Reimagining the Teaching of English

Published in The High School Journal (May 1951) by Dorothy McCuskey, a review of Lou LaBrant‘s most comprehensive work on teaching English, We Teach English, concluded: “In short, this is no ‘how to teach’ book. Rather, it is a book which will cause the reader to re-examine the bases of his [sic] teaching methods and the content of his [sic] courses.”

LaBrant was a demanding teacher and scholar with a career as a teacher of English from 1906 until 1971. And one of the defining features of that career was her persistent challenges to how teachers taught the field labeled, then, as “English.”

The field traditionally called “English” has evolved over the years, often at the K-12 level being envisioned as English/Language Arts (ELA) or simply Language Arts.

Nelson Flores, at The Educational Linguist, recently confronted “Language Arts” as a descriptor or teaching English:

Schools often teaches courses called Language Arts. Yet, little actual art happens in most of these classrooms. Instead, language is often treated as a static set of prescriptivist rules that children are expected to master and mimic back to their teacher. This is not an exploration of the art of language. This is linguistic oppression.

How about we actually bring the art of language into Language Arts?

Concurrent with this post from Flores, I argued that students must unlearn to write in order to write well at the college level and shared on Twitter the baggage students bring to college, what they must unlearn:

Having been a high school English teacher for almost two decades and then a teacher educator focusing on ELA and a first-year composition professor for an additional two decades, I carry on LaBrant’s tradition of mostly swimming against the tide of tradition in terms of what counts as “teaching English.”

Students majoring in the humanities, specifically English, has declined significantly—”History is down about 45 percent from its 2007 peak, while the number of English majors has fallen by nearly half since the late 1990s”—prompting many colleges and universities to reconsider and even cut those majors and departments.

We are well past time, I think, the need to reimagine the teaching and fields of English/ELA for K-16.

At one level, English/ELA includes a complex challenge since teachers and professors in that singular field/discipline are often tasked with addressing a wide range of content included in literature and literacy (reading/writing). Bluntly put, teaching English/ELA is a herculean, nearly impossible task.

If we teachers of English/ELA are to be successful in covering literature and literacy K-16, any success found in our students is necessarily cumulative over many, many years. This is no trivial point, and not mere metaphor, but when teaching or learning literature and literacy, there is no finish line.

While I firmly believe we must distinguish between the teaching of literature and literacy, specifically between teaching literature and composition/writing, I also recognize that the myriad aspects of literacy are inherently recursive, symbiotic: learning to read is learning to write; learning to write is learning to read.

For people learning to teach, for example, high school English/ELA (courses that are designed to address both literature and literacy [reading/writing]), majoring in English often proves to be inadequate since English as a discipline at the university level tends to be literature based, often very narrow in course content (an entire semester on William Butler Yeats, for example).

Yes, English majors tends to write a great deal, but writing literary analysis or even so-called creative writing does not prepare a person to teach writing. In higher education, English (literature) and composition are distinct and separate fields.

To emphasize my point, when I was teaching American literature for high school students and as I teach first-year writing at my university, bringing texts into class has completely different purposes; it isn’t that both sets of students aren’t learning reading and writing in the courses, but that we are interrogating texts for significantly distinct purposes.

Literary analysis and reading like a writer are complex but different behaviors for students with different purposes and outcomes.

In fact, literary analysis is a discipline-based type of writing that demands unique moves and conventions than other discipline-based writing, such as in history, psychology, or the sciences.

I spent 18 years teaching high school English and have spent a bit longer now preparing candidates to teach high school English/ELA. I can attest without hesitation that expectations for K-12 English/ELA are excessive, inherently impossible.

While I don’t want to linger on the problems with teaching math, I do want to note that math tends to acknowledge the unique aspects within the field since students take sequences and more clearly delineated courses (geometry, Algebra I, Algebra II, calculus, etc.) that have mathematical principles in common throughout while maintaining the distinct features of each course.

With math (and the sciences), we recognize that a geometry teacher may be ill equipped to teach algebra (or a chemistry teacher, ill equipped to teach biology), but we tend to see English/ELA teachers as a monolithic monstrosity.

Somehow, with only a bachelors degree and at the tender age of 22, I was deemed capable of teaching American and British literature as well as writing to my high school students, but college professors several years older than that and armed with doctoral degrees are hired in English departments to teach Elizabethan drama (and such candidates often wave off requests that they take on first-year composition as well since, well, they aren’t trained to do that).

Sure, professors at the college level teach outside their specialities, but this is seen as a stretch, and not the norm or ideal. And when professors are tasked to work outside their areas of specialization, outcomes are often disappointing (my university decided years ago any professor could teach first-year writing—until it became abundantly clear that that is certainly not true).

Since a significant percentage of my college teaching load is now first-year and upper-level writing, I witness the harm done to students at the K-12 level and the inadequacies at the university level for writing instruction, historically a shunned cousin of the field of English since, I think, composition is viewed as mere teaching (and we all know the status of the field of education in academia).

Students need and deserve in K-16 schooling courses and teachers/professors properly equipped to teach both literature and literacy (specifically writing), but not simultaneously.

English/ELA must be reimagined as a complex field with symbiotic but distinct elements that require time and patience for both teaching and learning—and a much greater respect for the complexity and difficulty involved in teaching any of those different areas.

Writing in 1939 about the experimental program at the Ohio State University High School, LaBrant posed a similar argument:

That not all teachers are, however, equally skilled in assisting with all phases of language experiences, as, for example with personal or creative writing or with leisure reading; and consequently that students need a so-called “English” teacher who will assume certain specialized responsibilities and who will, in addition, study the general language growth of individual students and classes, and see that, as far as possible, adequate and balanced growth takes place. (p. 269)

An English Program Based on Present Needs

At OSU, the University School recognized that a team of teachers with unique training and strengths needed to work together in order to address that “language growth and study are to be expected in all phases of school experience”—not simply laid at the feet of the English teacher.

It’s 2021, and “we teach English” needs to mean something more complex than it does currently, something similar to a nearly forgotten experiment in the early twentieth century where LaBrant practiced what she preached.

Dismantling the “Science of Reading” and the Harmful Reading Policies in its Wake [UPDATED]

After emailing me about new reading legislation being proposed in North Carolina—next door to my home state of South Carolina that also has jumped on the “science of reading” bandwagon—Ann Doss Helms of WFAE (NPR, Charlotte, NC) interviewed me by phone.

I have given dozens of interviews about education over the last 15 to 20 years, and they all have a similar pattern; the journalist tosses out predictable questions and then becomes somewhat disoriented by my answers. Typically, the journalist at some point notes they didn’t know or had never heard the information I offered, the context and complications I raised about the topic.

My conversation with Helms was no different as we gradually peeled back the layers of the onion that is the “science of reading” as well as the very harmful reading policies that are being proposed and adopted in its wake.

Over the past couple years, I have blogged almost nonstop and written a book on the “science of reading” media narrative and how it is oversimplified and misleading but very compelling and harmful since state after state is adopting deeply flawed reading legislation (often, as Helms noted, to mimic Mississippi).

As I explained, the “science of reading” movement is grounded in the media and parent advocacy (specifically focusing on dyslexia)—advocates who have no expertise or background in literacy—but is essentially a thinly veiled resurrection of the tired intensive phonics versus holistic approaches to teaching reading.

Part of our conversation also confronted the contradiction in the “science of reading” movement that forefronts the debunked claim of “settled science” around how to teach reading and then supports actions and policies that have no scientific support—notably grade retention and using Mississippi as a justification for polices absent any research behind the claimed NAEP improvements by that state.

Further, the “science of reading” movement and those using the “science of reading” to promote state-level reading policy also rely on discredited (read “bad science”) sources such as NCTQ or misrepresent contested sources such as the National Reading Panel (see here).

The “science of reading” movement is deja vu all over again since the movement looks essentially like many other education reform patterns that have all failed (as many of us said they would) because they misunderstand the problem and grasp for silver-bullet solutions—all wrapped in a media and political frenzy that is almost impossible to stop. The trash heap of failure includes Teach for America, charter schools, accountability driven by standards and high-stakes testing, the NRP and Reading First, value-added methods of teacher evaluation and merit pay, and many others.

States adopting truly awful reading policy driven by the “science of reading” slogan will not change reading in the U.S., and in time, very soon, in fact, the media and political leaders will be, once again, lamenting a reading crisis.

While it may be too little, too late since states are racing to pass essentially the same reading legislation across the U.S., many scholars are carefully dismantling the “science of reading” movement in ways that support my claims over the past two years.

Here, then, are three I recommend for anyone needing further proof that the “science of reading” is yet another bandwagon we should avoid:

An Examination of Dyslexia Research and Instruction, with Policy Implications, Peter Johnston and Donna Scanlon

Currently, there is a well-organized and active contingent of concerned parents and educators (and others) who argue that dyslexia is a frequent cause of reading difficulties, affecting approximately 20 percent of the population, and that there is a widely-accepted treatment for such difficulties: an instructional approach relying almost exclusively on intensive phonics instruction. Proponents argue that it is based on “settled science” which they refer to as “the science of reading” (SOR). The approach is based on a narrow view of science, and a restricted range of research, focused on word learning and, more recently, neurobiology, but paying little attention to aspects of literacy like comprehension and writing, or dimensions of classroom learning and teacher preparation. Because the dyslexia and instructional arguments are inextricably linked, in this report, we explore both while adopting a more comprehensive perspective on relevant theory and research.

Johnston, P., & Scanlon, D. (2021). An Examination of Dyslexia Research and Instruction With Policy Implications. Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice70(1), 107–128. https://doi.org/10.1177/23813377211024625

Johnston and Scanlon answer 12 questions and then offer these important policy implications (quoted below):

  1. There is no consistent and widely accepted basis – biological, cognitive, behavioral, or academic – for determining whether an individual experiencing difficulty with developing word reading skill should be classified as dyslexic. (Questions 1 and 10).
  2. Although there are likely heritable and biological dimensions to reading and language difficulties, there is no way to translate them into implications for instructional practice. (Questions 2 and 11).
  3. Good first instruction and early intervention for children with a slow start in the word reading aspect of literacy, reduces the likelihood they will encounter serious difficulty. Thus, early screening with assessments that can inform instruction, is important. Screening for dyslexia, particularly with instructionally irrelevant assessments offers no additional advantage. (Questions 5 and 6).
  4. Research supports instruction that purposely develops children’s ability to analyze speech sounds (phonological/phonemic awareness), and to relate those sounds to patterns of print (phonics and orthographics), in combination with instruction to develop comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and a strong positive and agentive relationship with literacy. (Questions 7 and 12).
  5. Evidence does not justify the use of a heavy and near-exclusive focus on phonics instruction, either in regular classrooms, or for children experiencing difficulty learning to read (including those classified as dyslexic). (Questions 7, 8 and 12).
  6. Legislation (and district policies) aligned with the SOR perspectives on dyslexia will necessarily require tradeoffs in the allocation of resources for teacher development and among children having literacy learning difficulties. These tradeoffs have the potential to privilege students experiencing some types of literacy learning difficulties while limiting instructional resources for and attention available to students whose literacy difficulties are not due (exclusively) to word reading difficulties. (Question 12).

The Trouble With Binaries: A Perspective on the Science of Reading, David B. Yaden Jr., David Reinking, and Peter Smagorinsky

In this article, we critique the science of reading when it is positioned within the reading wars as settling disagreements about reading and how it should be taught. We frame our argument in terms of troublesome binaries, specifically between nature and nurture. We interpret that binary in relation to Overton’s distinction between split and relational metatheories, with the latter suggesting a more integrative view of nature and nurture. Focusing on the nature side of the binary, which predominates when the science of reading is promoted in the reading wars, we argue that its singular focus limits the range of scientific inquiry, interpretation, and application to practice. Specifically, we address limitations of the science of reading as characterized by a narrow theoretical lens, an abstracted empiricism, and uncritical inductive generalizations derived from brain‐imaging and eye movement data sources. Finally, we call for a relational metatheoretical stance and offer emulative examples of that stance in the field.

Yaden, D.B., Reinking, D., & Smagorinsky, P. (2021). The Trouble With Binaries: A Perspective on the Science of Reading. Read Res Q, 56(S1), S119– S129. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.402

Note the strong conclusion to this piece:

Unfortunately, we believe that in many cases, the cloak of science has been employed to elevate the stature of SOR work and to promote the certainty and force of its advocates’ preferred explanations for what reading is and how it should be taught (e.g., Gentry & Ouellette, 2019; Schwartz & Sparks, 2019). What we suggested in this article is that the SOR, when so used in the reading wars, is not science at all in its fullest sense. It neglects an entire domain that influences and shapes human experience. It does so with an unmitigated confidence that evidence from one side of a binary can establish a final truth and that such a truth creates a single prescription for all instruction. Taking that stance, however, is outside the pale of science and dismisses work that has both merit on its own terms and a critical role in advancing the aims motivating reading research and instruction.

Where Is the Evidence? Looking Back to Jeanne Chall and Enduring Debates About the Science of Reading, Peggy Semingson and William Kerns

In this historical analysis, we examine the context of debates over the role of phonics in literacy and current debates about the science of reading, with a focus on the work and impact of the late literacy scholar Jeanne Chall. We open by briefly tracing the roots of the enduring debates from the 19th and 20th centuries, focusing on beginning reading, decoding, and phonics. Next, we explore insights drawn from the whole language movement as understood by Kenneth Goodman and Yetta Goodman, as well as a synthesis of key ideas from Chall’s critique of the whole language approach. We then analyze the shifts across the three editions of Chall’s Learning to Read: The Great Debate and summarize major ideas from her body of work, such as the stage model of reading development. We suggest that reading instruction should be informed by a broader historical lens in looking at the “science of reading” debates and should draw on a developmental stage model to teaching reading, such as the six‐stage model provided by Chall. We describe implications for educators, textbook publishers, researchers, and policymakers that address the current reading debates and provide considerations of what Chall might say about learning to read in a digital era given the pressures on teacher educators and teachers to align their practice with what is deemed to be the science of reading.

Semingson, P., & Kerns, W. (2021). Where Is the Evidence? Looking Back to Jeanne Chall and Enduring Debates About the Science of Reading. Read Res Q, 56(S1), S157– S169. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.405

UPDATE 1

From the very beginning of the “science of reading” movement, media coverage, parental advocacy, and political policy have been misleading and grounded in misunderstanding. As the examples above show, there continues to be a steady dismantling of all that even as policy has been adopted and is being considered, policy that is fundamentally not “scientific” and will prove to be ineffective and even harmful.

Below are some additional examples of the dismantling that I highly recommend:

Some NC Leaders Say Mississippi’s Model Charts The Way To Helping Kids Read, Ann Doss Helms (WFAE)

The Sciences of Reading Instruction, Rachael Gabriel (Educational Leadership)

When it comes to reading instruction, an “all or nothing” approach is actually unscientific.

Every January, my social media feeds fill with ads, free trials, and coupons from the diet and wellness industry, promising to help me with my (presumed) resolutions to be better, faster, leaner, and healthier. Every diet program claims some type of relationship to science.

The same is true with reading instruction. Most programs or approaches claim to be based on “science.” But consider the many possible meanings of this claim. Some approaches to reading instruction are developed as part of rigorous, peer-reviewed research and are continuously evaluated and refined. Others are designed by practitioners who draw on experience, and whose insights are validated by inquiry after development. Many are based on well-known principles from research or assumptions about learning in general, but haven’t themselves been tested. Some “research-based” instructional tools and practices have been shared, explained, interpreted, misinterpreted, and re-shared so many times that they bear little resemblance to the research on which they were based (Gabriel, 2020). Others rack up positive evidence no matter how many times they’re studied. Then there are practices that have no evidence behind them but are thought to be scientific—because they’ve always been assumed to be true.

The Sciences of Reading Instruction – Educational Leadership May 2021, pp. 58-64

The Science of Reading Progresses: Communicating Advances Beyond the Simple View of Reading, Nell Duke and Kelly B. Cartwright

ABSTRACT

The simple view of reading is commonly presented to educators in professional development about the science of reading. The simple view is a useful tool for conveying the undeniable importance—in fact, the necessity—of both decoding and linguistic comprehension for reading. Research in the 35 years since the theory was proposed has revealed additional understandings about reading. In this article, we synthesize research documenting three of these advances: (1) Reading difficulties have a number of causes, not all of which fall under decoding and/or listening comprehension as posited in the simple view; (2) rather than influencing reading solely independently, as conceived in the simple view, decoding and listening comprehension (or in terms more commonly used in reference to the simple view today, word recognition and language comprehension) overlap in important ways; and (3) there are many contributors to reading not named in the simple view, such as active, self-regulatory processes, that play a substantial role in reading. We point to research showing that instruction aligned with these advances can improve students’ reading. We present a theory, which we call the active view of reading, that is an expansion of the simple view and can be used to convey these important advances to current and future educators. We discuss the need to lift up updated theories and models to guide practitioners’ work in supporting students’ reading development in classrooms and interventions.

Duke, N.K., & Cartwright, K.B. (2021). The Science of Reading Progresses: Communicating Advances Beyond the Simple View of Reading. Read Res Q, 56(S1), S25– S44. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.411

NOTE: The short version of the Duke and Cartwright essay should be: The “science of reading” is not so simple and not so settled.

Science of Reading Advocates Have a Messaging Problem, Claude Goldenberg (Education Week)

What is happening in this new stage of the reading wars is there for all to see in North Carolina’s and others’ use of the phrase. Instead of spelling out what they mean, “science of reading” advocates wrap themselves in the protective mantel of science, as if invoking science is all that anyone needs to be credible and persuade others to join them. Anyone disagreeing is anti-science, i.e., ignorant.

This is not a great persuasion strategy. Not surprisingly, those from a different vantage point argue that no one has a right to define science in a way that conveniently fits their perspective.

The Politics of Phonics: How a skill becomes a law, David Waters

UPDATE 2

Making Early Literacy Policy Work: Three Considerations for Policymakers Based on Kentucky’s “Read to Succeed” Act (NEPC)

VI. Recommendations

The “Read to Succeed” Act ultimately did not pass during Kentucky’s 2021 legislative session. However, given that state legislators have introduced early literacy bills multiple times in recent years, it is likely that the state may see similar proposals in coming years. Further, given the rapid spread of these policies across states in recent decades, the considerations discussed here will be relevant to policymakers in other states interested in third-grade literacy legislation. Though many states have already enacted early literacy legislation, policymakers need not adhere to a one-size-fits-all approach to improving third-grade literacy achievement. State policymakers can learn from the research, described above, that has been conducted to this point about these policies. I offer three specific recommendations for policymakers to consider as they strive to ensure the efficacy of third-grade literacy policies moving forward:

• Instead of limiting the legislation to the “Big Five” components of reading, include a set of instructional best practices in literacy.

• Ensure initial, ongoing, and targeted professional development in literacy for K-3 teachers.

• Show educators that their expertise is valued by involving them in the development of the policy. This can be done by soliciting feedback through an open online comment period, conducting focus groups with a representative group of K-3 educators, and/or involving educators in the creation of various components of the policy.

Cummings, A.. (2021). Making early literacy policy work in Kentucky: Three considerations for policymakers on the “Read to Succeed” act. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. https://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/literacy

Red Flags, Red Herrings, and Common Ground: An Expert Study in Response to State Reading Policy

Abstract

In many U.S. states, legislation seeks to define effective instruction for beginning readers, creating an urgent need to turn to scholars who are knowledgeable about ongoing reading research. This mixed-methods study considers the extent to which recognized literacy experts agreed with recommendations about instruction that were included on a state’s reading initiative website. Our purpose was to guide implementation and inform policy-makers. In alignment with the initiative, experts agreed reading aloud, comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, phonological awareness, and phonics all deserve a place in early literacy instruction. Additionally, they agreed some components not included on the website warranted attention, such as motivation, oral language, reading volume, writing, and needs-based instruction. Further, experts cautioned against extremes in describing aspects of early reading instruction. Findings suggest that experts’ knowledge of the vast body of ongoing research about reading can be a helpful guide to policy formation and implementation.

Collet, Vicki S.; Penaflorida, Jennifer; French, Seth; Allred, Jonathan; Greiner, Angelia; and Chen, Jingshu (2021) “Red Flags, Red Herrings, and Common Ground: An Expert Study in Response to State Reading Policy,” Educational Considerations: Vol. 47: No. 1. https://doi.org/10.4148/0146-9282.2241

UPDATE 3

A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Reading Comprehension Interventions on the Reading Comprehension Outcomes of Struggling Readers in Third Through 12th Grades

Marissa J. Filderman, Christy R. Austin, Alexis N. Boucher, Katherine O’Donnell, Elizabeth A. Swanson

Abstract

Informed by theories of reading comprehension and prior reviews of reading comprehension intervention, this meta-analysis uniquely contributes to the literature because it describes the relative effects of various approaches to comprehension intervention for struggling readers in Grades 3 through 12. Findings from 64 studies demonstrate significant positive effects of reading comprehension intervention on comprehension outcomes (g = .59, p < .001, 95% confidence interval [CI] [0.47, 0.74], τ2 = .31). A metaregression model indicated significantly higher effects associated with researcher-developed measures, background knowledge instruction, and strategy instruction, and significantly lower effects associated with instructional enhancements. Grade level, metacognitive approaches, and study quality did not moderate effects. Findings support the use of background knowledge instruction and strategy instruction to support comprehension of struggling readers in upper elementary and beyond.

Theoretical models, such as the simple view of reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986), the direct and inferential mediation (DIME) model (Cromley et al., 2010; Cromley & Azevedo, 2007), and the cognitive model (McKenna & Stahl, 2009) inform the constructs and skills that contribute to reading comprehension. The simple view of reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) describes reading comprehension as the product of decoding and language comprehension. The simple view of reading is often used to underscore the critical importance of decoding on reading comprehension; however, evidence suggests that the relative importance of decoding and language comprehension changes based on students’ level of reading development and text complexity (Lonigan et al., 2018). Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies demonstrate that decoding has the largest influence on reading comprehension for novice readers, whereas language comprehension becomes increasingly important as students’ decoding skills develop and text becomes more complex (e.g., Catts et al., 2005; Gough et al., 1996; Hoover & Gough, 1990; Proctor et al., 2005; Tilstra et al., 2009). However, the simple view of reading does not comprehensively explain all skills that influence reading comprehension, nor does it inform what comprehension instruction requires.

The DIME model of reading (Cromley et al., 2011; Cromley & Azevedo, 2007) and cognitive model (McKenna & Stahl, 2009) build upon the simple view of reading as component-based models. The relationship between five variables—background knowledge, inference, strategies, vocabulary, and word reading—are hypothesized to result in reading comprehension according to the DIME model. Word reading, vocabulary, and background knowledge each have direct effects on reading comprehension. However, the effect of word reading, vocabulary, and background knowledge on reading comprehension is also mediated by other variables. Indirectly, background knowledge and vocabulary are needed to use comprehension strategies or to draw inferences (Ahmed et al., 2016). The cognitive model (McKenna & Stahl, 2009) also breaks reading comprehension into its component parts. According to the cognitive model, reading comprehension is made possible by automatic word recognition, language comprehension, and strategic knowledge. The model further delineates specific skills contributing to each of these components of reading comprehension. For successful language comprehension to occur, vocabulary, background knowledge, and knowledge of text structures are needed. General purposes for reading, specific purposes for reading, and knowledge of strategies contribute to strategic knowledge. In summary, both the DIME model and the cognitive model provide greater insight into specific constructs and skills required for reading comprehension that can be targeted instructionally in comprehension intervention.

Filderman, M. J., Austin, C. R., Boucher, A. N., O’Donnell, K., & Swanson, E. A. (2022). A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Reading Comprehension Interventions on the Reading Comprehension Outcomes of Struggling Readers in Third Through 12th Grades. Exceptional Children88(2), 163–184. https://doi.org/10.1177/00144029211050860

UPDATE 4

Focus on phonics to teach reading is ‘failing children’, says landmark study

Reading wars or reading reconciliation? A critical examination of robust research evidence, curriculum policy and teachers’ practices for teaching phonics and reading, Dominic Wyse and Alice Bradbury

Abstract

Teaching children to read is one of the most fundamental goals of early years and primary education worldwide, and as such has attracted a large amount of research from a range of academic disciplines. The aims of this paper are: (a) to provide a new critical examination of research evidence relevant to effective teaching of phonics and reading in the con-text of national curricula internationally; (b) to report new empirical findings relating to phonics teaching in England; and (c) examine some implications for policy and practice. The paper reports new empirical findings from two sources: (1) a systematic qualitative meta-synthesis of 55 experimental trials that included longitudinal designs; (2) a survey of 2205 teachers. The paper concludes that phonics and reading teach-ing in primary schools in England has changed significantly for the first time in modern history, and that compared to other English dominant regions England represents an outlier. The most robust research evidence, from randomised control trials with longitudinal designs, shows that the approach to phonics and reading teaching in England is not sufficiently under-pinned by research evidence. It is recommended that national curriculum policy is changed and that the locus of political control over curriculum, pedagogy and assessment should be re-evaluated.

Wyse, D., & Bradbury, A. (2022). Reading wars or reading reconciliation? A critical examination of robust research evidence, curriculum policy and teachers’ practices for teaching phonics and reading. Review of Education, 10, e3314. https://doi.org/10.1002/rev3.3314

Key points:

The key question that we address in this paper is whether robust research evidence sup-ports this historically significant change in reading pedagogy. Our findings from analysis of tertiary reviews, systematic reviews and from the SQMS do not support a synthetic phonics orientation to the teaching of reading: they suggest that a balanced instruction approach is most likely to be successful. They also suggest the need for a new more careful consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of whole language as an orientation to teaching reading. The reading wars have often resulted in some very dismissive attitudes to whole language, a position that is not underpinned by the research. Although there remains no doubt that phonics teaching in general is one important component in the teaching of reading, the research certainly does not suggest the complete exclusion of whole language teaching….

In addition to the importance of contextualised reading teaching as an evidence-based orientation to the teaching of reading we hypothesise the following pedagogical features that are likely to be effective. Phonics teaching is most likely to be effective for children aged five to six. Phonics teaching with children younger than this is not likely to be effective. A focus on whole texts and reading for meaning, to contextualise the teaching of other skills and knowledge, should drive pedagogy. Classroom teachers using their professional judgement to ensure coherence of the approach to teaching phonics and reading with other relevant teaching in their classroom is most likely to be effective. Insistence on particular schemes/basals, scripted lessons, and other inflexible approaches is unlikely to be optimal. Well-trained classroom assistants, working in collaboration with their class teachers, could be a very important contribution to children’s reading development. Although the most relevant studies in the SQMS showed approaches that were effective usually from between 9.1 h and 60 h of teaching time, we hypothesise that effective teaching of the alphabetic code could be delivered in 30 h or less of instruction time. If so, this would mean that greater emphasis on aspects such as reading comprehension could begin much earlier in England’s national curriculum programmes of study than in the current national curriculum of 2014.

DOI: 10.1002/rev3.3314

Is Synthetic Phonics Instruction Working in England? (Updated)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: A Reader on Race and Superhero Comics

Should We Marvel at a Black Captain America?

“It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s … A Comic Book in the Classroom?”: Truth: Red, White, and Black as Test Case for Teaching Superhero Comics, Sean P. Connors (In Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction)

Thomas, P.L. (2017). Can superhero comics defeat racism?: Black superheroes “torn between sci-fi fantasy and cultural reality.” In C.A. Hill (ed.), Teaching comics through multiple lenses: Critical perspectives (pp. 132-146). New York, NY: Routledge.

O Captain America! Our Captain America!

Recommended: Adilifu Nama’s Super Black

Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black SuperheroesAdilifu Nama

Black Goliath: “Some Black Super Dude,” Osvaldo Oyola

Black Lightning Always Strikes Twice! – Double-Consciousness as a Super-PowerOsvaldo Oyola

Black Communities of the 30th Century: Racial Assimilation and Ahistoricity in Superhero ComicsOsvaldo Oyola

The Man Who Lived Twice! (If You Can Call That Living): Marvel’s Brother VoodooOsvaldo Oyola

Humanity Not Included: DC’s Cyborg and the Mechanization of the Black Body, Robert Jones, Jr.

The Captain White America NeedsOsvaldo Oyola

How to Revise Your Essay after Receiving Feedback

Below is a new handout I created after discussing revision with my first-year seminar. Hope this is useful and you can access as a Word file in the link provided in the title below.

How to Revise Your Essay after Receiving Feedback

When you receive your essay with feedback (highlighting, track changes, comments), save that file to your hard drive (not One Drive) and then “Save as” in Word (hard drive, not One Drive) a new file following Essay submission guidelines for naming files.

Work on your revision directly with this copy of your essay and make sure track changes are off (in Review tab).

Address all feedback, creating a clean copy as you work. Refer to Guidelines for Managing and Submitting Assignments in order to work with track changes and comments (as well as removing highlighting). You can address track changes one at a time or all at once.

NOTE: Be sure to revise and edit beyond the direct feedback that you receive. Review your essay carefully for issues similar to the feedback that are not marked for you.

Revise and edit your essay independently also. Consider the following revision/editing strategies to improve any essay regardless of the feedback you receive:

  • Revise your essay for concision; making an essay briefer almost always improves the quality of the essay. Attack wordiness by addressing common usages such as “the fact that” or “a person who.” Consider using the Hemingway App for some practice; this will identify passive voice, overuse of adverbs, and overlong sentences, for example.
  • Revise your essay for sentence and paragraph variety. Check that you are not starting either the same way over and over.
  • Address word choice/diction. Make sure your level of diction (formal v. conversational) matches the type of essay and the seriousness of your topic. The backbone of your writing is your usage of nouns and verbs so review your essay for strong, vivid, specific/concrete nouns and verbs. Notably, avoid “to be” and “to get” verbs when a vivid action verb can be used.
  • Review your essay for clarity, avoiding ambiguity and misplaced words/information. Specifically address dangling modifiers and misplaced words (see also HERE).
  • Reconsider your opening and closing. How you start and end an essay have profound impacts on your reader. Careful revision of these sections is always warranted.

De-Gun the Police: A Reader

Officer Who Fatally Shot Daunte Wright With ‘Accidental Discharge’ Is Identified

The police officer said to have fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man killed in what started as a traffic stop on Sunday, has been identified as Kim Potter.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in a statement on Monday evening described Potter as a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center, Minn., Police Department, now on administrative leave.

The department offered no other details about Potter’s career, saying, “Further personnel data are not public from the BCA under Minnesota law during an active investigation.​”

However, a report from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office dated Aug. 5, 2020, indicates that at the time Potter also served as the Brooklyn Center Police Union president.

Police officials called Wright’s death the result of an “accidental discharge” of a gun by a police officer.

Officer Who Fatally Shot Daunte Wright With ‘Accidental Discharge’ Is Identified, Becky Sullivan and Vanessa Romo

OPINION: To Lessen Police Violence, Remove Cops From Traffic Stops

The largest predictor of police violence in America is not poor training, lack of discipline, or militarization. The largest predictor is simply contact with the police — and the most common contact Americans have with police is traffic stops. There are at least 20 million traffic stops per year in the United States. Racial bias pervades traffic enforcement, enabled by its largely discretionary nature; there are more drivers speeding and violating other traffic laws than police have the capacity to pull over and ticket, so who are police disproportionately targeting? People of color.

To Lessen Police Violence, Remove Cops From Traffic Stops, Alessandra Biaggi

Inside 100 million police traffic stops: New evidence of racial bias

Now, Stanford University researchers have compiled the most comprehensive evidence to date suggesting there is a pattern of racial disparities in traffic stops. The researchers provided NBC News with the traffic-stop data — the largest such dataset ever collected — which points to pervasive inequality in how police decide to stop and search white and minority drivers.

Using information obtained through public record requests, the Stanford Open Policing Project examined almost 100 million traffic stops conducted from 2011 to 2017 across 21 state patrol agencies, including California, Illinois, New York and Texas, and 29 municipal police departments, including New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Inside 100 million police traffic stops: New evidence of racial bias, Erik Ortiz

Stanford Open Policing Project

A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States

We assessed racial disparities in policing in the United States by compiling and analysing a dataset detailing nearly 100 million traffic stops conducted across the country. We found that black drivers were less likely to be stopped after sunset, when a ‘veil of darkness’ masks one’s race, suggesting bias in stop decisions. Furthermore, by examining the rate at which stopped drivers were searched and the likelihood that searches turned up contraband, we found evidence that the bar for searching black and Hispanic drivers was lower than that for searching white drivers. Finally, we found that legalization of recreational marijuana reduced the number of searches of white, black and Hispanic drivers—but the bar for searching black and Hispanic drivers was still lower than that for white drivers post-legalization. Our results indicate that police stops and search decisions suffer from persistent racial bias and point to the value of policy interventions to mitigate these disparities.

A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States

Policing, Danger Narratives, and Routine Traffic Stops, Jordan Blair Woods

This Article presents findings from the largest and most comprehensive study to date on violence against the police during traffic stops. Every year, police officers conduct tens of millions of traffic stops. Many of these stops are entirely unremarkable—so much so that they may be fairly described as routine. Nonetheless, the narrative that routine traffic stops are fraught with grave and unpredictable danger to the police permeates police training and animates Fourth Amendment doctrine. This Article challenges this dominant danger narrative and its centrality within key institutions that regulate the police.

The presented study is the first to offer an estimate for the danger rates of routine traffic stops to law enforcement officers. I reviewed a comprehensive dataset of thousands of traffic stops that resulted in violence against officers across more than 200 law enforcement agencies in Florida over a 10-year period. The findings reveal that violence against officers was rare and that incidents that do involve violence are typically low risk and do not involve weapons. Under a conservative estimate, the rate for a felonious killing of an officer during a routine traffic stop was only 1 in every 6 .5 million stops, the rate for an assault resulting in serious injury to an officer was only 1 in every 361,111 stops, and the rate for an assault against officers (whether it results in injury or not) was only 1 in every 6,959 stops.

Policing, Danger Narratives, and Routine Traffic Stops, Jordan Blair Woods

Berkeley Moves Closer to Ending Police Traffic Stops

What Traffic Enforcement Without Police Could Look Like

We Don’t Need Cops to Enforce Traffic Laws

Moving from Performing as a Student to Performing as a Scholar: More on Writing and Citation

The first time I recall being viewed as “good at writing” was in high school when I submitted a parody of my friends and teachers for a short story assignment; this was probably my junior year of high school during Mr. Harrill’s American literature class, and I am quite certain that I would be mortified by the story if I could read it now.

A couple years later, however, my “writer epiphany” came the spring of my first year of college. I very clearly mark the beginning of my life as a writer with a poem I wrote from my dorm room, inspired by being introduced to e.e. cummings in my speech course with Mr. Brannon.

To be blunt, I likely didn’t really write anything of consequence until my mid-30s—specifically my doctoral dissertation. And then, my life as a published academic really didn’t occur until I was in my early 40s (my 20s and 30s had a smattering of published poems, stories, and scholarship).

These realizations about writing quality over decades of formal schooling and so-called serious writing help inform my work as a teacher of writing. My undergraduates are unlikely to write anything of real consequence while in college so I see my job as helping them develop behaviors the support the possibility of them writing something of consequence if and when that becomes something they want or need to do (graduate school or in the “real world”).

As I have continued to think about my spring courses and the need for students to unlearn to write, I am convinced more than ever that students struggle to write well in formal schooling because of formal schooling.

A high school teacher of English and I talked through my experiences with three different courses of students recently submitting cited essays. Students often seem so bound to their past experiences that they do not or cannot follow basic formatting guidelines even with the detailed models I provide.

The high school teacher eventually identified a key problem I face teaching my students to write at the college level. Since my university is selective, I teach mostly highly successful students. Whether or not we want to call them smart, these students are extremely good at doing a certain kind of schooling in which student behaviors are rewarded.

Students are determined to show that they are working hard, the high school teacher concluded, but they do not recognize the need for working carefully. I added that this was exactly it, and that at the college level, thinking and working carefully and even slowly are qualities valued in scholarship.

Another challenge for students and teaching those students is the essential concept of being a scholar as that is layered onto being a writer. One example of this problem occurred in my first-year writing seminar.

A student submitted a cited essay on a topic outside of my field; I found the content to be problematic, but since I am not a scholar of the area, I simply alerted the student of my concern, noting that if he wrote the same piece in an upper-level course in that discipline, a professor would likely challenge the content in ways I could not (since I am primarily focusing on other aspects of writing, which I will detail below).

The student immediately responded, justifying his topic by his own lived experiences. I, of course, carefully explained that having a lived experience matters, but that is not how one becomes a scholar. Expertise is built from the sort of careful consideration of a topic that happens over time spent studying.

Regretfully, for students, that process of being a scholar is too often reduced to the artificial “research paper,” an experience that trivializes being scholarly and misleads students that working hard is all that matters.

This entire problem is a subset of the problem of grading as well. I do not grade but have minimum expectations; I also will not provide students feedback on assignments until they meet basic requirements (from Word document formatting to APA citation formatting).

Again, as noted above, students are working in the context of direct instruction in class that is grounded in the student resources, checklists, and detailed samples I provide.

None the less, several students will submit work without any citations in their essay, work with only 2 or 3 of the 10 sources on the references page cited in the essay, work clearly cited in MLA format, and other head-scratching submissions that seem completely unrelated to the assignment or the samples provided.

Here, then, are what I am holding my students accountable for when teaching writing at the college level, keeping in mind that they are unlikely to confront anything not already covered well by many seasoned scholars and that they (as with my own experiences) probably will not submit anything of consequence as an undergrad:

  • Learning how to use Word (or any word processor) as a tool. I am a stickler for using page breaks and properly formatting hanging indents (again, not that these are inherently important, but they are common ways in which Word can be used to help make formatting work for a writer). I am also adamant about reminding students not to submit work with different fonts (such as one font in the header and another for the essay) or manipulating spacing or font sizes (to distort the length of an essay). While I recognize that formatting is essentially superficial, this focus is about teaching students that being careful, meticulous, and detail oriented are likely to be well regarded at the college level—while their usual “working hard” approach can fail them if their submitted appears careless, sloppy, and incomplete (a draft).
  • Coming to recognize citation as a basic expectation of scholarly writing and thinking, while moving away from “memorizing” citation style guides and moving toward carefully using style guides as references while they work. I hold students to some elements of using APA (the citation of my field of education) in the same way I do simple document formatting (above); in other words, I will not give feedback on an assignment until some of the mechanics are demonstrated (double-spacing, hanging indents and alphabetized references, in-text parenthetical citations, etc.).
  • Rethinking their work as students-as-scholars/writers by shifting how they integrate sources in their original writing. One of the worst habits students bring to college in terms of citation is the hard-work approach to using their sources—stacking up 5-10 sources (in high school, that was books pulled from the library shelves) and walking through them one at a time, doing very little original work and taking almost no care to organize the content of the essays. Here is one the greatest challenges, I find, when I encourage students to stop writing about their sources—”Johnson and Kale (2018) conducted a study and found that…”—and begin to write about their topic in complex and compelling ways—”Dress codes remain sexist and racist (Cole, 2019; Hall, 2016; Johnson & Kale, 2018; Paul, 2020).”

For the first two bullet points above, I tend to hold firm to not accepting work until students meet the requirements (this can be painful for them and me), and for the third bullet, I focus on this as I comment and prompt them to address in their rewrite(s).

A final point that I must emphasize is that using high-quality sources well and fully is a foundational aspect of content in student writing. I note this since students often follow up when I return their essays and my feedback with “What about my content?”

I explain that it is very hard to take an essay seriously when citations are incorrect, incomplete, or incorporated in careless ways (working through one source at a time). In other words, for students as young scholars, citation is an essential way for them to establish and develop their credibility.

Working hard is performing as a student; working carefully is performing as a scholar.

I am under no delusion as a teacher of writing at the undergraduate level that I am producing writers; therefore, I want my writing expectations and experiences to contribute to their journey as careful thinkers—a few of whom may choose the life of an academic, a scholar, or a writer.

South Carolina Republicans Seek to Politicize History

[See here: MY TURN: S.C. Republican bill would corrupt teaching of history and here: Opinion: The battle over teaching history in SC]

For over 40 years, George Graham Vest served first as a Missouri state Representative, next as a state Senator in the Confederacy, and finally as a U.S. Senator for Missouri from 1879 to 1903.

In a speech from August 21, 1891, Vest included a claim about history that has been echoed by many: “In all revolutions the vanquished are the ones who are guilty of treason, even by the historians, for history is written by the victors and framed according to the prejudices and bias existing on their side.”

Considering Vest’s complicated relationship with the state and country that he served, we should keep in mind that his comment represents something many people misunderstand about history: All history is biased, and history is created by whoever is telling the story.

Often associated with Winston Churchill, the adage “history is written by the victors” seems to repeat itself in times of great upheaval.

One of our most recent moments of political conflict was the siege on the U.S. Capitol in early January 2021. Less dramatic but more significant, that was soon followed by the Trump administration releasing the 1776 Commission report, a rejection of the 1619 Project published in The New York Times.

“The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine,” as noted in the Project’s opening, and Jake Silverstein explains,

The goal of The 1619 Project is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.

The 1776 Commission is a direct rebuttal of centering slavery in U.S. history, calling for a return to viewing the U.S. through the lens of the Founding Fathers as well as emphasizing a patriotic message about the country.

While there has been some tension among historians about the 1619 Project, most historians have rejected the 1776 Commission.

Although the Biden administration removed the 1776 Commission report, the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) issued a response to the political legacy of that report: The NCSS “strongly rejects the recent development of proposed bills in state legislatures which are designed to censor specific curricular resources from being used for instruction in K-12 schools.”

Now we can add to the list of misguided state legislation South Carolina, where a bill seeks, as reported in The Hill, the following:

Lawmakers in South Carolina are considering a bill that would use former President Trump’s 1776 report to help develop the U.S. history curriculum for public middle and high school students, WCSC reports.

The Restore America’s Foundation Act would require South Carolina’s State Superintendent of Education to “review and prescribe suitable texts and online materials aligned with the principles and concepts of the January 2021 report of the 1776 Commission.” 

South Carolina may implement Trump’s controversial ‘1776 Report’ in its schools

The essential problem with this bill is it contradicts its own goals. The 1619 Project is a source for teaching history, but it has no direct political power, and any influence it has on classroom teaching is entirely voluntary.

Yet, SC Republicans are claiming that the teaching of history and social studies is politically corrupt (the basic argument of the 1776 Commission), and then proposing a bill that politically corrupts the teaching of history and social studies.

Further, this bill is endorsing a report discredited by historians across the U.S. For example, the American Historical Association asserted: “The authors [of the 1776 Commission report] call for a form of government indoctrination of American students, and in the process elevate ignorance about the past to a civic virtue.”

That statement has nearly 50 signees, and this sort of critique from historians discredits the value of the report for teaching students in SC.

Additionally, the 1776 Commission report is not suitable for use in education since the report is plagiarized, further eroding its credibility in addition to its partisan use of historical facts.

The irony here is that this bill is politicizing SC social studies and history classrooms in the exact ways that Republicans have falsely criticized the 1619 Project for doing. The difference is that legislation does change how students are taught, but newspapers do not.

“If we really want to ‘save American history,’” NCSS concludes in their rebuking of misguided state legislation similar to the one being proposed in SC, “we should address the marginalization of social studies, and why instructional time for history and social studies learning has declined so rapidly in the 21st century—especially at the elementary level.”

Mandating debunked history is political theater, but it certainly isn’t serving the students of South Carolina.

There Can Be No Equity without Community and Empathy

[D]espite overwhelmingly good intentions, most of what passes for intercultural education practice, particularly in the US,
accentuates rather than undermines existing social and political hierarchies.

Paul Gorski, Good intentions are not enough: a decolonizing intercultural education

A split second of awareness kept me from stepping into my apartment’s elevator, the floor covered in vomit, recently.

I thought about this moment yesterday while standing in that same elevator filled with an unpleasant smell as I also noticed a new orange-brown stain on the floor.

A week or so ago, I was unloading two bicycles from my car rack, going up and down the elevator and walking through the enclosed garage of the complex a couple of times. I encountered twice a women with her small dog on a lease, and in both cases, she paused while the dog urinated on a steel beam in the garage.

It isn’t uncommon to see dog droppings scattered down the hallway carpet in this complex either.

Having lived almost four decades in my own homes before becoming an apartment dweller, these experiences are new but not shocking, and they remind me of the general lack of concern for others I experienced in dorm life in college. I also recognize these behaviors are typical of the American character, one grounded in rugged individualism and lacking any real sense of community.

It is the trash carelessly tossed out of car windows or dropped on the sidewalk.

It is the “I got mine so you get yours!” ethos of the good ol’ U.S. of A.

As I stepped out of the elevator yesterday, I was thinking about #TransDayofVisibility and about why people are so antagonistic about diverse sexualities and races, about gender fluidity and transexuality.

A type of awareness for me that helped move me past the bigotry and intolerance of my upbringing was coming to peace with my own self-awareness, being able to articulate that I did not make choices about my gender identification or sexuality but that I came to recognize my gender identification and sexuality.

To be blunt, I cannot fathom denying other people that recognition because I want my awareness to be honored. I also had to come to terms with differences being simply different and having nothing to do with right or wrong, or normal or abnormal.

What is “right” or “normal” for me is not in any way a template or commentary on anyone else, and vice versa.

While this may not be uniquely American, it is certainly true of Americans that we have a fatal lack of community and empathy.

And that “we” is statistically white Americans who exist in a sort of fear that if the “normal” white America has constructed isn’t the only way of being then maybe it isn’t “right.”

Rugged individualism is a significant part of the enduring presence of racism, sexism, homo-/trans-phobia, and all sorts of bigotry in the U.S.

But the negative consequences of rugged individualism are more than the narcissism inherent in racism and other types of bigotry (the provincialism that leads a person to see themselves as “right” and “normal” and people unlike them as “Other”).

What may be worse is that a society that centers the individual maintains inequity even when trying to expand diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) if the centering remains.

I have been involved in DEI initiatives at my university for many years, and since I actively incorporate anti-racism/anti-bias elements in my scholarly and public work, I find myself regularly confronting the misguided “good intentions” of my colleagues, my progressive white colleagues.

My first rude awakening about DEI in colleges and universities came early on when I discovered that my department and DEI structures across campus used the strongly debunked “framework of poverty” promoted by Ruby Payne.

Payne’s work is steeped in racist and classist stereotyping, and it suffers from the centering of whiteness and an idealized middle-class “normal.” When I challenged using Payne’s workbooks, I also encountered the other level of centering: “But it works,” I was told, “with our population of students.”

“Our population of students” happens to privileged and white.

Almost twenty years later, I faced the same situation and same justification again.

An event was held for students examining the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. The featured speaker was a former white nationalist. When I raised concerns about centering a former white nationalist, I heard the exact same justification I heard in my first weeks of coming to my university—but our (white) students.

What if we created opportunities for growth in DEI by centering those people experiencing the unfair weight of inequity? What if we considered a Black student sitting in the audience while a former white nationalist was given center stage and honored as an authority?

If we were organizing an event on sexual assault would we invite a former rapist to speak to that audience? If not, I imagine some of that decision is grounded in considering those people who have experienced sexual assault.

I included the central point from Gorski above this blog because I am disheartened by DEI efforts; I am witnessing Gorski’s recognition that “good intentions” often still perpetuate inequity by refusing to confront it, not resisting the urge to center whiteness and privilege.

While I no longer see Payne’s materials around campus, many still eagerly guide students through poverty simulations, poverty tours, and “pretend to be a minority” activities; these are all dehumanizing and offensive approaches that are grounded in stereotyping while continuing to center the sensibilities of the “normalized” group.

No one needs to pretend to be poor or minoritized is they are willing and eager to listen to people with lived experiences in poverty or being a minority.

Days ago I avoided stepping into that elevator because I was looking beyond myself instead of assuming the world was centered on me.

That elevator would have been clean and safe to enter, however, if everyone else lived with a sense of community and empathy.