by: posted Thursday, June 7, 2012
In a recent article, "Colorado legislature, school districts debate effectiveness of having struggling students repeat a grade," about third grade retention, this statement was made: Conventional wisdom says that students learn to read from grades K-3, after which they "read to learn." Myths about education abound and are often hard to dispute, but the myth about learning to read and reading to learn is one that cannot go without comment. The notion that K-3 students only "learn to read" while 4-12 students are only "reading to learn" is incorrect and can leave our students underprepared for success.
Kindergarten and first grade teachers can show many examples of emerging literate students using their new reading skills to learn about the world; to gather, discuss and opinionate about how the world works. These classrooms are full of books and magazines about animals, insects, planets, dinosaurs, the ocean, the community and more. Children are reading about, talking about and writing about their ideas in order to learn and share their learning with others.
I spend time in an urban first grade classroom on a regular basis. Recently I watched the teacher and 28 students working on a science lesson. During the 30 minute lesson on earth materials, the students were highly engaged in discussing the concepts and terms related to the topic. They read the intended learnings posted on the board, "I will learn what earth materials are and how we use them in our lives."
They discussed what constitutes earth materials and created a list, which they then read, referred to in their discussions, and read again. When discussing water, one student commented that water is a "need, not a want," making a connection back to a social studies concept they had learned previously. There was high level thinking and discussion going on as these six year olds learned about their world. They would follow this up with time to read informational texts about earth materials, engage in hands on activities and write about what they learned.
In the classrooms of older students, the texts and concepts they are faced with become more sophisticated and more abstract every year. They need to tackle not just math, science and social studies textbooks, but also higher level literature, documents such as the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as well as learning to navigate the Internet as critical consumers of information.
The curriculum for older students includes new genre, new language structures and new vocabulary every year. It is never about just being able to read individual words, but about comprehending the language, structure and ideas in their reading. Not only are older students reading to learn information, they must also learn how to read new types of materials with every content area and every new level they reach.
Middle and high school teachers talk about teaching students to read such diverse texts as original interviews with slaves in the 1800s, Shakespeare and The Great Gatsby. One high school teacher wrote, "It took specific reading instruction in order for them to make meaning (from the text) even though they knew 'how to read'."
If we proceed on the belief that young students only need to learn the how of reading we will not be giving them the foundation of information about the world, and how to think critically, that they need in order to be successful students. If we assume that older students do not need to learn anything more about how to read, we will not be providing them with the skills and strategies they need to be successful academically as they progress through school, and through their lives.
Truly becoming literate involves learning how to learn, which is a life-long endeavor. The more we understand that young children need to learn about learning and older students still need to learn about effective reading, the better prepared our students will be for success.
Sally Nathenson-Mejia is an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver in the School of Education and Human Development. She has been an educator for 35 years specializing in the literacy development of emergent bilingual children. Dr. Nathenson-Mejia can be reached at email@example.com.
FULL SOURCE: The Educational Myth About Reading and Learning