Reading Instruction: The Difference Between Knowing and Doing

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.

Frustrated Student and Teacher small

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?

Mother Reading to Her Baby small

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.

Resource Links:
Nation’s Report Card Statistics on 4th and 8th grade reading levels.
Neuroscience analyzes how we learn to read.