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We Confused Literature with Literacy
See also: Readings for Comprehension | AVKO Philosophy | AVKO Curriculum | The Teaching of Reading and Spelling

Jane Fell Greene, Ed.D.

(This article is a reprint of one originally published in the Fall 2000 issue of the LaBIDA Journal, a publication of the International Dyslexia Association, Louisiana Branch.  Dr. Greene was the keynote speaker at the LaBIDA Tulane conference.  She is Academic Dean at the National Institute for Continuing Education, author of Language!, and founder of LaBIDA.)   

Examples of Fuzzy Thinking That Caused a Literary Crisis:

1. Language is a "natural" human phenomenon.  If we immerse our students in language and literature, they'll become good readers.

    This kind of thinking requires a giant leap of logic: spoken language is a natural human phenomenon; written language is not.  Written language is invented.  Writing has been variously invented in various cultures and civilizations.  A quick review of history and anthropology reveals that most civilizations never developed a written language.


2.  Don't worry about word recognition.  Comprehension is all that matters.  Focus on the semantic, syntactic, and schematic cueing systems in teaching reading.

    Very early on, some glean the overall meaning of a passage without identifying all words; context clues and picture clues can mask even the most serious learning disability.  But readers require automaticity in decoding to become good readers; they must identify words as automatically as their own names.  If not, "word attack" becomes literal.  Significant increase in special education referrals occurs at about fifth grade level--at the same time, a break point occurs in reading development.  Kids can't guess at words like chlorophyll or circumnavigation; these words don't exist in their listening vocabularies.


3. Don't worry about spelling.  Let it happen naturally.  Let's do "invented" spelling.

    Educators ignored what they had learned about the re-learning curve in Ed Psych 101.  Spelling inventions were learned so thoroughly they became impossible to unlearn.


4. Basic skills are not the issue; literacy can't be achieved through discrete skills.

    Literacy, by definition, is a synergistic collection of discrete skills--all of those skills that give one automatic facility with the written word: reading, writing, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and mechanics.


5. The English language isn't phonologically predictable.  Never teach phonics; it produces phonic-damaged children.  Drill and kill.  There are too many rules and kids can't learn all of those rules.

    87% of English is phonologically predictable.  The kids who do not learn the structure and function of the English language are the ones who are damaged.   Some of learning requires drill and practice; education need not equal entertainment.  Suppose a math professor suggested that we never teach the rules.   Just immerse them in numbers.  Then, there's whole music.  And whole science.  Why not whole medicine?


6. If children are motivated, they'll become readers; if children are read to, they'll become readers; when children are ready, they'll become readers; if children are placed in a print-rich environment, they'll become readers; if we fail to teach children the code of written English, they will learn to read.

    We followed the emperor who wasn't wearing any clothes.  The fallout, after twenty years of fuzzy thinking, has arrived.  It's here.


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