Meaning Must Come First During Instruction Reading (Opinion)

To the Editor:

I believe EdWeek’s article “What is Background Knowledge, and How Does It Fit With Reading Science?” (January 30, 2023) is problematic. The “science of reading” inspired by the National Reading Panel was never scientifically tested for efficacy by experts before being presented as the only way to teach reading.

Try reading this. The topic is “reading”:

Ti is pssbleoi to rdea wtouthi snudign otu wdros. I will jtsu dmsteontrade it.

Instead of decoding the sentence, the brain has to search for the message. And, to find the message, the brain has to compare minimal phonetic information with all the knowledge and language you’ve acquired to find something meaningful.

Those who promote decoding as a necessary basic reading skill ignore research cited in a 2006 article showing 1 percent of all 5 to 6 year olds. those who could read by the time they entered preschool, kindergarten, or 1st grade did so without ever being formally taught to decode. My grandson is one of them. He is a 3rd grader and reading at grade 5/6 level.

Readers I struggled with overcame their reading problems even though I never asked them to decode a single word. Using the method of my mentor Dee Tadlock, I help students ages 7 to 57 become readers by placing first meaning and guiding them to know how to use phonetic information strategically to anticipate language in stories (what you did above to read random sentences).

My new readers (ages 5 and 6) aren’t learning to read—a—word—at—once—with a—pause—pause—between—every—word. There is NO meaning in a single word. Language is what we use to express meaning. Means, therefore, must come first.

Rhonda Stone
Parent Lawyer & Reading Tutor/Coach
Co-authorRead Right! (McGraw-Hill, 2005)
Shelton, Wash.