I agree with Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop on two statements in her recent op-ed: “Alaska’s approach to teaching reading is not working,” and “Literacy is … a cornerstone of our democracy.” What she seems to be missing is first, her own contributions to the problem, and second, the best way to develop young readers — young lovers of reading.
Years ago, when she was Director of Instruction in Mat-Su, and after I had retired from a 20-plus year career teaching children ages 5-9, including eight years working with special needs kids in Kenai and Talkeetna, I listened with horror as she introduced a new, highly scripted reading curriculum adopted by the school district.
She described how wonderful it would be, for instance, in a school with more than one first grade, to walk past one door and hear a teacher begin a sentence, then pass the next room and hear another teacher finish that sentence. (In other words, she adopted the approach she now says is not working.)
Children are not automatons; they are not all the same, nor do they all learn in the same way. Yes, “phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension” are important. But reading is so much more than the sum of those parts, and so much more than what standardized tests can measure. Children need meaningful content and a connection to stories from their own experience in order to care about learning to read.
Ms. Bishop’s one-size-fits-all approach could improve test scores — or shall I say ‘outcomes’ — for some average students. If you believe as I do, that the ultimate goal of reading instruction is to develop inquiring minds capable of the critical thinking needed in a vibrant democracy, we need a much more creative, student-centered approach. Show me a standardized curriculum that has that outcome while respecting children’s innate curiosity and imagination and maybe I’ll get on board.
— Cari Sayre
Have something on your mind? Send to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.