Continuing to Challenge the Reading Instruction Status Quo

As some may know, in 2005 Eduflack was part of a team that was asked to put together a book to help parents and teachers better understand scientifically based reading instruction. This came out of my work with the National Reading Panel, which looked at decades worth of research to determine the best ways to teach young children (those in kindergarten through third grade) how to read and how to read at grade level.

A lot has changed since 2005, both in education in general and with regard to literacy and reading instruction specifically. But the guidance SBRR provides hasn’t changed. We still know what works. We still know what is most effective for teaching kids – particularly those from historically disadvantaged backgrounds – to read. We still know if a child isn’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade, learning in the later grades just becomes harder and harder.

But since Why Kids Can’t Read originally came out, we’ve had knock-down, drag-out fights on everything from Race to the Top to teacher evaluations to new ELA standards under the Common Core. While these debates have garnered all the headlines, they haven’t diminished the importance of doing what works when it comes to teaching literacy skills. And they certainly haven’t reduced the importance of parents in the teaching and learning process.

That’s why I am so excited to announce that Why Kids Can’t Read: Continuing to Challenge the Status Quo in Education, from Rowman & LIttlefield, is now available to help teachers and parents navigate this important subject matter. Done in collaboration with my co-editors Reid Lyon and Phyllis Blaunstein, Why Kids Can’t Read offers personal stories from parents and educators on how they have “beaten the odds” when it comes to teaching kids to read. It also provides a deep understanding of what the research says AND how parents and teachers can use the research to ensure each and every classroom is doing what works when it comes to literacy instruction.

Contributing authors include Teresa Ankney, Diane Lyon, Phyllis Blaunstein, Norma Garza, Marion Joseph, Richard Long, Reid Lyon, Sara Porter, Benjamin Sayeski, Bennett Shaywitz, Sally Shaywitz, and yours truly. It also offers a foreword from Carol Hampton Rasco, the president and CEO of Reading Is Fundamental, and a preface from former U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley.

For those parents with struggling readers at home, it is worth a look. For those seeking a refresher on SBRR, it is work a read. And for those looking for inspiration from parents and educators who are doing extraordinary things, it won’t disappoint.

Of course, I’m biased. As the lead editor, a contributing author, and the father of a struggling reader, this book is quite personal to me. But it should be personal to all of us. We should want every kid reading. We should demand every fourth grade reading at grade level. And we should never make excuses for so many children – particularly kids of color – struggling with reading.

Why Kids Can’t Read is really a story of empowerment, helping parents take an active, positive role in their children’s educational journey. As Bob Chase, a past president of the National Education Association said about the book, “Parents and teachers working together can be an unstoppable force in solving our children’s reading problems. This book will guide all who strive for a nation of readers.”

Couldn’t say it any better myself.

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Ban a Book? Really?

It’s Banned Books Week. It’s a little disappointing that we, as a society built on freedoms, needs to acknowledge that we still have a problem in trying to censor material, particularly material that is part of the learning process.

Over on Twitter, the newly relaunched Reading Rainbow is soliciting stories from folks on their personal banning experience. Just check out @readingrainbow and their #BannedBooksWeek and #MyStory hashtags to see some of the tales being told. It is particularly surprising to see the role that some librarians, the very folks who should be protecting and promoting said books, have played in the process.

Which gets us to Eduflack’s tale. I remember it all quite well. When I was in elementary school, I was a huge fan of Judy Blume, I read any book that had her name on the cover. I loved them. Owned many of them, and read them over and over and over again.

One day, Eduflack went to the local library to check out one of Blume’s titles he didn’t have. The book? Are You There God?, It’s Me Margaret. If you are unaware of the book, go ahead and click on the title and check out the Wiki summary.

At any rate, the local librarian wouldn’t let me check the book out of the library. I had a library card. I hadn’t maxed out my checked out books yet. I had no overdue books. But I was blocked at the desk.

The librarian then placed a call to my mother. Yep, getting ratted out to my own mom. The librarian explained that I wanted to check out this book. She wasn’t going to let me, because she felt the book was inappropriate, both because of my age and because of my gender. My mom, a good liberal and a great English teacher, didn’t quite understand the problem. She told the librarian to let me have the book. There would be no book banning in the future Eduflack’s house.

Then dear ol’ mom went out and bought me the book, so I wouldn’t have future issues at the local library. I remember reading the book many times in the years after the incident. And somehow I managed to survive without any emotional scars or spiritual questions or concerns about my gender.

I’m always amazed by the books I see on the “banned” list here in the United States. Books that I adore and that have shaped my thinking and my life. Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men (a far better book than either version of the movie). Catcher in the Rye. Go Ask Alice. How to Eat Fried Worms. James and the Giant Peach. Lord of the Flies. A Wrinkle in Time. Most things written by Judy Blume … and by S.E. Hinton.

One of my favorite movies (and a damned good book by Christopher Buckley) is Thank You for Smoking. The protagonist is a tobacco lobbyist. When asked what he would do when his son was of age and wanted to smoke, he replies, “I’d buy him his first pack.”

That’s how I feel about banned books. Either of my kids want to read a title that a teacher or a librarian or a talking head says is inappropriate material for a child or teen, I’ll buy them their own copy. My mom did it for me. I’ll carry it forward.

Lesson from Peter Rabbit?

As the father of a struggling reader, I was surprised to see this olde tyme cover of a Peter Rabbit book. The scowl on Peter’s face, the result of needing to go back to school, makes me think of just what I’ll be seeing in a few weeks when the eduson needs to give up his summer of freedom and start third grade.

Don’t know who to credit for the photo, but whoever you are, thanks much!

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