A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Knowing to Comprehend

Imagine taking a reading test and confronting the following paragraph. That’s the way too many of our young students feel as they take the high stakes tests we require of them.

“Test cricket is a game that spans over two innings. This means that one team needs to bowl the other team out twice and score more runs than them to win the match. Another key difference between test cricket and other forms of cricket is the length of the innings. In test cricket there is no limit to the innings length. Whereas in one day cricket & Twenty20 cricket there are a certain amount of overs per innings [sic]. The only limits in test cricket is a 5 day length. Before the game begins an official will toss a coin. The captain who guesses the correct side of the coin will then choose if they want to bat or field first. One team will then bat while the other will bowl & field. The aim of the batting team is to score runs while the aim of the fielding team is to bowl ten people out and close the batting teams’ innings. Although there are eleven people in each team only ten people need to be bowled out as you cannot have one person batting alone. Batting is done in pairs.”

You no doubt were able to read every word in the paragraph above from cricketrules.com. Yet, unless you know the game, you can’t comprehend very much of what it says. It requires previous knowledge to make it completely intelligible. So it is with all reading. The reader is expected to have certain basic knowledge in order to be able to comprehend what is being said. While this appears to be self-evident and is confirmed by reams of education research, the fact is that most of our elementary schools focus on basic reading skills and neglect the knowledge base necessary for good comprehension. Every few years we seem to send our elementary teachers for staff development in the latest reading program or technique. Given that the state examinations are in reading and math, more and more of the elementary school day has been devoted to skills instruction. In so doing, we have ironically lessened our students’ capacity to be better readers, depriving them of the basic knowledge needed to be good readers.

A recent article on this subject in The Atlantic should be read by every person responsible for the education of young children. We need to begin the task of rebuilding a content based curriculum if we are ever to improve the reading ability of our children.

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