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Why Johnny Can’t Read
By Shlomo Maital

    

   In 1955, 62 years ago, Rudolph Flesh published his most famous book, Why Johnny Can’t Read.  For those of us who write books,  this is depressing.  Because despite wide readership of his book, wide discussion, debate, and wrangling —  Johnny (in America, especially) STILL can’t read.   Makes me wonder whether writing books, which is what I do these days, is worthwhile.  If Johnny can’t read, who then will read the books that we write?
    Flesch’s point was, we should use phonics (sound it out!) rather than sight reading to enable students to sound-out unfamiliar words.  Turns out – that was not the right direction.
   Today’s New York Times has a good analysis by Daniel Willinghamnov, on “how to get your mind to read”.  His main point:  Reading is an activity, to which the reader brings prior knowledge and in which the writer ASSUMES such prior knowledge.  If kids don’t know anything, they can read the words but they will not understand them.  It’s that simple.  What’s the point of ‘sounding it out’ if you don’t understand what the sounds mean???
     Massachusetts is the top state out of 50 in reading skills. Why?  Because Massachusetts has grade-level ‘content standards’ specifying what kids need to know in each grade.  Some states are following suit.  
      Willinghamnov makes 3 suggestions. 1. Spend less time for kids on literacy (reading) and more time on science and social studies.  (More than half kids’ time in school in third grade is spent on reading).  2.  Fashion standardized reading tests differently,  make them specific to what kids know and learn. 3.  Design knowledge into the curriculum, so that kids will be familiar with the content that they read.
       Reading is about comprehension, not just the words.  If you have a child, help your school focus on the stuff kids read about, not just the technical ability to read the words. 
        Why Johnny Can’t Read?  Because he doesn’t understand what lies behind the words he is reading.  Did it take us 62 years to figure that out?

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Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
November 2017
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