Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Phyllis C. Hunter declares reading ‘civil right’

In her Scholastic video, educator Phyllis C. Hunter declares reading to be an American civil right, and that teaching reading is the “first mission” of education. She has a “no-excuses” delivery that puts educators on-notice to teach their students how to read.

Hunter highlights disturbing inequities between achievement and reading levels among students from poorer communities compared with their affluent counterparts. She similarly draws attention to lower reading levels among African American and Latino students compared to their white counterparts.

Particularly ominous is her statement that 75-percent of students who had reading problems in third grade are still reading-disabled in ninth grade. This statistic really dramatizes her emphasis on plans for reading achievement.

I see a consistency among Hunter’s suggestions to get students to “want to read” and those raised in our text, including offering students a variety of reading materials and an opportunity to self-select.

A disturbing practice that has come to my attention concerns restricting students’ reading at or above their “Lexile” level, using a number that is computer-generated.

In an article posted in September 2013 by American Libraries magazine, Regina Powers argued that a computer-generated readability formula and the number of points to be awarded for passing a comprehension quiz have nothing to do with a book’s complexity of themes or its potential for enjoyment.

I appreciate Hunter for advocating that students should have the freedom to select from materials at a variety of levels. I think lower-reading materials can be great “confidence-builders” and can bridge a student-reader’s interest to tackle tougher reading challenges.

Hunter also raises a valid point that teachers need to be specific and communicate the standard they want their students to reach for. As she says, “Good won’t do when GREAT is possible.” ‘ “ ” ’ • em-dash (—) en-dash (–)

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