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?   


  1. Hi, FedUpMom -- great to see you posting again!

    Two things about that article drive me crazy. First, no one should be allowed to talk about "summer slide" without also talking about the possible *disadvantages* of being in school. They could start by looking at Peter Gray's discussion here about how children's emergency room admissions for mental illness appear to be much higher during the school year than during the summer. A break from the pressures of school can be a good thing in and of itself.

    Second, the article says that middle-class kids don't suffer the same "summer slide," so why not take a closer look at why that's true? Does anyone think it's because middle-class parents are "picture-walking" through books with their kids and interrupting the stories with annoying questions? Isn't it more likely because middle-class parents have more time to read good books to their kids (and to model reading themselves)?

    The article says that middle-class kids don't regress over the summer "because they go to the library, do educational activities, take classes." I'd like to see the empirical support for that statement. (Do middle-class kids really "take classes" all summer? Even if they do, where's the evidence of a causal connection between that and their lack of "summer slide"?) But the statement is so vague as to be meaningless anyway.

    Isn't it possible that the most "educational activity" that middle-class kids do over the summer is read (or be read to) for pleasure? Why not try to recreate that activity, instead of inventing some boring, school-like program that bears no resemblance to the experience of middle-class kids?

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