We have all seen some instructional
practices that are just a bit on the odd side. They reflect a belief
about the way children learn to read, but sometimes the underlying belief
is a bit skewed. This is the place to describe some of the more curious
instructional approaches you've encountered in your career. Send
in your stories on our feedback
page -- names will be withheld unless you specify that you want your
X-Files -- Tales of the Unexplained
in Reading Instruction
I was attending a professional development session
on Guided Reading, and we came to the section on the Three Cueing Systems.
The facilitator claimed that children who struggle to sound out words are
paying too much attention to the words and not enough to the context (contrary
to what research has shown). She described a trick that she used
to force children to "guess" at words to enhance their ability to use the
"primary" cues (semantics and syntax). She used removable tape to
cover up selected words in the passage -- children had to read the passage
and fill in the missing words without being able to see them! She
cautioned people that children will try to "read through" the tape, and
that sometimes it is necessary to double the thickness of the tape so the
children can't see the words underneath. The rest of the teachers
really seemed to like this strategy, so I didn't feel comfortable pointing
out the stupidity of preventing children from making use of the best information
available for word identification -- I was clearly in the minority in that
room. So a lot of teachers went back to their classrooms and taught
children that the way we learn to read is by "guessing."
I was observing our Reading Recovery teacher doing
a short Guided Reading session with a student (I was there for my professional
development, not her's), and I noticed that after every word, the child
looked at the teacher for confirmation. And every time the child
looked at the teacher, the teacher either confirmed or corrected and told
her to keep going. Nearly every word went like this. Afterwards,
I asked the teacher if that's okay, and she said she was trying to build
the child's confidence. I think this would have the opposite effect.
It's teaching the child to always ask for help.
If you ask me, nothing could be weirder than the
Irlen Method of teaching dyslexic children to read. Helen Irlen is
the author of "Reading by the Colors" which suggests that children who
can't read may be suffering from Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS).
She says that "millions" of reading disabled children could be taught to
read by looking through lenses of the right color. She says that
for people with SSS, the text is blurry, or it jumps around on the page,
but by looking at it through colored lenses or through colored acetate,
the text comes into focus, and they are allowed to see the text normally.
And if you believe that, I'm selling some aluminum foil "thinking caps."
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Speed reading. Every year at my university,
they put out all these flyers advertising speed reading courses.
And now I see an advertisement on television for something that's FASTER
than speed reading -- PHOTO reading. This guy on television is saying
that his reading speed is limited only by how fast he can turn the pages,
because he has released the hidden powers of his brain and has learned
how to consume a whole page in a glance. Apparently, he set up his
computer to show him a book one page at a time, so he wouldn't be slowed
down by the need to turn pages... he found that he could "read" as fast
as the computer could show him the text. Claims about speed reading
always remind me of the old joke, "I took a speed reading course and it
was great. I read Moby Dick in two minutes -- It's about a fish..."
When you read faster, you comprehend less, and people who are trained in
speed reading courses do not comprehend any better than a normal reader
who "skims" the text.
How about those machines that are supposed to
train children to move their eyes correctly? It's a machine that
keeps track of where children are looking, and helps them to learn to move
their eyes more efficiently. I guess they think that the reason children
cannot read is because their eyes are not looking where they are suppsed
Editor's note: This is a case of the
rooster's crow causing the sun to rise. It's just backwards -- it
has been shown that poor readers do not efficiently move their eyes from
word to word the way good readers do, but that is not the cause of their
reading difficulty. Rather, that is the result of their reading difficulty.
Researchers have shown that when good readers are given extremely difficult
text to read (text that is way beyond their comprehension level), their
eye movements look very much like those of poor readers. The poor
reading is not a result of poor eye movements -- the poor eye movements
are a result of the poor reading.