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  • Features of Structured Literacy

Reading and the Myth of Visual Memorization

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Produced by Reading Universe, a partnership of WETA, Barksdale Reading Institute, and First Book
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Louisa Moats: It is hard for all of us to really understand what the child is up against. The child who comes into the classroom with their spoken language, who is really unfamiliar with those squiggles on the page and what they represent. It's hard for us to understand this fundamental phenomenon, which is reading looks as if it's a visual activity, as if it's a visual memorization activity when it primarily is a language processing activity in the brain, and why not? We are looking at a printed page and trying to remember what those words say, and if we know how to read, we can just look at the print and instantly recover the spoken language that that print represents. But we went through these hidden mental processes to get to that point, and now with the advantage of all the scientific work from various fields that we have, we have tremendous insight into how that process unfolds that should guide and that do guide our decisions about professionals, about what to do as teachers of beginning reading, more advanced reading.

You look at a lot of instructional materials and they reinforce these myths about the basic psychological processes of learning to read, and they also failed to provide teachers with the kind of instructional guidance in the form of coherent lessons, with things explained, coherent scope and sequence, sufficient practice, a path through this complex material. It's so hard to get this through to people because of the illusion that reading is visual memorization ... that reading is easy because when we have learned how to do it, it comes without effort. So we mistakenly project our own internal experience as proficient readers onto the kids who are not at all where we are as literate adults. That to me, is the biggest disconnect between what has always gone on in reading education and what science has informed us we should be thinking about and doing as reading educators.

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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