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Myth #10 -- If it is in thecurriculum, then the children will learn it, and a balanced reading curriculumis ideal



This is only a half-myth. Clearly, if something is not a part of the curriculum, then children arevery unlikely to learn it, but just because a concept or skill is taught,there is no guarantee that every child will learn it.  Standards arestarting to shift from an emphasis on what is taught to an emphasis onwhat is learned, and curricula are starting to make the same shift. However, it is still quite common to divide a curriculum into instructionalminutes and to focus more on what is taught than on what is learned. A curriculum is too often confused with a recipe -- creating proficientreaders is not as simple as mixing ingredients in correct proportions. Teaching a complicated skill such as reading to a diverse group of studentsrequires a great deal of flexibility and creativity on the part of theteacher.

As to whether or not a curriculumshould reflect a balanced reading approach, the answer is again, "yes andno."  Unfortunately, the term "balanced reading" is not very clearlydefined.  Most teachers currently claim to employ a balanced approachto their reading instruction (according to the NAEP), but what a "balancedapproach" means to one teacher may be very different from what a "balancedapproach" means to another.  Some have started substituting the term"eclectic" for "balanced" to more aptly describe their instructional strategies. The approach most commonly used is to provide instruction traditionallyassociated with both the Phonics and the Whole Language philosophies, andto add things like phoneme awareness that were never traditionally associatedwith either philosophy.  Sometimes a balanced reading approach involvesusing phonics activities first, and then adding whole language activitieslater.  Sometimes a balanced reading approach involves supplementingauthentictext with phonics worksheets or decodable text.  But rarely does itmean the same thing for different teachers.

According to data collected forthe NAEP in Reading, the prevalent instructional philosophy shifted in1996 from Whole Language to Balanced Literacy, but NAEP scores have beenunaffected by this shift.  This should be no surprise -- when theprevalent philosophy shifted in the late '80s and early '90s from Phonicsto Whole Language (with a period of balanced literacy in between), NAEPscores did not change then either.  It would seem that the philosophiesthat drive the curricula simply do not in themselves have an impact onstudent performance.

What does have an impact on studentperformance has been a recurring theme throughout this essay -- the quality,strength, knowledge and sophistication of the teacher is what really mattersfor helping children to become proficient readers.  A strong teachercan make all of the difference for an at-risk student, and unfortunately,a weak teacher can make all the difference for a student who is not at-risk. The importance of providing good professional development to engender apopulation of highly qualified, diagnostic reading teachers is paramount,and every child will benefit.  It's not easy, but anybody who tellsyou there is an easier solution to the mounting problem of illiteracy isselling a myth.

 

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Last Updated 8-7-03