“The most valued people in the 21st century,” writes Howard Garner (2009) are those who “can survey a wide range of sources, decide which is most important and worth paying attention to, and then put this information together in ways that make sense to oneself and, ultimately, to others…(they) will rise to the top of the pack”. Thomas Friedman, author of the bestseller The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century (2005), concludes that the most successful people in this century will be those who can acquire and use knowledge to develop and communicate creative combinations of ideas, applications, and strategies to solve problems.
How are those 21st century abilities acquired? From something called “plain old reading and writing.” Our vision for teaching reading in the primary grades in the School District of Janesville is that students are immersed in daily instruction in very simple, ordinary elements of reading: the alphabet and its sounds, common blends, and irregular spelling patterns—and words, words, words. Whole classes clap, chant, and recite words and syllables chorally, every day. They repeatedly practice and master the 37 most common spelling patterns, the 50 most common transferable word chunks, and—of special importance—high-frequency word lists.
New words are always being learned and recited; they are written down, multiple times, every day; they are posted on “word walls” and referred to incessantly to build up students’ reading vocabulary. The simple activities must be done assiduously, with guided practice and frequent checks for understanding and on an extended and daily basis. If these practices are done, students will reduce by months or even years the time it takes to learn and read independently. This is what we want our teachers to concentrate their efforts on, and not be distracted by skills worksheets and coloring and arts and crafts activities that rob our students from the precious instructional time needed to promote high quality reading instruction.
This summer, the School District of Janesville will be conducting a reading institute that will assemble the high performing teachers of Reading and Writing who in turn will train their fellow teachers about the Janesville Formula of best reading practices that will be consistently practiced in all our classrooms. An important goal of this institute will be to ensure that students “read to learn” rather than unnecessarily dragging out the process of “learning to read.” Research informs us that students need to be able to recognize about 50,000 words to become mature readers (Smith, 2006). The only way they can be learned is for us to ensure that our students are exposed to enormous amounts of reading material. Stay tuned to future additions and discussions related to the Reading Institute and our efforts to make sure students are able to read, discuss and write about lots of books, articles, and poems at high levels.