Why Literacy is Harder to Teach (and Measure) than Math

In a laugh-out-loud piece that will be published in the winter issue of EdNext, Roxanna Elden, a high school English teacher from Miami (and author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers*) describes how data-driven instruction can run into a wall when it comes to reading comprehension.

After struggling to figure out the correct answer to a practice question for the state assessment (Which of the owls’ names is the most misleading? The screech owl, because its call rarely approximates a screech, or the long-eared owl, because its real ears are behind its eyes and covered by feath­ers?), Elden imagines the conversation that she is supposed to have with colleagues as she reviews state test results.

She soberly concludes.

Separating complex skills into individual benchmarks may well work in math class. Symmetry and place value, for example, can be taught independently of one another, and benchmark-based data may indicate which of these skills needs work.

Reading is different. After students have mastered basics like decoding, reading cannot be taught through repeated practice of isolated skills. Students must understand enough of a passage to utilize all the intri­cately linked skills that together comprise comprehension.

Read “Data-Driven and Off Course: To read better, kids need to know more,” now available online.

*The book is blurbed by Dave Barry, who writes, ““You know how you’ve always thought that if you were a teacher, you’d go insane? Well, this very funny book proves that you would. But in a good way.”

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