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Friday, February 17, 2012

Struggling readers and cooking

Reading is a complex process that humans were not biologically designed to do. Speaking and communicating is what we are innately designed for. I was listening to a neuroscientist speak about the wonders of the brain. He described how babies still in the womb can hear the mother's voice. The baby can hear others too, like the father and family members, but those voices are somewhat distorted and muffled. The mother's voice is clearer. When babies are born they cry and coo in their native language. A baby born in France cries with an inflection that rises; babies born in Germany, the cries end abruptly. This is the case throughout the world. So, learning occurs prior to birth. Humans have been communicating through language for thousands of years. We are genetically wired to do so. Conversely, reading is relatively new on the continuum.

According to Gee (2003) there are two major schools of reading instruction. The first are the traditionalists. The see reading as acquiring a set of skills through instruction. It must be overtly taught. The second group are the whole language advocates. They see learning to read as natural process. It is attained by immersion in literacy practices. Both have support for their positions but both lack what Gee calls Discourse learning processes. He explains that the process should be similar to how we learn to cook. Most people learn by watching others, helping in the kitchen, learning traditions passed down by their elders (mentors). So, learners must observe masters work. The masters model what works well, scaffold skills needed and give feedback, encouragement and guidance as the novice delves in.

This model should be mirrored in reading instruction. I believe more should be done to decrease the overt instruction and increase the mentoring, modeling and sharing. Not just in school, but at home with reading materials in the students' native languages.

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