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In Reading, One Size Does Fit All
Nothing is more ingrained in modern education theory than the notion that people have different abilities,
different types of brains, and different learning styles.

It's now assumed that a classroom will be full of many varieties of children, each of which must be taught with
a different teaching strategy.

Always keep in mind that the people pushing this theory are the same people who promoted Whole Word,
Reform Math, Constructivism, and all the other dubious pedagogies now found in public schools. Our experts
do not have a good track record.

In fact, that's the big problem facing Americans when they try to improve education. They have to swim
through an ocean of misdirection and sophistry. The best intentioned teachers and parents have limited
chance of finding the optimal solutions. Even smart business executives, military officials, and
community leaders have little chance against the jargon and obfuscation created by the Education
Establishment.

Here is the one most striking thing about the Reading Wars. The phonics experts are unanimous in claiming
that they teach everyone (or 99% of everyone) to read in the FIRST grade. That's the gold standard. If you
can't come up to that standard, you should put your snake oil back in your suitcase and go away.

Remarkably, the Whole Word crowd claims to accomplish comparatively little. Their timetables indicate that
students will have limited literacy through middle school and even into high school. Only the students with
exceptional memories will learn to read. In short, you have a reading method that produces casualties each
step of the way: The result is millions of functional illiterates, people who can read only at a rudimentary
level.

In the fourth grade, we find that less than 10% of students are "advanced," that is, good readers. Most students
end up "below proficient," that is, with some degree of damage. How should we deal with them? The
Education Establishment says you must have a differentiated learning approach for each of these different
levels of reading. But these kids aren't learning disabled in a genetic sense. They are reading-disabled due to
bad pedagogy.

The claim that there are multiple learning styles is probably best understood as a cover-up. The experts create
children with many different levels of ability, and then they call them different learning styles. What they
really are is different degrees and types of damage. (The most common example is dyslexia. But which comes
first, this problem or the flawed pedagogy that often creates this problem?)

All over the Internet, teachers and experts of different kinds shout the same message: each child is
different; you have to teach to each one's strengths. We don't teach people to swim or do gymnastics in
different styles. We don't teach people to fly a plane or drive a car with different styles. Children are
not taught to ride horses in different ways. We don't assume that children will use different styles in
learning to speak. Why is it suddenly when you get to reading we must have different instructional
methods?

Think about the waste of time. Think about the confusion. But here is the main thing. The Education
Establishment refuses to use the most efficient and productive method -- phonics. These so-called experts
insist on mixing together a bunch of inferior approaches, the common denominator being sight-words.
Predictably, there are damaged children. Do the experts confess? Do they change? Do they accept
responsibility? No, they blame the kids, claiming that the kids have different learning styles!

Now suppose we back away from this view. Suppose we ban sight-words from every school. Suppose we
teach all kids in the one best way, intensive phonics. Possibly we'll see a few minor differences. But for the
most part, we'll see kids becoming fluent readers.

It's not rocket science. Kid spend a month learning the alphabet. They spend a month learning the sounds of
the letters ("f" is feh-). They spend a month learning the two-letter blends. They spend a month learning the
three-letter blends. Now they're reading. Anything. The process is not normally broken down that way, but it
could be. My concern was to dramatize the various sub-steps, to show that they are not that hard. If you've
already learned that "b" is a beh- sound and "a" is an ahh- sound, then it's easy to accept that "ba" is
pronounced bah-. That's how English works.

There's no reason to postulate differences and then to spin off gratuitous accommodations for each different
style.

Truth is, in reading, one approach works almost perfectly with all learners. One size does fit all.

Here is a typical comment by a teacher on the internet. Presumably she learned this muddled thinking in ed
school:

"One of the most precarious dangers in this realm is the assumption that there is one way to teach reading.
There are many strategies to learn which will help people to decode words. We all depend on these strategies
to different degrees. We ought to be thinking about diversifying reading instruction to reach multiple
modalities and presenting information through a variety of activities. There is always more than one way to
learn something because there are always so many different approaches to learning. One size is never gonna
fit all when every brain is so unique!"

This quote tell you everything you need to understand why so many kids are weak and plodding readers right
into middle school. They are taught lots of stuff they do not need to hear about. Meanwhile, the essential
components of reading are blurred or segmented so they aren't learned properly. Add the bad. Hold back
the good. Of course, you get muddled results.

Here is a harsh generalization I'm comfortable with. Whatever the Education Establishment is preaching, first
assume it's the wrong way to proceed. That's what their track record tells us, especially in reading.



(Nothing is more important than early literacy. For more on the reading crisis, see "42: Reading Resources" on
Improve-Education.org.)
About the Author
BruceDPrice
Bruce Deitrick Price is an author, artist, poet and education activist. He founded Improve-Education.org in
2005. This site now has 65 articles. Some are academic/intellectual; others deal with theories and methods
used in public schools. Ten articles deal with reading.
Read more articles on education topics at http://www.edarticle.com