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Letter: Teachers College Reading & Writing

To the Editor,

It’s important that parents and families pay attention to how their children are being educated.  For that interest, we applaud the letter from parent Michelle Cubanski which was posted in the Woodbridge Town News on February 10, 2017.

It’s also important to be well informed about that education.  The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is always happy to help parents know more about literacy research and about our work.

The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, provides professional development and continual education for teachers.  Thousands of teachers come from around the world to the university each summer to attend week-long institutes in the teaching of reading and writing.  They also attend institutes on argumentation, on digital literacy, on critical nonfiction reading skills, and the myriad other literacy-related skills that are crucial for students to become powerful in all academic disciplines.

One of the significant aspects of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is that, because we are part of a university, we are always changing.  Sometimes that change is in response to research through our work in thousands of classrooms, and sometimes it is in response to educational initiatives such as the Common Core State Standards.  That means, though, that a peripheral knowledge of TCRWP, perhaps achieved many years ago, will have little relation to work even in the recent decade.

Twenty years ago, you might hear the kinds of literacy arguments that would pit a whole language approach against a phonics approach.  At TCRWP, we moved on from those arguments decades ago.  A rich literacy program for young readers needs to provide students with research-based phonics and word-study programs, and also with lots of the highest quality children’s books, time to read, expert instruction and feedback from a teacher who is trained in moving readers up levels of text complexity.

In “A Guide to the Reading Workshop,” Lucy Calkins, founder of the TCRWP, reminds teachers that an effective word study program for K-2, “according to the Common Core State Standards, covers phonemic awareness, letter-sound work, spelling patterns, high-frequency words, strategies for problem-solving words, and vocabulary.”  Calkins then looks at a more recent report from the National Reading Panel, and states that, “Kids need both synthetic and analytical approaches to the teaching of phonics.”  In a synthetic approach, sounds are taught in isolation, and then children learn to blend these sounds into words.  In an analytic approach, children are taught to analyze and blend larger subunits of words and phonics principles.

What Cubanski’s letter illuminates is not a dearth of phonics instruction in Woodbridge.  What the letter makes clear is that parents probably need a fuller understanding of the literacy work that is happening in Woodbridge’s schools.  It is important for teachers to help parents know and address the signs of disengagement in reading and of trouble with word solving, phonemic awareness, fluency or comprehension.  And yes, it is important that parents know the approach a school has to teaching kids to be flexible and skilled word solvers.

Natalie Louis, the staff developer from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project who works with Beecher’s primary teachers, has advanced degrees in phonics, a research background in that area, and deep knowledge of research and methods for teaching phonics.  She could perhaps join with the teachers from that school in leading more parent-education workshops.  Parents are right to ask to be informed about the education their children are receiving.

For parents who want to read more about reading research, and find resources for parents, there are white papers and research summaries on reading at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project website, http://readingandwritingproject.org.  If your child is a reluctant reader, Donalyn Miller’s blog at https://bookwhisperer.com/blog/ may be especially helpful.  Richard Allington’s article, Every Child, Every Day, clarifies current reading research.  It’s available at http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar12/vol69/num06/Every-Child,-Every-Day.aspx.

Building parental understanding can only build a better partnership between home and school, and deepen the likelihood of student success.

The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project

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