“Jack Silva didn’t know anything about how children learn to read. What he did know is that a lot of students in his district were struggling. Silva is the chief academic officer for Bethlehem, Pa., public schools. In 2015, only 56 percent of third-graders were scoring proficient on the state reading test. That year, he set out to do something about that.” E. Hanford, NPR
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“Bethlehem is not an outlier. Across the country, millions of kids are struggling. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 32 percent of fourth-graders and 24 percent of eighth-graders aren’t reading at a basic level. Fewer than 40 percent are proficient or advanced.
One excuse that educators have long offered to explain poor reading performance is poverty. In Bethlehem, a small city in Eastern Pennsylvania that was once a booming steel town, there are plenty of poor families. But there are fancy homes in Bethlehem, too, and when Silva examined the reading scores he saw that many students at the wealthier schools weren’t reading very well either.
Silva didn’t know what to do. To begin with, he didn’t know how students in his district were being taught to read. So, he assigned his new director of literacy, Kim Harper, to find out.Harper attended a professional-development day at one of the district’s lowest-performing elementary schools. The teachers were talking about how students should attack words in a story. When a child came to a word she didn’t know, the teacher would tell her to look at the picture and guess.The most important thing was for the child to understand the meaning of the story, not the exact words on the page.
So, if a kid came to the word “horse” and said ‘house,’ the teacher would say, that’s wrong. But, Harper recalls, ‘if the kid said ‘pony,’ it’d be right because pony and horse mean the same thing.’ Harper was shocked. First of all, pony and horse don’t mean the same thing. And what does a kid do when there aren’t any pictures?
This advice to a beginning reader is based on an influential theory about reading that basically says people use things like context and visual clues to read words. The theory assumes learning to read is a natural process and that with enough exposure to text, kids will figure out how words work.
Yet scientists from around the world have done thousands of studies on how people learn to read and have concluded that theory is wrong. One big takeaway from all that research is that reading is not natural; we are not wired to read from birth. People become skilled readers by learning that written text is a code for speech sounds. The primary task for a beginning reader is to crack the code. Even skilled readers rely on decoding…Michelle Bosak, who teaches English as a second language in Bethlehem, said that when she was in college learning to be a teacher, she was taught almost nothing about how kids learn to read…Bosak was among the first group of teachers in Bethlehem to attend the new, science-based classes, which were presented as a series over the course of a year. For many teachers, the classes were as much about unlearning old ideas about reading — like that contextual-guessing idea — as they were about learning new things.”
Extra: Something Very Nice To Watch:
How A Palestinian Teacher Greets Her Students!
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Bethlehem is not an outlier.
- Fewer than 40 percent are proficient or advanced.
- Kim Harper was the new director of literacy.
- This advice to a beginning reader is based on an influential theory.
- This guessing approach is enshrined in materials and handbooks used by teachers.
- Even skilled readers rely on decoding.
- This contextual guessing approach is enshrined in materials.
- The child was prompted to sound out the entire word.
- The children are successful and happy.
- The main goal was to expose kids to lots of text and get them excited about reading
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- Bethlehem is not and outlier.
- There are fancy homes in Bethlehem.
- The theory is wrong.
- Harper attended an professional-development day.
- The teachers were talking about how students should attack words in a story.
- Pony and horse don’t mean the same thing.
- The theory assumes learning to read is a natural process.
- Even skilled readers rely on decoding.
- This was an class on the science of reading.
Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- Jack Silva is the chief academic officer for Bronx, New York, public schools.
- Silva didn’t know anything about how children learn to read.
- One excuse that educators have long offered to explain poor reading performance is too much play time during school.
- Kim Harper new the director of literacy for Bethlehem school.
- One theory assumes learning to read is a natural process.
- The primary task for a beginning reader is to guess the word.
- The contextual guessing approach is what a lot of teachers in Bethlehem had learned.
- When a child comes to a word she doesn’t know,There should guessing.
- In the class, teachers spent a lot of time going over the sound structure of the English language.
- The starting point for reading is sound, and it’s critical for teachers to have a deep understanding of this.
Directions: Place students in groups and have each group list 3 questions they would like to pursue in relation to the article. Have groups exchange questions. Each group tries to answer the questions listed. All responses are shared as a class.