Monday, September 1, 2014

Learning at higher levels: Content knowledge to strengthen students' reading

How can students learn at significantly higher levels?  To build substantially stronger reading skills, one key step may be to equip students with powerful academic content knowledge.

Karin Chenoweth explains the connection:
If schools aren’t teaching kids an awful lot of content — that is, history, science, literature, and the arts — the same kids who do well on third-grade tests can fail later tests — not because they can’t decode the words on the tests, but because they cannot understand the words once they’ve decoded them. And they can’t understand them because the words haven’t been taught.
Some kids do arrive at school with a lot of background knowledge and rich vocabularies, usually acquired from discussions at home and a set of experiences ranging from being read to from an early age to being taken to museums. The kids with those kinds of experiences tend to be kids from educated and well-off families, which is one of the reasons that reading scores are so highly correlated with family income and mother’s education.
If we are to break that correlation and ensure that all children can read and comprehend well, schools need to have coherent, content-rich curricula that systematically teach history, science, literature, and the arts. This isn’t so that children will do well on fifth-grade reading tests, by the way; it’s so that they can understand the world around them. Fifth-grade reading tests are just proxies for what comes next.
Chenoweth is writer-in-residence at the Education Trust, so it's no surprise to find her pursuing and articulating strategies that can have the biggest benefits for students who may lack many of life's other privilege.  Her article originally appeared at the Huffington Post, and it is now also available at the Core Knowledge blog, which has long argued that rich content and strong reading can grow best when learned together.

-- Posted by Susan Perkins Weston

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