Read our lips

Ever been told to “read between the lines”? Turns out you do so more than you think—in fact, every time you read anything, from a menu to a philosophical treatise. That’s the premise of this piece by curriculum gurus E.D. Hirsch and Robert Pondiscio. We’ve explained previously in these pages how reading requires contextual knowledge: It’s not just a set of skills (namely, “decoding,” by which we turn symbols into sounds) but getting the point of what the author is trying to say, and this is proportionally easier based on how much you know about the subject matter of the text. Indeed, we should really redefine what being “literate” means: “If reading is the means by which we receive ideas and information, then a good reader is the one who best understand the author’s words.” Unfortunately, that is not how many schools think about literacy, so they increase the amount of time spent on skills while dialing down the time spent on actual content. You can’t teach or test “reading” in the abstract past the point of decoding, insist Hirsch and Pondiscio, and as long as schools, districts, states, and others fail to get this message, we’re wasting a heckuva lot of time trying to teach a skill that’s only half the battle of being a truly “good reader.”

There’s No Such Thing as a Reading Test,” by E.D. Hirsch and Robert Pondiscio, The American Prospect, June 13, 2010

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