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Is There Really a Right Way to Teach Reading?

Opinion: There is a right way to teach reading, and Mississippi knows it.
A cartoon picture with a larger book outlining the letter A. A teacher is pointing to the letter A with a stick. Students are surrounding the book looking at the letter A.

As an Alabamian, I once found pride in stating, "At least Alabama isn't last in everything!" Usually, the good ole state of Mississippi would come to the rescue as being at the bottom of the totem pole, but not anymore! They have found the key to teaching reading and I cannot express how happy I am that Mississippi is rising!

According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, a standardized test that assesses both reading and math, Mississippi made more progress than any other state! Now, standardized tests can be a bit tricky to decipher all the reasons scores increase or decrease, but something notable Mississippi educators decided to implement, is teaching the science of reading!

Yes, there is a science and a formula behind reading that has been proven to have successful outcomes when taught to fidelity (I just want to take a quick detour right here and give a shout-out to my old professor Dr. Craig Darch from the prestigious Auburn University. Dr. Darch not only taught his students the science of reading but also gave us enthusiastic demonstrations of how to teach lessons using great content. Dr. Darch, you are awesome 👏🏽 ). Whether you agree with it or not, learning to read is not a natural process. It is not a milestone that you achieve like learning to walk or even talk. Students have to be explicitly taught how to connect sounds to letters letters to words words to sentences and so on...

Decoding must take place before reading comprehension is expected. The "whole-language" approach to reading is not the best practice and is often confusing to students, especially those with Specific Learning Disabilities. The whole language approach simply means that the students are shown words and are expected to memorize them. They are not given any codes or tools to decipher unfamiliar words. An example of this is giving students a sight word list, reviewing the words, and then expecting the students to just remember them. A better approach is to teach students the "codes." This approach teaches students how to decode unfamiliar words by sounding them out and using syllable patterns to decode words. The man who coined the term Direct instruction, the late Zig Engelmann, knew this. My old professors knew this. Well-educated educators in Mississippi know this. Mississippi has figured it out and I hope the other states that are falling behind figure it out too. Thanks, Mississippi for setting a great example!

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