More From Carol Jago on Willingham

by Robert Pondiscio
January 1st, 2010

I was intrigued yesterday by Carol Jago’s response to Dan Willingham’s blog post about reading.   I emailed her to ask for her what she thought the takeaway for teachers should be from the post and the research.  Here’s what she graciously wrote back:

32 years in the classroom with teenagers convinced me that more is more when it comes to reading. Relentless readers develop the ease of fluency but learn to intuit how different books need to be read differently, sometimes a tortoise, sometimes a hare. As they gobble up book after book – good, bad, and indifferent – they develop a sense of how stories work. Seemingly without effort these avid readers have wide, rich vocabularies and a broad base of background knowledge. They know stuff. Harry Potter, Count of Monte Cristo, and Twilight readers also know that long doesn’t mean boring.

The take away for me from the Willingham article (I’ve been reading his columns for years in the American Educator) is that the kind of reading many young people today are doing online may be for the most part so short, simple, and solipsistic that it isn’t having the same effect relentless reading of books had upon their ability to comprehend.

I always saw it as my job to keep putting increasingly challenging books in students’ hands, I did so less under threat of  punishment than through a kind of sweet seduction. “If you liked … , really think you’ll love …”  It’s harder to create this bridge from the online world to the print world. Tweet, tweet.

Hearts and Minds

by Robert Pondiscio
December 31st, 2009

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.