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When Only Some Students Learn to Read

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Produced by Reading Universe, a partnership of WETA, Barksdale Reading Institute, and First Book
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Louisa Moats: A third of the kids learn in spite of the way we teach them, which is a really interesting thing. That's an amazing thing about the human brain, that some kids just put it together, but the majority don't, and then fully a third are really up against it. So, the well-meaning teachers doing whole language-based balanced literacy practices would be encouraged by the third, who thought it was lots of fun to do those things and who were learning in spite of the way they were being taught. And it was random positive reinforcement that was unconnected to causality, really. It's a big part of the problem, and there are various ways to address it. The most important is to make the non-perceiving adult have a close encounter with an individual or individuals who are struggling, and to have someone mentoring them through the process of gaining insight into what the roadblocks for that learner are.

And you cannot do that without being able to look with insight into how the student is responding, what is hard for them, what their spelling errors are, what they're confusing when they're asked to do something in a lesson. You have to have that lens of linguistic processing to be able to interpret what's going on in the mind of the student. So, I find that the start point is an honest confrontation with the failures of instruction, but you put it in nicer language, but it's these students aren't getting it. And let's look really closely at what they're doing in the lesson and what their responses are telling us about what they do and don't get. Let's really look carefully at the data that we have from surveys and more formal assessments and figure out what's what. And then you go from there.

Reading Universe is made possible by generous support from Jim & Donna Barksdale, the AFT, the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, and three anonymous donors.

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