movie.  Would anyone first look at all the available still shots from the movie, and guess what the movie is about?  Of course not -- it would be a tedious waste of time and remove all pleasure from the act of watching the movie.  So why would you do this to a new reader?

On a purely practical level, young children usually have a  short span of focus and attention.  Why waste 10 to 15 minutes having a discussion about what might be in the book?  The child might only have a few focused minutes left to spend on actually reading.

The special skill parents are being taught this week is how to determine whether a book is appropriate for their child:
To gauge level, the child reads the first two pages of a book on her own; if she stops frequently, that book is too hard, and if she races through without stopping, it’s too easy.
How about asking the child, "is this a book you'd like to read?" If the child has no interest in the book, the book is inappropriate. 
Then the parents learn various ways to ask the child open-ended questions before, during and after reading. 
Again, a terrific way to remove pleasure from the act of reading.  How could you possibly get immersed in a story if someone is constantly interrupting you with questions?

This article is another example of how the "progressive vs. traditional" debate doesn't even apply.  A progressive would be looking for ways to make reading interesting and enjoyable for the kids; a traditionalist would emphasize phonics and sounding words out.  The current fashionable approach does none of these things. 

It's like they're trying to teach kids how to read without actually teaching kids how to read.  Instead, they're trying to inculcate what they mistakenly believe to be habits that surround reading.

P.S.  There's only one comment to the article so far, and it's a head-scratcher.  It's from a "Dr. LZC" (let me guess -- doctorate in education?):
For immigrant parents also stressing that it's not their job to teach phonics, decoding, or pronunciation (with native language support to answer questions) is also helpful since this can be an area of both confusion for the child and anxiety for families.
What she's really saying is that she doesn't want immigrant parents teaching their kids how to read.  Why the hell not?