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The great debate in reading instruction.

The reading curriculum receives more attention than any other academic discipline. It is true that individuals engage in much reading in school subjects such as word problems in mathematics as well as reading numerals and symbols, science content in doing experiments and demonstrations, social studies with its emphasis upon diverse social science disciplines, among others. In society, for instance, reading is engaged in very frequently in pursuing news items, writing business and friendly letters, and keeping check book balances (Ediger and Rao, 2011).

The question then arises, how should reading be taught so that optimal learning takes place?

Different Philosophies of Teaching

On the state level, testing dominates ways of ascertaining pupil achievement in reading with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Here, pupils are tested in grades three through eight to determine promotion to the next higher grade level. Pupil results are also used to evaluate in the controversial Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). If a school or school system does meet AYP standards two years in a row, they are on probation and may need to change a certain number of the principals and/or teachers of the failing school. The following implications are involved here in reading instruction:

* each state is in a better position to measure pupil progress in reading as compared local means.

* testing is a motivating device in aiding achievement

* fear of failure by the pupil or school will assist progress made in reading.

* better tests can be developed on the state level in contrast to teacher or district tests (See Trelease, 2000). There have been doubts as to the rationale behind the above asterisked items, one being that states vary on the levels of complexity of their tests. Also, there has been major accusations of cheating such as principals and teachers changing answers recorded by pupils. Atlanta, Georgia is a prime example here. Presently, the Common Core Standards have been adopted by most states in the union. They are to be administered in all states for each designated grade level. Thus, the Common Core Standards are national and advocated by the US Secretary of Education. They have emphasized more valid and reliable tests as compared to NCLB. Testing procedures are highly prescriptive with their accompanying objectives which dictates what is taught. The leaning activities and assessment procedures are aligned with the objectives. Resulting data from testing permits easy comparison among pupils, districts, and states (See Goodman, 1967).

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests are given once a year to a random sampling of pupils in grades four, eight, and twelve. It is known as the nation's report card on pupil progress. Test results may then be compared from the random sampling to that of the previous testing (see Tichman, 2008). There are always questions which might be raised pertaining to testing of pupils to notice achievement in reading:

* how valid and reliable are these tests? The testing and measurement movement has been used over the years to ascertain learner progress with the content changing during that time; the tests need to measure what is salient and important. There must have been weaknesses in each dated test when modifications are made.

* if testing is voluntary for NAEP, do pupils try hard to do well? At the university the writer taught for 30 years, the judgement was made by the administration that university students did not try hard enough to do well on their required tests. The administration then proposed that each student's score appear on his/her transcript. The plan was dropped due to strong student opposition. There are questions here on the efforts put forth by pupils when taking standardized tests. Then too, computer glitches in scoring tests have surfaced in the US. Computers are developed by human beings and are subject to error.

Moving in an opposite direction of the testing and measurement movement advocates, there are numerous groups which favor open ended approaches in selecting objectives, learning activities, and evaluation procures in reading. The National Council Teachers of English presents an Open Forum, on the internet, in discussing issues pertaining to the teaching of the language arts. The responses are

* strongly opposed to testing procedures used presently to encourage reading.

* in favor of permitting pupils to choose their very own reading materials. For example, pupils in junior and senior high school do little reading of assigned reading of the classics, but do want to self select what to read. The writer, when in high school and college, had an English curriculum composed of reading the great works in literature, consisting of the classics. He still enjoys reading Emerson, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, and Longfellow, among many others, but realizes pupil choice appears to be a much greater motivator. When teaching English on the West Bank of the Jordan (the nation of Jordan), 1952-1954, the writer taught required classical literature from Tolstoy's Twenty Three Tales, which had much wisdom and many statements of morality. He was influenced by Tolstoy's literary writings, including War and Peace, and Anna Karenina. In Twenty Three Tales, Tolstoy emphasized, among other things,

* How Much Land does a Person Need? Here, Tolstoy emphasized unnecessary human greed in land ownership and the vain desire for honor within a short life span.

* thinking of and meeting needs of starving people rather than seeing important sights in the Holy Land, although the writer has always felt the importance of seeing salient places in this Land. Entire villages had starving people in Russia in Tolstoy's day (see Ediger, 2007).

With today's emphasis in pupils having a voice in choosing reading materials, they tend to choose what is interesting. These include recent literature such as the Harry Potter books as well as those of Dr. Suess, as examples. Interest propels motivation to read. When pupils do more reading, there is growth and achievement in word recognition and comprehension skills, These can be evaluated through small group and individual conferences. Records may be dated and kept from one evaluation to the next to notice learner progress. With measurement and testing procedures, discussed previously, test writers determine content read by pupils to assess skills in word recognition and diverse kinds of comprehension. Open ended advocates of individualized reading instruction raise the following questions?

* can attitudes and feelings toward reading be measured precisely?

* do pupils feel motivated to read standardized test items?

* might teachers be able to motivate pupils to read classical literature through advanced organizers, readiness experiences, stimulating presentations, quality sequence, and exciting discussions?

* does "one size fit all?" as in each pupil selecting from alternative library books to read or do selected learners need more structure in in the reading curriculum (See Therrien, 2004),?

* are teachers able to monitor each pupil's achievement in individualized reading, or do some fall by the wayside?

In between testing/measurement movements and individualized reading, are there other salient approaches in teaching reading? Basal readers with their accompanying manuals are still used by many teachers. Thus, the Manual, offers suggested objectives, learning opportunities, and appraisal procedures to ascertain learner progress. Specialists in reading have developed each series, published by a leading publishing company.

Teachers may select which objectives from the Manual to emphasize as well as which learning activities and evaluation procedures to stress. Individualized reading might be emphasized along with the basal reading approach. There are selected library books recommended in the Manual/reader which go along with the story in the basal and may become a part of the individualized reading program. The goals might also be harmonized with objectives in Common Core Standards as well as in NCLB Objectives. However, it appears that trends in teaching reading favor measurable procedures of instruction policies, such as the Common Core Standards which stress testing to ascertain pupil progress in reading. Why does this appear to be the case?

* precise pupil percentiles from testing offer parents, administrators, and the lay public, numerical results of pupil achievement in reading. It becomes an understandable report card to present pupil information on reading achievement to the public.

* it is difficult to inform others pertaining to how well pupils are doing in reading without measuring pupil performance. There are problems involved in standardized tests used to notice learner progress in reading such as validity and reliability of tests used, as well as these tests measuring only a sample of learner behaviors in reading. Generally, only a few comprehension and word attack skills are being measured. The scope of reading behaviors tested are narrow as well as in-depth learning is minimized.

What is a Quality Reading Program?

A quality program of reading instruction stresses selected factors. First of all, it encourages reading of diverse kinds of genre. This is needed so that pupils find what is meaningful in their personal lives. Pupils differ in which genres are meaningful and then build upon what is already known. The teacher is there to assist pupils to broaden genre content being read. Included here is securing what is interesting to pupils. Interest, indeed, is a powerful factor in reading. Pupils may be turned off on reading until they locate what is fascinating to the reader. It behooves the reading teacher to be on the lookout for materials which propels reading activities due to interest. By observing what children actually read, they reveal interests. These interests must intensified as well as be broadened in scope to assist in learning about a future avocation, profession, job, or line of work.

Pupils must be guided to perceive purpose in reading not only as a leisure type experience and promoting interests in the world of work, but also assisting in becoming a well rounded individual. Developing well physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually are indeed noble objectives to attain. In society, people converse about diverse topics and pupils as well as adults are fortunate if they can elaborate on different kinds of information. Sometimes, the feeling exists that two people have nothing in common until finding out they can connect with knowledge common to both. Then too, in a plethora of situations, individuals find it convenient to have a rich wealth of information, and these are convenient to have in different social positions. Thus, there is purpose in perceiving worth in general education. The writer, as professor emeritus of education, senses purpose or reasons for possessing knowledge for its own sake and playing around with ideas, regardless if they are practical or not.

Providing for individual differences has always been a strong and useful slogan in the teaching of reading. Here, the learner needs to have reading materials on his/her level of achievement. The reading teacher needs to spend more time with individuals and small groups needing additional assistance in phonics and diverse procedures for increasing more complex levels of reading such as problem solving, critical as well as creative thinking. With individualizing assistance needed by pupils in reading, the teacher is able to provide more effectively for different levels of pupil progress in the classroom. Non-grading school has proponents for its adoption in the reading curriculum. Otherwise teaching pupils collectively with different levels of achievement is recommendable (See Cazden, 2001).


Cazden, C. (2001), Classroom Discourse, The Psychology of Teaching and Learning. CT Heinemann.

Ediger, Marlow, and D. Bhaskara Rao (2011), Essays on Teaching Reading. New Delhi, India: Discovery Publishing House.

Ediger, Marlow (2007), Meaning in Reading Instruction," Reading Improvement, 44 (4), 217-220.

Goodman, K. (1967), "Reading, A Psycholinguistic Guessing Game," Journal of the Reading Specialist, May, 126-135.

Therrien, W. J. (2004), "Fluency and Comprehension Gains as a Result of Repeated Reading," Remedial and Special Education, 25, 252-261.

Tichman, Sheri (2008), "The Object of their Attention," Educational Leadership, 65 (5) 44-47.

Trelease, J. (2000), The Read Aloud Handbook. New York: Penguin books.


Professor Emeritus

Truman State University
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Author:Ediger, Marlow
Publication:Reading Improvement
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2012
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