Teachers hear it all the time: the more students read, the stronger readers they become. A recent Dan Willingham blog piece pointed out that we actually spend far more time with our eyeballs on text than we used to, with no improvement in reading scores to show for it. The reason, Willingham noted, is that while decoding text is a skill, reading comprehension is not. “Once you’re fluent, the most important factor contributing to comprehension is background knowledge. If you know a bit about the topic, it’s much easier to understand,” he wrote.
Prediction time: How would you expect the National Council of Teachers of English to respond to the idea that reading comprehension is not a skill, and that more reading won’t improve matters? Guess again. Here’s what NCTE President Carol Jago has to say:
While my first reaction was to recoil at this idea, as I read Willingham’s argument I found much to consider. He asserts that reading a quantity of simple texts (Facebook postings, Tweets, etc.) does not in and of itself improve students’ comprehension skills. Only experience with complex texts builds the kind of reading stamina that is most often equated with able readers.
Willingham’s point was about depth and richness, not stamina per se, but kudos to Jago and NCTE for considering the evidence instead of circling the wagons.