“Teaching reading IS rocket science.”

I love this quote. I picked it up from a colleague and friend who taught reading for her entire career as a reading specialist and classroom teacher. I taught reading for 17 years as a third and fourth grade classroom teacher. And, as a science teacher for the last 22 years of my career, I also continued to teach reading skills and strategies in support of basic reading instruction. Until last year, my home school used to be one of the few middle schools around to have dedicated reading instruction every day for grades 6-8 in lieu of the more standard ELA (English language arts) where reading and English are mooshed together.

Teaching reading IS rocket science. This quote from Louisa Moats says it all.  Dr. Moats is a nationally recognized authority on how children learn to read and why some fail to learn. It turns out that Dr. Moats has become quite the controversial person, but that is not the focus of this post. I will mention that she is a proponent of methodology like Reading First. The point that Dr. Moats is making is that it’s not easy to teach another person, or a number of small persons, to read. Once you get it, reading may seem relatively easy; however, that process of letter recognition to sound association to word recognition to meaning connection can be quite a challenge. Diagnosis of reading difficulties is a combined art and science. I know. I have done it many, many times. But, I digress.

This is actually a simple post. I love books and I love reading. Reading for pleasure has become a luxury that I cannot often afford. I find that I don’t have a lot of spare or discretionary time. This is nothing new. When I was teaching, I was not able to dedicate many periods of extended time to curling up with a good book for a good, long read–except during the summer when I could luxuriate in reading a new spy thriller or murder mystery—my two favorite genres. In Maine, I could put away a book a day, especially if I pulled my night owl trick and read until one, two, or even three in the morning.

During the school year (my new job as state union president still responds to the traditional school year calendar, even though I now work year-round), I find myself saving books for when I travel. I do read books related to my job—non-fiction, which has its own level of satisfaction. And, I do subscribe to a number of magazines and read those bit by bit whenever I get the chance. Not such a big commitment of time or even intellect, in some cases.

However, I just finished reading a fascinating article in a recent New Yorker magazine (October 1, 2012) about the emergence of drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea. [I know that this is not necessarily a fascinating or appealing topic to others, but I am trying to make a point here. And I have warned you–I do geek science!]

Jerome Groopman’s article “Sex and the Superbug” is essential reading, IMHO, for anyone over the age at which one might become sexually active–used to be around sixteen, I would guess. But if I had a twelve-year old son or daughter, I would be having a serious sitdown about this news.

Gonorrhea has been a scourge for centuries. However, through proper and timely diagnosis and treatment, the incidence of this disease reached an all-time low in 2009. At that time–a mere three years ago–leading epidemiologists  believed that gonorrhea could be almost eradicated in some Western countries within ten to fifteen years. But it has made a comeback—and with a vengeance. You can google “sex and the superbug” for more information, including a complete copy of the article. It caught a number of people’s attention.

My point here is that it is my penchant for reading and my capacity to read and understand potentially complex texts, to understand complicated ideas and concepts, and to finish up with both the big picture and the details that makes learning to read such a satisfying and productive occupation. Reading is an important lifeskill. Literally, reading can save one’s life. I plan to have both of my young adult sons read this piece.

The fact that reading can also provide hours of entertainment and enjoyment is the icing on the cake.

Here are a few more good quotes related to the value of reading. Again, these come from my friend who retired in June, 2011 and is now enjoying hours and hours of reading—but then, she always made time for a few good books. She often had (and still does) 4-5 books going at one time: one on her I-pod, one in the car, one upstairs, one downstairs, etc. Books on tape are a godsend. She wisely and systematically uses the public library as her own. I admire her dedication to books.

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”   ~Frederick Douglass

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”    ~Emilie Buchwald

“So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away,  And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall.”   ~Roald Dahl,  from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

“The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I [haven’t] read.”    ~Abraham Lincoln

“I cannot live without books.”    ~Thomas Jefferson

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” ~Groucho Marx

“Why can’t people just sit and read books and be nice to each other?”  ~David Balducci

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”    ~Albert Einstein

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”   ~Dr. Suess, from I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”    ~Ray Bradbury

This entry was posted in A Good Education, Interesting Bits, Literacy, Reading, Science, Science Education. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Teaching reading IS rocket science.”

  1. Gilda says:

    I am honored–not sure about the juxtaposition with gonorrhea, but will take it–if just one teacher, parent, student, ed policy wonk or adminiweenie rethinks teaching based on reading being THE most important lifetime sport, everybody will be a winner. STEM and STEAM (from previous post) are certainly steps in the right direction. I was always very appreciative–and awed– to see you weaving, knitting and braiding literacy into you science curriculum. I would love to see reading instruction given the same focus, importance and budget as the football team…

  2. Frederika says:

    Hey, what can I say. Just your luck.

    This weekend, in the same edition of the New Yorker, I also read a profile about J.K.Rowling and her new book; about Mitt Romney in a piece titled “Transaction Man”; a piece by Margaret Talbot about about how her father, Lyle Talbot (WHO?), got to act alongside the likes of Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, and Carole Lombard; and a very funny one-pager that set Joe Biden up as the waiter in the restaurant where you and your friends are having dinner: “Hey, chief. There’s the guy. How you doin’? Got your friends here, party of six. Lady in the hat. Great to see you. My name is Joe Biden and I’ll be your server tonight. Lemme tell you a story. (Pulls up a chair and sits.)” The piece is spot-on and really captures the verve, political nature, and friendly brashness of the VP–our very own native son.

    All enjoyable, informative reads. But the one on the newest up-and-coming drug-resistant plague was the one that could serve to prove the sheer importance of being able not just to read but to become literate in every sense of the word, especially in regards to the reams of scientific news that is available every day.

    In the game of juxtaposition, sometimes you win; sometimes you lose.

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