Would you be surprised to know that only one third—barely a third!—of fourth and eighth graders in the US can read proficiently at (or above) grade level? Most taxpayers would be shocked at that statistic. After all, the ability to read well with comprehension is the foundation for every pursuit in adult life. The critical nature of this endeavor is the reason the lion’s share of our tax dollars is allotted for school systems. If you or I were only doing a credible job 34% of the time, we couldn’t reasonably expect to remain employed. Yet, ineffectiveness aside, the public school system remains this country’s most utilized educational domain.
Please don’t think I’m teacher-bashing here: teachers are some of my favorite folk, who have a very difficult job while also signing up for a lower than average wage because they have a genuine passion to teach and help youngsters. Most of us recall with fondness and appreciation those teachers of our own who made a real difference in our life.
But here’s the thing: most educational models continue to assume that reading will be automatic, while neuroscience—and the above statistic—have clearly shown otherwise. It is the underutilization of this neuroscientific data that causes the gap between the altruism of educators and the staggeringly poor statistics of this nation’s young readers. In most colleges and universities, the students majoring in education and those majoring in the sciences have separate orbits with very little common ground. They’re completely different cultures, largely insular. Schools teaching future teachers focus on literacy and infer that reading is an automatic mechanical process that will just happen naturally when students are exposed to it. Neuroscience, on the other hand, studies how reading works in the brain (with lots of really cool image studies), how children learn, and what strategies work best for struggling readers.
Today, educational references abound (really!) about the methods that DO teach reading effectively. Indeed, reading science has developed so well that any struggling reader can benefit. How can we all be part of a collective conversation that will narrow this gap between the available knowledge and its boots-on-the-ground utilization?
- Talk with school personnel regularly about what’s working and what’s not working as your child learns to read.
- When you encounter resources with good ideas, share them. Share on your favorite social media platforms, forward them along to your child’s teacher or reading specialist, discuss at PTA meetings.
- Talk with your child daily about how they feel they’re doing in school. What do they need help with? Are they frustrated? Uninterested? Struggling? Communication helps them feel your interest and fosters a sense of teamwork. Share these issues with the teacher, and work on a plan for home and school to comprehensively address your child’s struggles.
- If your child is pre-school age, discover how to lay a foundation for reading and literacy to optimize your child’s readiness for school.
Knowing and doing are two very different things. Let’s make the leap as a community, and make a real difference for this and future generations.