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    30th May 2013

    Is teaching reading harder than teaching math? Studies say yes.

    From the New York Times:

    “Math is very close-ended,” Mr. Peiser said. Reading difficulties, he said, tend to be more complicated to resolve.

    “Is it a vocabulary issue? A background knowledge issue? A sentence length issue? How dense is the text?” Mr. Peiser said, rattling off a string of potential reading roadblocks. “It’s a three-dimensional problem that you have to attack. And it just takes time.”

    Studies have repeatedly found that “teachers have bigger impacts on math test scores than on English test scores,” said Jonah Rockoff, an economist at Columbia Business School.

    Teachers and administrators who work with children from low-income families say one reason teachers struggle to help these students improve reading comprehension is that deficits start at such a young age: in the 1980s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley found that by the time they are 4 years old, children from poor families have heard 32 million fewer words than children with professional parents.

    By contrast, children learn math predominantly in school.

    “Your mother or father doesn’t come up and tuck you in at night and read you equations,” said Geoffrey Borman, a professor at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin. “But parents do read kids bedtime stories, and kids do engage in discussions around literacy, and kids are exposed to literacy in all walks of life outside of school.”

    So I’m not crazy when I sometimes think it would be easier to teach math than reading?…

    The above mentioned issues are just part of the challenge of teaching reading to 9th graders who have been falling farther behind every year. Students aren’t used to reading, so they struggle with keeping attention while reading for more than a few minutes. Students might be unfamiliar with vocabulary or background knowledge necessary for comprehension. Students mistake not understanding a text for thinking the text is boring and so they give up easily when the text is difficult or low interest. Students who are struggling to read and/or get off task end up distracting students that are trying to read.

    I’m not sure if I’m happy that this article validates some of my feelings about teaching reading being quite difficult, or if it makes me frustrated, wondering how to change the way things currently work. Either way, it’s nice to know I’m not crazy for thinking teaching a reading class is difficult.

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    Copyright 2005 by Daryl Holmlund - All rights reserved.