Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Are Kids Really Learning to Read in School?

Being 69 years old and having lived a rather full life, I really can’t remember how I was taught to read.

Learning To Read

Image Courtesy of Aline Dassel ~

I know neither of my parents were avid readers; yet, I turned into a voracious reader

I filter my Google news page with keywords to catch items of interest.

The other day I ran across an article on the independent news site, WND, titled Want Good Readers? Keep Kids from School, Parents Told.

I recommend reading it; but, what I took away was a lead on a book, originally published back in 1955—Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do about it, by Rudolf Flesch.

The book is primarily about reading education in the United States (and, mostly about reading taught in public schools); but, I’d be interested to hear in the Comments from folks in other countries—is the same problem occurring there?

Very basically, the book explores “Phonics-First” vs. “Look-and-Say” approaches.

Here are a few excerpts from the book:

“Some 27 million American adults are functionally illiterate, and 45 million more are only marginally literate. The number of adult problem readers is increasing by 2.3 million each year.”

“…says Flesch, ‘independent studies have proved that the average child comes to school with a speaking and listening vocabulary of about 24,000 words. Learning to read is simply learning a system of notation for the language the child already knows.’”

“As Flesch wrote…: ‘One hundred twenty-four…studies have carefully compared phonics-first and look-and-say. Not a single one proved the superiority of look-and-say.’”

“Michael Brunner, senior associate of the staff of the U.S. Department of Education, points out, ‘Most members of the reading establishment reject in theory and in practice a pro-phonics approach to reading instruction. Also, many of the professors who write the textbooks their students must buy and use espouse the look-and-say method.’”

Why would “Most members of the reading establishment reject in theory and in practice a pro-phonics approach…”

“The basal-reading-textbook industry [using Look-and-Say] generates an estimated $300 million in annual revenues.”

And, a final and extremely telling quote from Mr. Flesch:

“Our children don’t read Andersen’s Fairy Tales any more or The Arabian Nights or Mark Twain or Louisa May Alcott or the Mary Poppins books or the Dr. Doolittle books or anything interesting and worth while, because they can’t.

Little Women contains words like grieving and serene, and Tom Sawyer has ague and inwardly, and Bulfinch’s Age of Fable has nymph and deity and incantations. If a child that has gone to any of our schools faces the word nymph for the first time, he is absolutely helpless because nobody has ever told him how to sound out n and y and m and ph and read the word off the page.”

So, if schools are not properly teaching kids to read, what’s to be done?

Is it too radical to say their parents should teach them?

Why Johnny Can’t Read does have a complete set of phonics lessons that parents can use

What if parents only home-schooled for those critical first years when kids need to learn how to read?

And, how were you taught to read??

Also, there’s  a Readability Test named after Mr. Flesch
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6 responses to “Are Kids Really Learning to Read in School?

  1. MarinaSofia June 17, 2015 at 1:56 am

    Ah, the system in the UK is based on phonics – and for the most part works well, except that of course English is not a very phonetic language, and is full of exceptions. My children have weekly spelling tests – but what I find is that they learn those words and get good results in each particular test, but then don’t necessarily know how to spell that word out of context, when they are writing their own stories, for instance.
    But then, of course, we did lots of reading out loud, both at school and at home during those early years…


  2. Martina Sevecke-Pohlen June 17, 2015 at 2:42 am

    In Germany all matters of schooling are the responsibility of the 18 counties. Schools can choose between several approved methods of teaching. My daughters’s teacher based her teaching on phonics, but she also introduced rules for orthography in year 3. I thought this approach was effective, but then I taught my daughter myself when she was five. She wanted to learn and be able to read herself. This is may be one important motivation for learning to read: independence. If children feel they don’t need this skill, they won’t enjoy learning and later avoid using it.


  3. Alexander M Zoltai June 17, 2015 at 3:31 am

    I’m curious, Marina, even though they don’t remember how to spell out the words, do they, in general, have good skills in reading new words (and, perhaps, working out meanings from the context)?


  4. MarinaSofia June 17, 2015 at 3:34 am

    Yes, but that might be because they grew up in a multilingual environment.


  5. Alexander M Zoltai June 17, 2015 at 3:36 am

    I fully agree, Martina. I’ve read several articles indicating that teaching methods that didn’t provide some measure of independent motivation did not work well…

    Mr. Flesch feels that phonics is “self-motivating”—empowers the children—and the look-and-say method is confusing…


  6. Alexander M Zoltai June 17, 2015 at 3:37 am



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