The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

My Experiences in Teaching Reading and Being a Member of the National Reading Panel

on February 9, 2018

After posting a video I loved  about how children learn to read  I decided to be completely open with readers and describe my experiences with teaching reading and being a member of The Nation Reading Panel.


I began my career by teaching first grade in an elementary school near my home in New Jersey. My only training was a summer–long course in the basics of education that I took just after graduating from college where I had majored in “The arts”. Although I was far from knowing what and how to teach anything but drama, I had strong opinions about what should be happening in a primary grade classroom,

The text book I used for my beginning readers was “Fun with Dick and Jane”, a very popular choice in 1952. It told a simple story about the activities of a boy, his younger sister, their parents and their dog. Each page had a large picture of one or more of the characters in action. The written story below was just two or three sentences that described what was pictured above.

Although “Fun with Dick and Jane” was widely criticized by many experts, and finally abandoned by schools, it seemed to work for my students. I kept our reading lessons short and tried to make them enjoyable. I also read aloud other books from our school library and had the children learn to recite poems and sing songs that I knew. As I remember things, in my first year of teaching my students presented three plays in the school auditorium. The first one was a song. accompanied by movement: “Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go”; the second a dramatization of “The Little Red Hen” and the third was a student produced version of “Hansel and Gretel”.  I will never forget the girl who played Gretel having trouble pushing the witch into the paper furnace and shouting, “Get in there you Battard”!

Above all, my students saw most of the pieces I read to them as gifts they could sing, recite, turn into a puppet show or read again on their own. Although I still did formal teaching of reading throughout the year, and my students still filled out the usual workbook pages, I saw their learning as the result of their pleasure in literature. At the end of the year I felt confident about promoting all of them to second grade. All of them could read!

Much later– almost fifty years later–as the superintendent and principal of a small rural school district, I was invited to be a member of the “National Reading Panel”, a group of 15 people who had been selected to judge the best pratices in the teaching of reading in order to set standards for good teaching throughout our country. Some members of the Panel were reading researchers, others were university professors in a variety of fields, and two were parents of children with reading difficulties. However, I was the only member of the Panel who had experience teaching reading to young children. The panel’s job was to examine reputable studies on reading and produce a report that would identify the most effective teaching practices. The only assistance we received were lists of the most popular studies, drawn from more than the 100,000 studies published between 1966 and 1998.

Less than a year from when we began our investigation, Congress requested that we submit our report. Explaining our difficulties we begged for more time, and one more year was granted. Still, it was clear to us that we would have to cut our consideration of many studies. What the majority of the panel voted to do was to examine only the studies selected previously by “The National Research Panel” and published in their book,  “Preventing Reading difficulties in Young Children”. Although their selections were relevant to our task, they certainly did not cover the entire field of teaching reading. I and some other members objected to that limited review, but the majority disagreed.

I emphasize this decision because the work of the NRC clearly limited and re-directed our original intention to examine the entire research field which included types of studies beyond what the NRC had used. Although that fact was significant, it was not mentioned in our final report, giving the impression that we had examined a much broader field of research than we did.

It was this decision to narrow our field of study that moved me to write a minority report and request that it be included in the the final report of the National Reading Panel.  Most of the members of the panel were not pleased with my decision, but they consented.

Although the National Reading Panel’s report was released by the federal government in 2000, and its recommendations have influenced teaching practices in countless schools since then, it has not managed to raise the level of reading competence for ordinary students or helped teachers to improve the reading skills of those students who are struggling. I still believe that our recommendations were too narrow.

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4 responses to “My Experiences in Teaching Reading and Being a Member of the National Reading Panel

  1. Steve Buel says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Joanne. This kind of thing persists to this day. I was just talking to an ODE person about the k programs in Oregon and the idea that we use the CCSS for K even though no kindergarten people were involved.

    Like

  2. doctorsam7 says:

    An if only- If only people had listened to your minority report. I think things would have been much better. I am of an age where as I observe the current state of the literacy world a strong feeling of Deja Vu comes. Before being a reading teacher I was a social studies teacher. People in that field often said, those who fail to study history are condemned to relive it. Perhaps this time round we could get it right.

    Like

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