Feelings Should Not Dictate Reading Policy

Promoting literacy through tried and tested methods
Eliott Reyna, Unsplash
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Imagine boarding a plane, stowing your carry-on, buckling your seatbelts, and hearing the pilot come over the intercom saying, “There is a proper and proven method to flying this plane but the first officer and I don’t really like it. In fact, we hate it. We feel it’s dehumanizing and colonizing.” What if he went on to explain that their way of flying the plane was new, progressive, and just feels better to them? Would you feel confident in their ability to safely operate and land the airplane? Would you be pressing your flight attendant button requesting that they use the proper and proven method in order to have a successful flight? 

The above scenario is hard to imagine because we know that piloting an airplane requires specific technical skills and precise operating procedures. The vast majority of us are not interested in how our pilots “feel” about the procedures and techniques they must use as long as they know those procedures well. This is true for other professions such as engineers, surgeons, and electricians, to name a few. And this ought to be true, at least in some respects, for the teaching profession too. 

Now, there are a variety of airplanes requiring slightly different procedures and techniques, but there are some basic principles that do not change regardless of the model. There is an even greater variety when it comes to students and their foundational literacy skills, yet some basic principles also apply for nearly all emerging readers.

Kareem Weaver, a veteran teacher, was featured in a recent Times article discussing this issue in California. He has seen firsthand the impact that proven methods have on students as well as the impact methods that “feel better” to the teachers have. He has declared literacy the “the most important civil right,” and he is working to ensure all students have access to it.

The concept Weaver is pushing for is not new or innovative. It is tried, tested, and proven to be effective. In 2000 the National Reading Panel identified five key concepts at the core of every effective reading instruction program: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. Unfortunately, these concepts did not resonate with those seeking to incorporate social justice and political ideology into every aspect of their classroom. The result is the most unjust consequence of students graduating from high school functioning illiterate. In 2019, “the percentage of eighth-grade public school students performing at or above the NAEP Proficient level was 32 percent nationally.”

Going back to the analogy of the airline pilot, we don’t have to wonder what would happen if the procedures and techniques that “felt good” to them had these types of results. Customers would stop flying and airlines would go out of business. 

Obviously, teaching a classroom full of students allows for a bit more creativity and imagination than operating a jet full of passengers, but maybe it is time teachers leave the creativity to the appropriate areas and stick to the most effective (if monotonous) techniques when it comes to equipping students with literacy skills. Those literacy skills will be the wings and fuel that allow children to take off and soar through school and beyond! 

Beanie Geoghegan
Beanie Geoghegan is the Chapter Lead for No Left Turn in Education KY. She is a former teacher and reading interventionist and is the mother of four grown readers, writers, and independent thinkers.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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