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Reading Readiness, curriculum, class size, and ability-grouping
Write-in "Doug Mann" for School Board
Another Option for Minneapolis School Board Voters (2004 General Election)
by Doug Mann, 29 Oct 2004, Submitted to the Star-Tribune for publication 28 Oct 2004

Subj:     Re: [Mpls] Parent Involvement / Tutoring
Date:     11/25/2001 7:12:11 PM Central Standard Time
From: Gypsycurse7@cs.com
To:     mpls@mnforum.org

In a message dated 11/24/2001 6:12:47 PM Central Standard Time, [dwiley] writes:
>  I would just like to point out that there are some kids who are simply "not ready" to read before kindergarten -- and it can be counterproductive to force them. (snip)

How can you tell when a child is ready to read?
As I recall, the textbook used in my child development course several years ago said that over 90% of children are ready to *learn* how to read by the time they start kindergarten.  They can recognize and name letters, and learn about letter-sound relationships.  Phonics instruction can be done in kindergarten and before.  

However, the ability to easily track a line of print across a page is usually acquired sometime between a child's 5th and 8th birthday.  Before that happens, one cannot expect a child to do a lot of reading.

The ability to easily track a line of print across a page is related to neuro-motor development, specifically fine motor control of the muscles that move the eye and adjust the lens.  This fine motor control of the eyes is generally mirrored by fine motor control of the hands.  Girls tend to be ahead of boys in this area.

> ...I have been told that up to 15% of kids are not going to learn to read unless they learn phonetically.  That is not what most of the schools teach.  And it is certainly not something parents know how to do. Teachers are paid to teach, and I don't think we should be blaming parents if the kids don't learn.  On the other hand, I don't think we should condemn all teachers either. (snip)

Agreed.

>...  If you have even 20 kids in a class, that allows you to have a whooping 3 minutes per hour of one-on-one time with each kid -- assuming you did nothing else.  I think no real change will come in Mpls unless we continue to reduce class size and develop programs for tutoring kids after school hours, in the schools.  And a summer school program that, again, does not have such large classes...(snip)

I don't agree that it's impossible to for a K-3 teacher to provide effective reading instruction to 20 students.  MPS teachers are unable to provide effective reading instruction because the curriculum is incoherent, and because learning activities in the classroom are too teacher-centered.

When I was a first grade student, the teacher often gave a lecture to the whole class room, followed by a short Q & A session, then had us work in pairs or small groups.  Kids with different levels of ability were usually put together.  Cooperative learning strategies, including peer tutoring, were heavily used.  

None of my 1-6 grade teachers did the kind of one-on-one and small group instruction and learning activities that I've seen MPS teachers do routinely.  If a student had a question, they could ask the teacher.  However, in a lot of cases a student's study partner could supply the answer.  

Unless the district ditches the ability-grouping model, adopts a more coherent reading curriculum, and encourages teachers to use more effective learning strategies in the classroom, a lot of students are not going to learn how to read.  Even reducing class sizes to an average of 15 in grades K-3 won't change that.  

-Doug Mann, King Field
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