In the Fight Over How to Teach Reading, This Guru Makes a Major Retreat

I wrote in my 2020 books post about Language at the Speed of Sight by Mark Seidenberg, which is harsly critical of how reading is taught in the US. He is quoted in this article about a revision towards phonics by Lucy Calkins, one of the main proponents of balanced literacy:

For children stuck on a difficult word, Professor Calkins said little about sounding-out and recommended a word-guessing method, sometimes called three-cueing. This practice is one of the most controversial legacies of balanced literacy. It directs children’s attention away from the only reliable source of information for reading a word: letters.

Three-cueing is embedded in schools. Online, novice teachers can view thousands of how-to guides. In a 2020 video, a teacher tells children to use a picture to guess the word “car,” even though simple phonics make it decodable.

Professor Calkins said word-guessing would not be included in her revised curriculum. But in some ways, she is offering a hybrid of her old and new methods. In a sample of the new materials that she provided to The Times, teachers are told that students should first decode words using “slider power” — running their fingers under letters and sounding them out — but then check for mistakes using “picture power.”

Mark Seidenberg, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, said that while he found some of the revisions “encouraging,” he was concerned that “objectionable” concepts remain….

When Professor Calkins was asked what changed her mind about the science of reading, she cited, without defensiveness, several experts who have criticized her work: Professor Seidenberg, author of the influential book “Language at the Speed of Sight,” and Emily Hanford, a journalist who has investigated the shortcomings of reading instruction.