247 “skeleton-shaped, bloodless”: The Mann quote is from an 1844 report in which he advocated what was later called the “look and say” method, which involves memorizing words as patterns, without regard to the functions of the component letters. The Boston educators favored a “phonic” teaching method. Their takedown of Mann’s “new method” was thorough and incisive but settled nothing. See Mann (1884), which is easily accessible online.
247 reading wars: Nicholas Lemann’s 1997 Atlantic article is still a good introduction to this conflict: “The Reading Wars,” Atlantic, November, 1997, http://goo.gl/KLL5Yp.
248 In practice, that means: Moats (2000); another critic of balanced literacy: Ravitch (2011).
248 The unresolved issues: Wilson (2009).
249 I also know: Mehta & Doctor (2013); American Federation of Teachers (2012); Darling-Hammond (2014).
250 Teachers need to know: Walsh (2013); Steiner & Rozen (2004); Walsh, Glaser, & Wilcox (2006).
250 Teaching requires: Mehta (2013).
251 “Across the studies”: Cochran-Smith & Zeichner (2005).
251 what the Internet is for: On constructivism, see http://goo.gl/i8c1SW; on social constructivism, see http://goo.gl/MQz8ng; on postmodernist theory in education, see http://goo.gl/sz3olB. These approaches differ in ways that are not important in the present context.
251 To my nonexpert eye: Crews (2006); Sokal (1996).
252 “If we accept constructivist theory”: “Critical literacy views readers as active participants in the reading process and invites them to move beyond passively accepting the text’s message to question, examine, or dispute the power relations that exist between readers and authors” (McLaughlin &DeVoogd 2004, 14).
252 Some classic research by Jerome Bruner: Bruner & Goodman (1947).
252 Since learning is the process: See Schmeck (1988) for an introduction to learning styles and strategies; see Stanovich & Stanovich (2003) for a critical review.
253 “Sociocultural theory describes”: From Risko et al. (2008), 254. I have omitted the references cited in the original text.
253 “Teacher educators now view”: Walsh (2013).
253 I have no direct experience: Lifton (1961).
254 “Review current theories”: The text has been lightly modified from the original to keep the focus on the content, which reflects widely held views, rather than identifying it with a particular individual.
255 Children learn via: Cochran-Smith & Lytle (2006, 688) characterize traditional teaching as a “technical transmission activity,” referring to the transmission of knowledge from the head of the expert into the head of the learner.“During the 1980s, the technical view of teaching and the training view of teacher development were to a large extent rejected, at least partly because of their overly simplified view of teaching and learning that not only ignored teacher cognition, but also ignored the dynamic, social, moral, and political aspects of teaching….[T]eacher development generally shifted from teacher training to teacher learning, which meant examining the kinds of knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs teachers brought with them to teacher-preparation and professional-development opportunities (as well as how these changed over time); how teachers learned (and generated) the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to teach; how they made professional decisions inside and outside the classroom; how they learned about their students and their cultures; and how they interpreted and connected their experiences in courses, workshops, and learning communities to their work in schools and classrooms.”
See also Woolfolk (2007), a standard textbook in the field.
255 Educational practice has evolved: The source of this widely known witticism is unknown.
255 “Education through experience”: On life at the Dewey school, see Mayhew & Edwards (1936); for early history, see Harms & DePencier (1996).
255 Some of the concepts: According to an American Federation of Teachers report (AFT 2012, 7), “Fewer than half of new teachers describe their training as very good, and more say that on-the-job learning or assistance from other teachers was more helpful than their formal training; 1 in 3 new teachers reports feeling unprepared on his or her first day. The top problem experienced by teachers in their own training was a failure to prepare them for the challenges of teaching in the ‘real world.’”
255 Such findings have low status in education: The Common Core State Standards may themselves be problematic, but the same concern arises for other modern math and reading curricula.
256 The Philosophical Lexicon: “The Lexicon,” Philosophical Lexicon, http://www.philosophicallexicon.com/#LEXICON. As my former professor Sidney Morganbesser said of Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy, “It’s all very well in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice.” Morganbesser, whose wit is legend, was the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia for many years. His serious account of Dewey’s philosophy is Morganbesser (1977).
256 approach probably worked: See “Elementary Geography Class. Laboratory School,” University of Chicago Centennial Catalogues, http://goo.gl/lpSlk4.
256 It is a great school: Dewey’s ideas about education were revolutionary in their time, as suggested by the contrast between the room in his school and a public school classroom twenty miles away (http://goo.gl/7vw86u). Those classrooms differed in more than educational philosophy, however. One was a classroom in a public school with many students and few resources. The other was a private school with fewer students and the resources to mount a variety of activities, created with a large endowment from private philanthropy (Mayhew & Edwards 1966, 12). It was never a sustainable model for public education. According to Menand (2001), Dewey viewed it not as a model school or educational experiment but rather as a test of his pragmatic philosophy. Other laboratory schools based on his were established at major universities nonetheless.
256 new teachers: Although the Dewey school model was a failure, several of Dewey’s foundational principles have been retained and embellished, one being that classrooms are places in which to experiment with practices to determine what works (see Mayhew & Edwards 1966, vi). Another is that “the child, not the lesson, is the center of the teacher’s attention; each student has individual strengths which should be cultivated and grown” (Harms & DePencier 1996, chap. 1). A third is that learning that occurs as the by-product of the child’s own authentic, meaningful activity is deeper and more valuable than what can be learned from instruction, the basis of “discovery learning” in the modern era. Dewey’s own attitudes about learning were more nuanced than the deweyite caricature. For example, he was highly critical of teaching science by having students engage in mock scientific practices, judging science labs in chemistry and physics to be shallow exercises. He advocated teaching students about the scientific method and its particular claims on truth rather than the body of facts and standard methods in a science (Rudolph 2005).
256 one noteworthy: What’s with the Finns? For their own perceptions of the strengths of their educational system, see Kupiainen, Hautamäki, & Karjalainen (2009) and Sahlberg (2011). Finland is extensively discussed in the OECD’s 2011 report “Lessons from PISA for the United States” and in the accompanying video, “Finland—Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education,” video uploaded to YouTube by EduSkills OECD, January 24, 2012, https://goo.gl/82kgZh. There are useful facts to be gleaned from these sources and especially from “Educational Policy Outlook Finland,” http://goo.gl/cOvKOy, along with some broad generalizations that are hard to verify. Whether any factor that accounts for success in one country is transferrable to another country or would have the same impact is an open question. For unknown reasons Finnish PISA reading scores have been trending downward: 2000, 546; 2003, 543; 2006, 547; 2009, 536; 2012, 519. Finnish students also report relatively low happiness levels on the PISA survey.
256 It may also be related: Gray & Taie (2015). In a study of teacher training and student achievement, Harris & Sass (2011) found that informal, on-the-job training increased teachers’ effectiveness, with most of the gains being realized during the first five years. Preservice professional development was not related to student achievement, however.
256 “Educational courses have always”: Clifford & Guthrie (1988), 25. A 2007 survey of 2,237 teachers about to take their first jobs found that they rated themselves as underprepared in the five components of beginning reading identified by the National Reading Panel (Salinger et al. 2007) and demonstrated weak knowledge of the concepts on a short test.
257 “Poverty, writes Ravitch”: From John Buntin, “A Battle over School Reform: Michelle Rhee vs. Diane Ravitch,” Governing, January 2014, http://goo.gl/bJyW0y.
258 Vygotsky thought: Au (1998), 300; Coles (2000). Vygotsky’s stricture would rule out almost all modern science.
259 Nor is there acknowledgment: As summarized in an incisive history of the reading wars (Kim 2008), Keith Stanovich, a leading researcher and theorist with high credibility in both science and education, observed that the whole-language theorists who controlled educational practices “had failed to respond to evidence and enact norms of practice rooted in scientific research. In short, whole-language theorists and advocates left the teaching profession vulnerable to intrusive legislative mandates by failing to police itself” (99–100).
260 educational computer games: Granic, Lobel, & Engels (2014).
260 John Bransford: Bransford, Brown, & Cocking (2000).
261 “zone of proximal development”: The “zone of proximal development” is the sweet spot for learning: something within the zone exceeds one’s current knowledge but not by so much that it can’t be learned.
261 Inferences based on observation: Kahneman (2011).
262 The clearest illustration: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000). The NRP also published a readable summary of the main findings for parents and teachers, “Putting Reading First.”
262 That justified ignoring: The National Education Association, the labor union, convened a task force to respond to the NRP, “Report of the NEA Task Force on Reading 2000,” NEA, http://www.nea.org/home/18301.htm. Its report echoed the complaint that the NRP had erred in emphasizing experimental rather than observational studies, thereby omitting important findings. “For example, Piaget and Vygotsky, two influential contributors to the understanding of learning in young children, did no experimental studies” (see item 9, p. 5). The statement is grossly misinformed because both figures are known for their innovative and highly influential experiments with young children. Modern versions of Piaget’s famous conservation experiments are seen here: https://goo.gl/1dN3P0. A Vygotsky experiment is seen here: https://goo.gl/VgBl62.
262 These lobbyists target: See, e.g., Allington & Woodside-Jiron (1999). The authors asserted that many of the research findings that contradicted their own views were the product of research funded by Reid Lyon, an official at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), as part of an anti-education political agenda. The founding document for this political movement, they claim, is Grossen (1997), an obscure, minor twenty-two-page catalog of thirty years of reading research funded by NICHD (It’s just a tech report summarizing reading research that had been supported by the agency—entirely public information. Doesn’t include secret plans for attack on education, however). Allington and Woodside-Jiron focus their paranoia so keenly on NICHD that they ignore the mass of similar findings from research conducted in other countries. It would be easier to dismiss Allington’s campaign against reading science (see also Allington 2002) were he not a leading figure in reading education, former president of the International Reading (now Literacy) Association, former president of the National Reading Conference, and a member of the “Reading Hall of Fame” (http://www.readinghalloffame.org).
264 phonics can be taught: The definitive response to objections to direct instruction and practice, from Anderson, Reber, & Simon (1999), three giants in the study of learning and cognition (Simon a Nobel prize winner):
It is sometimes argued that direct instruction leads to “routinization” of knowledge and drives out understanding….An extension of this argument is that excessive practice will also drive out understanding. This criticism of practice (called “drill and kill,” as if this phrase constituted empirical evaluation) is prominent in constructivist writings. Nothing flies more in the face of the last 20 years of research than the assertion that practice is bad. All evidence, from the laboratory and from extensive case studies of professionals, indicates that real competence only comes with extensive practice….In denying the critical role of practice one is denying children the very thing they need to achieve real competence. The instructional task is not to “kill” motivation by demanding drill, but to find tasks that provide practice while at the same time sustaining interest.
266 Balanced literacy allowed: The overwhelming evidence demonstrating the importance of phonology in reading does not in any way entail, nor should it be taken to imply, that only phonics instruction is involved. Every rational account of learning to read includes it as one of several components, necessary but not sufficient.
267 A teacher actually needs: A story told to me by a parent who is a highly educated professional (as is the spouse). Their bright first grader was having difficulty with reading, beginning to avoid it and acting out in school. The parent brought the child to a reading specialist who worked on her basic skills, including phonics. The child soon caught on and began reading with enthusiasm and interest. At the end of the school year, the parent asked the child’s teacher why phonics had not been taught in the classroom. The teacher’s reply: “Your child was not in school that day.” Anecdotes aren’t evidence, of course; they are “small batch artisanal data.” Sara Pikelet.
267 Smith’s influential books: See Adams (2004) for background on Smith’s work.
267 as Smith assures readers: The book is downloadable here: http://goo.gl/H1b0yJ.
267 “The first alternative”: Smith (2006) is the fourth edition of his 1978 book.
268 “psycholinguistic guessing game”: Goodman (1976).
269 Cloze procedure: You can try the Cloze procedure on seidenbergreading.net. Every fifth word in a news story has been deleted. The task is simply to guess each missing word as you read along. What happens is pretty surprising.
270 Philip Gough (the “simple view”): Gough (1983).
270 “It is often incorrectly assumed”: Stanovich & Stanovich (2003). Prediction is one of the central concepts in modern theories in cognitive science and neuroscience, but it is a more general statistical mechanism than Goodman had envisioned. Today many researchers think of the brain as continually engaged in assessing bottom-up sensory information against top-down expectations (Clark 2013). Expectations take the form of probability distributions—for example, the probabilities associated with many possible upcoming words, grammatical categories (noun, verb, and so forth), or semantic properties (e.g., animate, inanimate). These predictions are important for language comprehension, but they do not make individual words highly predictable or permit the text sampling that Goodman advocated (as the eye-movement data showed). Children learn these distributions via statistical learning over large samples of text and speech, not by being taught to guess words.
270 Guessing provides no advantage: Given this understanding of Goodman’s idea, it should be clear how to turn a good reader into a poor reader: make it harder to read individual words by reducing the visual quality of the stimulus (present it only briefly, in Captcha style or in low contrast). Degrading the target forces the good reader to rely more on context. For poor readers, it is though all words are “degraded” because of their limited basic skills.
270 Children might manage: Children who are used to predicting and sampling texts may also be at a disadvantage on standardized assessments that require close reading of passages and comprehension questions and math story problems, though I know of no relevant studies.
270 It is still presented: Wray (2004).
271 It’s right there: Commission on Reading of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), “On Reading, Learning to Read, and Effective Reading Instruction: An Overview of What We Know and How We Know It,” NCTE.
271 The original guessing-game article: Goodman’s (1967) article can be downloaded: http://goo.gl/c5C8wa. It includes figures said to represent Chomsky’s ideas about reading comprehension. There must have been a misunderstanding somewhere. The theory presented is not Chomsky’s, and I am not aware of any publication in which he endorsed anything like it. No record of Chomsky’s long-ago talk exists, unfortunately. Goodman seems to be referring to a theory of perception from that period called “sophisticated guessing.”
271 By 1980 numerous studies: Leu (1982).
271 The theory was one: Educator David Pearson quoted in Kim (2008, 97): “Never have I witnessed anything like the rapid spread of the whole-language movement. Pick your metaphor—an epidemic, wildfire, manna from heaven—whole language has spread so rapidly throughout North America that it is a fact of life in literacy curriculum and research.”
272 Several reading researchers: Many are described in Britton & Graesser (2014).
274 For children who have acquired: For academic vocabulary, a useful resource is “The Academic Word List,” Victoria University of Wellington School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/resources/academicwordlist. For insightful discussion of “background” knowledge, see Willingham (2006).
274 Reading skills depend: Adams (2011).
275 Phonics programs of marginal: For the FTC settlement with the Hooked on Phonics company, see https://goo.gl/3Lqx3G.
275 Phonics is on its way: Children who successfully learn phonics out of school may inadvertently perpetuate the illusion that classroom practices are effective. Teachers may not realize that a child’s reading greatly improved because they had extensive outside instruction.
276 A drug is not marketed: Whether biomedical clinical trials are held to sufficiently high standards is a separate, though worrisome, issue.
276 it has not worked well: McArthur (2008).
276 Effects of instructional practices: They are also subject to several artifacts that do not arise in medical RCTs: Dorothy Bishop, “Three Ways to Improve Cognitive Test Scores Without Intervention,” BishopBlog, August 14, 2010, http://goo.gl/BndBlZ. Methods that are not as restrictive as RCTs can yield comparable results in some cases (Cook & Steiner 2009).
276 WWC has also run afoul: Eric Westervelt, “There Is No FDA for Education. Maybe There Should Be,” NPR.org, March 7, 2016, http://goo.gl/Grw7yU.
277 Reading Recovery provides: Reading Recovery Council of North America: http://readingrecovery.org.
277 The Reading Recovery organization: William Tunmer is an excellent reading researcher who happens to live in New Zealand, where Reading Recovery originated and was adopted as part of a national literacy effort. See Tumner et al. (2011). For support for Reading Recovery, see Shanahan & Barr (1995). For Reading Recovery on the What Works Clearninghouse, see here. On short- but not long-term gains, see Center et al. (1995). The program is narrowly focused on an age group in which performance is highly variable and many children catch up. RR is offered in addition to regular classroom activities, and so children who receive both should do better compared to children who have the usual classroom experience. The What Works Clearinghouse found 202 studies that investigated the effectiveness of RR. Three met their criteria for valid experimental designs. Those studies were conducted by researchers with close ties to the Reading Recovery organization.
277 That is what teachers thought: Baumann et al. (2000).
278 “Literacy is the ability”: “Why Literacy,” International Literacy Association, http://literacyworldwide.org/why-literacy. Reading, writing, and communicating are mentioned next.
278 lists of literacies: American Association of School Librarians (2009).
278 The new screen-based technology: “Television literacy” is an example from the Oxford English Dictionary.
278 Compare the experience: New York Times 1914: “New York Times Front Page 1914-07-29,” Wikipedia, https://goo.gl/c2OOi7.
279 “In addition to reading”: Kellner (2006).
279 Moby Dick: Sort of: Fred Beneson, “Emoji Dick,” Kickstarter, https://goo.gl/okP03s.
279 Multimedia software may: Karemaker, Pitchford, & O’Malley (2010).
280 Diana Trilling: On Trilling’s letters, see Lehman (1998), 192.
281 Maybe that is because: Randall Munroe explains.