ELFRIEDA H HIEBERT
My name is Elfrieda H. Hiebert. I’m a professor at the University of Michigan.
Well, the selection of text really depends on what the purpose is. So there are lots of different purposes for which a teacher selects text. And especially with children who are learning English, a text can be a great venue into learning about concepts and language. So text can be the source for conversations. So there’s a lot of oral language that can go around text. Uh, my recommendation would be that you select particular topics. Um, either topics that you want to develop some familiarity you think children have some background knowledge about, or you want some topics that you’re creating some new background knowledge about. And you would probably want to have a couple of texts across a topic. So there are some texts that one would want for conceptual and oral language development and then there’s the issue of what kind of text you want youngsters to be looking at when you’re actually teaching them about English written language. And that’s a whole other set of guidelines.
I’m very, very comfortable with that. (Interruption) Because many of the children who are the children who learn to read in schools (Interruption) are children who have some different language in their—in their homes. It could be a dialect. Uh, it could be um some—some folks in the home speaking other language. The child might not, but they might hear another—he or she might hear another language.
OK, so in terms of guidelines for books when you’re developing literacy, there’s a lot of literacy um development that occurs as a teacher is reading books that might fall into the concept category. So, for example, if I am talking about um, um for example “Cinderella” in different cultures, the—the notion of um, you know, a step child in different cultures that that’s a story that um you can find a version of it in Chinese, um in various uh Central American uh countries as well. So that might be something where—my throat is getting a little bit fuzzy here so I’m going to take some water. (Interruption) So I might be um talking with children about a book where the intent is learning about the—the language of literacy or about the different ways in which stories are told. And one of the things that is common across culture is—is story. In any culture we have our stories. And one of the important things for kids to learn about is that books tell these stories. So the books are really important to help connect to the stories of our cultures and maybe recording some of those stories. So connecting um stories that we might have um about, for example, different animals. So in different cultures different animals play different roles. Um, like a coyote in a particular Indian culture or um, you know, a crow or a certain kind of dove. So that’s an important part of—of books. Is um making these connections that—that literacy is a way in which we tell story. We—we record our stories. Um, and there’s some cultures, like the Mong youngsters, who actually tell stories through um—through tapestries or through pictorial representations. But it’s really important to say here—here’s a way in which people have recorded their stories over a long, long time. So connecting to literacy through literature is a really important thing. OK. But then there are also the issues of—I want children now to be dev—developing independent reading. And when I have that as a goal—well I might be finding out some of the consistent words or even special words that I’m seeing in books as I’m reading to children or we’re doing a big book, or we’re recording some of the stories that come from our cultures into a book of our own. We’re focusing on some written words. But when I actually want to start developing some independent literacy in children, especially children who are challenged in learning to read English um because they have another rich language in—in—in their uh background, which is actually a real asset, but we’re adding on another level of cognitive complexity. Right? We’re asking them to learn another system. And when that happens, then I really want to attend to what some of the critical features are of books. So I’m not going to just um give a piece of really great literature to a youngster and expect them, him or her, to extract the really critical information. I’m actually going to make sure that the books that I’m using when the goal is focus, attending to these certain aspects of literacy, I’m actually going to choose those books pretty carefully according to whatever my curriculum is. And—and my perspective is, is that the English language, especially when you start out, it’s important that you learn about some words that are very consistent and happen an awful lot. So a hundred words account for 50% of the text that we see in elementary school. So it’s important that somebody helps me understand those words. Now most of those words are really abstract like ‘the’ and ‘of’ and ‘a.’ But somebody needs to consistently show me that those words are important to remember. So that’s one system that I need to learn about. I also need to learn about the English alphabetic system. And if I speak a language like Spanish and know something about reading in Spanish, I understand about alphabetic systems or Arabic. Uh, there are lots of languages—most languages with alphabetic systems. I mean even some languages that are idiographic have moved towards some consistency in terms of using um a set of symbols. But what I want to do is I want to have some consistency and have some critical alphabetic uh representations appear in the books. So I’m not just going to give kids tons and tons of data and ask them to figure this out themselves. And I think that’s one of the things that we’ve really been learning about in the last decade um especially with children whom I call “Cable Children.” Children who have see a lot of cable. They’ve had a lot of data. And often if you live in uh economically struggling context, there is a lot of information in your—in your—in your life. There’s a lot of noise. There are televisions going, there are radios, and so on. And I really need to—to learn how to read, attend to what the critical features are. And if my teacher gives me books or there are lots and lots of different words every single story, it’s going to be hard for me to extract what I need to generalize, what’s important to learn about. So the books at the beginning, I’m going to be very careful as a teacher to ensure that there’s some consistency from time to time, from reading opportunity to next reading opportunity in terms of what kids are saying. Is that—is that making sense? (Interruption) And that doesn’t mean that these need to be strictly decodable books, you know, with “Dad had a bad fan” kinds of books. Now it may be, if that’s what you have available, that can be part of a diet, but it really needs to be in the selection of books fort he independent reading development of children. It needs to be thought of as a diet, that there is some different systems that function in the English language. The high frequency set of words that come from very old English have some unique alphabetic relationships, like the word ‘the.’ OK? And some of those words I’m going to need to memorize. Now it’s not that they aren’t alphabetic. Everything about English is alpha—alphabetic. We keep using those 26 letters over and over again. We don’t suddenly put in a new icon. I mean we might be reading icons as children, but the—in—in our written text, we don’t insert a 27th symbol suddenly. So I need to see some things that are consistent, but I’m also saying that’s not the only data you need to be seeing. You need to be seeing that books give you lots and lots of different kinds of information. They’re just a rich source of concepts. And in my perspective, that’s probably with children who are learning English as their second or third language. Probably the most critical thing we can be doing at this point in history is to be helping them see the wealth of information that can be got from text. Because in the digital age, text is a source of information and there’s just so much more text available to you.
So as I’m understanding, the question is um “What kinds of frames might you use differently when you’re thinking about selecting kids—uh text for children who are um learning English as a second or third language as compared to children who are—are learning to read in English and that’s the native lan—the only language they speak?” One of the—the differences um—I mean there are many things that I would say that are very much the same. But one of the things that you have to be aware of is that for many children who come to school, the level of opportunity that they’ve had with English text has been really extensive. And from my experience with children learning English as a second language, when one comes to school, especially if one is an immigrant, one is watching and trying to figure out systems. “This is a new place for my parents, this is a new place for me. What are the rules?” And so they’re trying to extract rules and there’s a lot of information they’re being bombarded with. I mean linguistically there’s a lot of information, but culturally there’s a lot of information too. So as a young child coming into a classroom, there’s just so much that’s being directed toward me. And the teacher needs to guide children in what’s critical to attend to because I might not know and my parents too are being fairly tentative. They’re trying to figure out what’s important. And so it helps a great deal if you have a guide or a coach who’s saying, “This is really important to attend to. This aspect of written language really makes a difference in English. These 26 letters combine in lots of different ways to make thousands upon thousands upon words.” And I think actually having that conversation with youngsters and talking about the systems in their languages that act to do that. But just saying, you know, there’s—there’s um a finite number of letters, sometimes I think when they’ve had like a letter of a week kind of strategy in kindergarten, that some of these youngsters think they’re going to go to school forever with a letter—another letter of the week. They’re not aware of, you know, the letters—there’s going to be an ending. I heard a great story of um a little kindergartener who was talking to another kindergartner. It turned out that they both could read and they were talking about what had happened that day. And one of them said, “You know, we just finished the letter people and now their starting with the numbers. Do you think we’re going to have to go through every number person?” And—and the—the—the notion here is that teachers actually want to keep uncovering clues for kids. These are the important systems. I mean in my way of thinking with children who are immigrant children who are learning another language and are learning about another culture while retaining your own, that what it’s about is giving clues as to what the critical elements of systems are. And one of the things I’m doing is giving clues about the critical elements of the written language system. This is important for you to know about. And I also—I mean one of the things we’ve done in some misunderstandings we’ve had about literature is throw all of the data at children. In a sense it’s like um, um giving the original data set of an ethnographer or an anthropologist to um—to the whole field and saying, “Well, you figure out what my findings are.” When in actuality the anthropologist has a very good idea of what the themes are. And what I’m saying is that the coach, the teacher is uncovering that for youngsters and that’s really, really critical.
OK. So the critical information one needs to know about English—I mean, first of all there is, you know, English um—English writing systems are there to communicate um, um—I’m needing to start over here. (Interruption) Uh, we’re (Interruption) I mean there are some fundamental uh text structures that one needs to know about. I mean I talked earlier about the fact that text are a way of telling stories. Texts are also a way of providing information. Um, texts are also a way of providing procedure. We can have recipes, we can have bus schedules. OK? So that’s a fundamental notion is the notion of—of what texts are there for. There are ways in which we order sentences in English. And there are ways in which we order paragraphs and um ideas across paragraphs. But when it comes to becoming an independent reader, I mean one can think about ideas with listening comprehension in English. But to actually be able to read it, I have to be able to do something with those symbols. OK? And—and what I’m suggesting is that there are really three basic notions at the word level that are important to know about. OK? There are some words that happen a lot. They’re the function words. These hundred words that account for 50% of the text in elementary school, and 1,000 words that account for 75% of the text. In the 100 words, a lot of those words are idiosyncratic in terms of their relationships between the sounds we make and the letters they’re represented by. So I’m not suggesting that these be learned in lists, but there are some unique things that happen around those words, particularly since they’re very abstract. So that’s one system, is the high frequency word system. A second system that’s really critical to know about are some consistent relationships between sounds, phonemes, and letters or graphings. Now there really isn’t any research that says precisely how many of those consistent relationships you need to know about before you extract the notion that there are consistent relationships. There have been some programs that have asked kids to basically extract those relationships on their own. And then there have been some that make the assumption that you have to tell them every single relationship that there is even when it only applies to like three words. I think that there’s probably some middle ground. It turns out that there are about 38 patterns that account for about 675 words. And I’m talking about patterns like um—like in the word ‘rang’ and ‘sang.’ Uh, patterns like ‘at’ and ‘rat’ and ‘cat’ and ‘mat.’ Now that doesn’t mean that those are the only things that you see. So I’m not suggesting you only see text that have um “Nan ran to Dan. Can Nan run to—I mean it just goes on and on like that. But what I’m saying is that you need to have some consistency in understanding those patterns. And I think once you understand this notion of the relationships, you begin extracting them yourself. You generalize. But there has to be some consistency there. The third system is more phological in character. So you need to understand that English also has some meaning units that make—make a difference. There are meaning units like plurals and um verb endings that change. But as you begin to get further along in your reading to become a really good independent reader at 3rd grade level, which is something we talk about a lot in reading education, you need to understand something about how the Latin system works in English. So it’s not just the little words that are phonetically regular according to some system like ‘cat’ and ‘fat’ and ‘bat’ and so on, but it’s also understanding how you make ‘enjoy,’ ‘enjoyable,’ ‘joyful.’ Um, the connections between words that have the same Latin root. And it actually turns out that children who are native Spanish speakers probably have a leg up. Well not probably, they actually do have a leg up because the Latin origin of Spanish stayed purer—well English was never a Latin language to start out with, it was actually an Anglo-Saxon language so we actually had a Latin language, French, integrated into English. So a lot of the words we use in literature like uh words like ‘solar,’ ‘solarium,’ are using the Latin root for the word ‘sun.’ So that’s an important systems to know about. Now did you actually want me to actually go into that a little faster? Just to say one, two, three. (Interruption) So the three systems basically that I’m saying is you need to learn about these high frequency words. You need to be able to recognize them really, really rapidly. I think that comes from doing a lot of writing. Uh, uh like having little word cards that you uh—that you make sentences with very early on. Then there’s the um phonic system, the alphabetic system, and then there’s also the morphological system. And that morphological system becomes increasingly more important if you’re going to be a very good reader, especially of literary and scientific text.
Well, actually what’s really interesting—I mean, when I found out in working with um beginning teachers in California, is that um students who spoke Spanish when they came to school tell the story of their self discovery that when you got to mathematics, for example, words like ‘addition’ and ‘subtraction’ and ‘factor’ and ‘fraction’ are almost identical in terms of their spelling. Usually it’s a letter off. Now the pronunciation might be different, but if you’re actually—if somebody would actually coach you on that and let you know those connections. And it turns out in social studies. Words like ‘democracy’ are very, very similar because they all come from Latin. And so actually uncovering that for—for students gives them an incredible amount of power that they can actually see that some of the language they use will be very, very helpful to them in literature. And one of the things that I worry about with some misunderstandings of um, you know, swinging from not emphasizing the alphabetic system enough to too much is that children who come into our schools speaking Spanish as a native language, that we spend too much time on the English phonic system and they actually lose this uh, um leg up that they have in the morphological system.
In the role that I’ve been talking about—in the role that a teacher has um in—in the perspective that I’ve been talking about, you’re not needing to uncover every single secret about English or about concepts on the planet. You can’t possibly do that. One of the things that I’m very aware of as a teacher when I go on the Web is that I have no idea of what the digital world is going to look like in 10 years from now. But I do know some things about how to coach people to get ready for that new world. And that’s what we do as teachers. We don’t—we’re not responsible for uncovering all the data, the information that’s out there. We can’t possibly do that. But what we do is provide key points and we’re consistent about that. I’d say the thing that’s the most important um dimension of teaching right now is focus because there’s so much out there for children to attend to. And so what I’m doing is I’m consistently focusing on some things. And we have, you know, our world functions in some systems and people have a propensity to attempt to figure out systems. So it’s not that I have to introduce you to understanding that you need to know about systems, I already know that, I’ve learned another language. OK? I’m very cognizant of language and now what you’re doing to help me get good at reading, get good at speaking another language is to help me see what I need to know. See and that’s the same—exactly the same thing that we’re doing in content areas in science. I as a teacher am helping you develop some stances, some ways of learning so when I see um that there are 232 websites where you can learn about sal—salamanders or ostriches or whatever, I actually have some ways of evaluating which sites are good sites to go to. Which books are worth taking a look at? How much information do I need to look through before it begins to get redundant?
Well, go—I mean, is it important for me to be interacting with other people when I’m learning to read or…(Interruption) Well, literacy is interesting um dimension when it comes to social interaction. Um, you can be actually interacting with someone who’s no longer around at all in the world and you can also be interacting with people who are very far away. But literacy is a form of language, is the essence of what it means to be human. It’s a way in which we express um our ideas, make connections with other people. Um, I mean, many times that I read—I mean, there—there is a dimension of literacy that um really brings attention to the individual. And by that mean um—I mean, for me to be literate, I actually need to have a personal interaction with that text. I mean, in—in some sense it’s always social because I’m interacting with somebody else’s ideas. But there are also sometimes when I need to be doing that—you know, all literacy doesn’t have to be about talking about what you read. Everything I read I don’t necessarily talk about it, but when I’m at the beginning stages, it can be very, very helpful for people to tell me what they’re doing because initially it looks like a mystery. You know? Um, somebody says they’re reading something and they aren’t telling me what it is they’re doing. Um, is it important for me to share some of my ideas about what I think that person was saying who wrote the book? Is it important for me to write my ideas down? And that’s a critical dimension of literacy that we really haven’t talked about is, “Who am I as a writer?” So writing becomes—you know, I—I just think that that’s probably um one of the most powerful tools we have in schools that we often forget about that, you know, I can’t possible uh hear all of the ideas of everyone on every topic. But many ideas could be written down and electronically we also have lots of ways to store ideas that—in—in speaking. We can—we can tape record ideas, we can put them on videotapes. So um by this very essence, literacy is a social act um, but there’s a very much of an individual interpretation to it too. I’m not sure if I was really getting at what you’re…(Interruption)
So what is emergent literacy? Um, the term emergent literacy came about—um, I think people started really using it about 15 to 20 years ago. I think in response to the fact that there was um at that point a perception of reading readiness that um in a sense viewed children as not knowing a whole lot about the written language system. And what—and I think here we were very, very influenced by um psycholinguists who were letting us know the significance of um very young children’s babbling and um even mother/child interactions—mother/infant interactions, how critical that was. So literacy was not viewed as “Now you have it or you don’t have it,” but was seen as something on a continuum as it were. And that those critical interpretations like a youngster scribbling at age three or a child who hasn’t been around a lot of books and literate acts um writing his or her story with incredibly unique spelling, that those are actually very legitimate, very necessary uh prophecies. So it—it—it’s viewing the act of becoming literate um developmentally on a continuum rather then saying um, “You’re going to bet ready to read.” Well in fact there’s lots of things you do that are reading. So you look at some things and you remember them. There’s a really great book by a woman named Betty Miles called, “Yes, I Can Read,” where she describes different ways in which youngsters already are reading. You know, you look at a sign and you remember that. Well that’s a form of reading. Um, so I think that that really basically says what I needed to say.
Well, I think that there—um, so what I’m talking about are what makes for effective um early literacy and I—I think I—I probably would prefer to use that term um of early literacy uh programs. And—and there’s a lot that we know and I mean um—I think we can point to lots of really good examples of—of programs where youngsters who haven’t had a lot of experience with English literacy or even with um participating in literacy themselves because there are some cultures in which the adults maybe participating in literacy and there isn’t a great tradition of reading to children. Um, so when we look at programs for youngsters, what we want are um very, very many events and activities that actually involve them in literate acts for meaningful reasons. And there’s so much to know about in the world. There’s no end of uh meaningful reasons to read and write. Um, but they’re programs where—I mean, I basically look at it as you need to have a lot of opportunity to read, to be read to, to read along with. Those are different kinds of reading. OK? So there—there’s a component of reading in these programs. Um, there’s also a very, very strong component of writing. I think that’s probably what we’ve learned um most about in the last 15 years is the very critical role of writing and learning about and becoming literate. And I’m not just talking about composing. I’m also talking about the kind of uh learning that takes place when I use magnetic letters as a—as a youngster. OK? So there’s a lot of different kinds of writing going on. And the third thing is there’s a lot of talk about not only what I got out of the experience in terms of the meeting I constructed, but there’s also a lot of talk about what the critical systems are. So there’s a lot of reading, a lot of different kinds of writing, and there’s a substantial amount of talk that is providing um a frame around the reading and writing. So there’s a teacher who’s saying, “Look what you just did? You spelled that word and you know what, you only left out one letter and let’s try to figure out what that might be.” OK? So—so there’s really critical talk as well as critical reading and writing kinds of uh experiences. And the thing that I (cough) What further point that I’d make is it’s not just immersing kids in reading and writing and talking about it, but developmentally, you know, at different points in time there are different uh emphasis on the reading and writing um activities and the talk. And the thing that I’d really um emphasize that distinguishes between affective instruction and instruction that’s well intentioned but not effective is this issue of a focus. There’s this thing called a curriculum, which is why teachers of—of beginning reading need to understand the underlined linguistic base. We need to understand what it is that’s important to know about. And it’s elegantly simple, which is I think always the hardest thing to teach. When it’s—I don’t—I don’t think it’s hard in the sense that it’s conceptually hard. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that that’s what it is that’s important. You know, it’s—it’s like the notion that it makes a big difference that you exercise everyday. That’s an elegantly simple idea. And what I’m suggesting is that there’s some elegantly simple principles of curriculum in beginning reading and writing. And one of those principles is consistently talking to kids and giving them experiences with some of the same kinds of information. Teaching kids to read is actually um hard work in that there needs to be this consistency and focus. I mean it isn’t like working with 5th graders or 6th graders and doing different themes. There’s a lot to talk about, there’s a lot of concepts in a primary curriculum. But the important thing, especially when you’ve got kids who bring other languages, is that there be consistency in the kinds of information they’re being given in the kinds of exposure. It doesn’t mean it has to be um, uh tedious, but it does have to be consistent. Like I found in my life it makes a big difference if I walk every day. And it’s the same process every single day. I keep just putting one foot in front of the other foot and then I just keep walking. And there’s that same element in terms of effective reading and writing programs. It’s having some consistent exposure to some of these ideas over a long period of time. And keep remembering that some of those kids who came to school who knew a lot about English literacy had had consistent exposure for about five years of every day somebody reading to them at home. (Interruption) Well, there’s some children—I call them kids who depend on schools to become literate, so it’s not that they don’t come from immensely rich and caring homes, but the working pore in our country work really hard and they don’t have some of the um luxury of time and some of them don’t know the systems that—that some of the rest of the folks know in terms of advocacies and so on in schools.
No, I’m—I’m—I’m a school-based educator and I can do a lot—as a school-based educator, I want to uncover things for parents. And I think one of the things that we’ve found in some of the work, for example, that David Yaden is doing um at the University of Southern California in a preschool with uh people who are truly some of the most courageous people that I know. Uh, they work in a garment district in L.A. Uh, many of them are single parents. They ride for an enormous amount of time on buses. Uh, the attendance of these youngsters in this preschool is incredibly high because if mom doesn’t or dad doesn’t go to work, they don’t get paid. And they’re getting paid minimum wages. And one of the things that David and his colleagues found out is that when you invited parents to take out books, it seemed like they weren’t interested. Well it turned out they had to deal a little deeper. The parents were afraid of losing the books. The loss of a book would mean, “Do they need to pay for it?” So when people really gave them some guidance and gave them some freedom, you know, “These can be your own books” or “No, there aren’t those kinds of restrictions,” whatever, it turned out to be a very, very different story. So in the—in the school-based effective programs that I’ve worked in there is always some extension that brings the literacies of home into the classroom and also takes the literacies of school and allows children to share them with their families through little books that you make that you take home, through a set of word cards that you can show your reading to. But I also do things like um if children are in homes where there’s lots of demands on their parents time, um you can also read on your own so it—you know, I mean, setting requirements like you have to read to your parents or whatever. I found this out really early on when we did an early literacy intervention in Colorado and one of the little boys brought back his reading card and he had attempted to forge his mother’s name and he had written ‘mom’ for his mother’s signature which we—I mean, when you see a six year old write ‘mom’ you know that that probably wasn’t his mother. And so we had conversations about the kids about the ways in which they could have some additional reading experiences at home. And I think one of the really under utilized activities is kids taking tape books home to listen to. So there are lots of ways in which we can make extensions from school to home and in—ways in which we can bring—bring the literacies of home into school, where kids bring some of their family’s stories into the school. But I’m really reluctant till I understand the community that I’m part of on—to say, you know, “You need to do this.” OK? There—here’s some ideas. I mean, I think again it’s helping people understand what the systems are. Lots of people have found it’s useful to do such and such. You know, “What you could do is here’s some word cards that the kids have made and you could build words while somebody’s cooking dinner or whatever.” That’s a really different thing to say, you know, “Here’s a word list and your child needs to know how to spell these words at the end of the week.” Some very—I think you have to be very sensitive into the perceptions that you’re having of people who are of a different socioeconomic cultural and linguistic group. (Interruption) In case you haven’t figured this out I’m—I’m a child of an immigrant family.
So in the early 90’s I was doing um a fair amount of work on alternative kinds of assessments like uh children uh producing portfolios, uh performance assessments, where children um are involved in evaluation that looks more like what you do every day in your classroom. So instead of bubbling things in, you would actually be reading a more extending story and maybe writing about it. As it happens, I’m writing um a chapter for one of those books where I wrote the paper um 10 years ago and so I’m actually reflecting on what’s happening. And the actual fact is that um (interruption) in the ensuing decade, we actually see less performance and portfolio assessment at least in some of the very large states that had been moving to those alternative assessments. We’re actually seeing um many more uses of uh norm referenced tests which in reading are silent reading tests where kids are usually working in a multiple-choice format, although, uh several of the tests do have some open-ended uh kinds of context. I’ve been analyzing in my um own county in California where I’m spending uh this year as a visiting professor. I’ve been looking at how uh schools with high percentages of low-income children, how they’ve done on some of these measures. And again, it’s—it’s—it’s very much a norm reference base. How they’ve been doing in terms of children who are a more economically advantaged uh schools. And it looks like everybody’s made about the same jump. But the gap is still there. And from my perspective, um increasing the number of policies that say kids have to attain certain level and um making the uh consequences of not obtaining those levels more onerous, is probably not going to make much of a difference. It’s just going to make a lot of people a little bit more stressful and a little bit more um—not enjoying and liking learning or teaching for that matter. So from—from my perspective we’re in a situation of having more testing in 2000 and my prediction will be that it’s going to increase even a little bit more um in the next while. Now having said that, I want to be clear that um some of the tasks on the norm reference test are actually—kids should be doing better at them. And from the analysis that I’ve been doing of the tests, one of the things that happened in the mid-90’s was that the standardized test became longer. So the issue of speediness in reading has actually become even more of an issue. So it’s not that the tests got harder in terms of having more difficult concepts or more difficult vocabulary, but actually they’ve gotten a little bit longer. And from the analysis that I’ve been doing, the biggest challenge, especially for kids who speak another language are from uh cultures where school literacy isn’t what parents are pushing when they’re preschoolers and when they’re um in their after school activities, that this issue of automaticity, how quickly you can read, um is really where the challenge is. And it turns out in the digital age that that’s probably the—the one thing that’s going to distinguish you in terms of being able to participate in the dig—in the digital economy. And by that I mean, with more and more information, knowing how to acquire information more quickly, reading faster, making decisions about what’s important to read. The reading demands have actually increased and so what I’m saying is that I actually think that we have um gotten an incredible gap between what the tests test and what our current textbooks are guiding kids in and in fact that the textbooks in reading don’t really have an underlined curriculum that I’ve been describing here. But I’d actually argue and this is a real jump for because I mean, I am—keep remembering that I’m not saying these—I’m not arguing at all for a test driven system. Uh, I don’t think that that’s going to solve any problems at all. It’s going to create another set of problems. But I am suggesting that the test curriculum is actually um an easier one for me to understand what the curriculum is underlying the tests then it is for me to understand what the curriculum is underlying the big textbook series. So in fact, in the—in the textbook series right now in grade 1—and I could provide you some articles that would substantiate this, but in the—in the um textbook series in grade 1, in the first quarter of grade 1, you actually have to already know those 100 most frequent words fairly rapidly to be able to make sense of the text because there are so many other words that are going to be introduced at such a—at such an enormously rapid pace. So the whole emphasis has been on the literature without understanding what the underlying linguistic system is. And I’m actually arguing that that’s not preparing kids with some of the um—these—the fluency in these systems that I’ve been describing like the high frequency word system, the phonics system, and the morphological system. So we have, for example, in the—in the NAEP data, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, where we actually see large percentages of kids who aren’t doing particularly well when—when—in one special study people went back and actually had the kids read the passage orally, that percentage of kids around 40-44% were actually able to read the passage out loud. But the read it so slowly and the speed with which they read was actually highly correlated to their comprehension of the passage. So I’m actually saying that—that kids are just getting a lot of—more—additional information with each book that they’re reading in school, but that they’re not really getting fluency and automaticity with some basic kinds of things. And the tests are actually assessing that fundamental fluency and automaticity. And it actually turns out—maybe not how it appears on the test, but you actually do need to have automaticity and fluency to participate in the digital age. Now these are necessarily—these are very easily misunderstood concepts that I’m talking about. So I’m not endorsing a norm reference curriculum as has become the case in some school systems. I’m not at all saying that. But I’m saying that if you’re teaching kids like in the effective early reading interventions that are extended into grades 2 and 3 with other kinds of activities, if kids are actually becoming good with the basic systems that I described, they should do fine on those tests. (Interruption) Very controversial too. (Interruption) Yeah, yeah. I mean, the research that I do, actually, is—is looking at what the vocabulary load is in tests versus in the texts that are given to extensibly get good at whatever the tests test. And what I’m saying is the textbooks introduce so much vocabulary so quickly and they—it turns out that in the beginning reading books, in the anthologies that students pay a lot of money for, about 40 % of the words if you look over a set of like 10 stories, about 40% of the new words I call singletons. They only appear one time in a—in a set of 10 stories. Well, it turns out that you can’t get very good at applying things if you only see something once, even if you do a repeated reading of it, which some of the kids then just memorize the text. You know what I’m saying? You don’t get good at reading by just seeing a thing once especially if you’re coming from another culture and another language. I mean, you’ve just got to see this word ‘disaster’ once or ‘hap hazard’ and now—or ‘habitation’ and now you’re—you’re suppose to know that word forever? Doesn’t how it works. And what happens is all my cognitive energy is put into figuring out these occasional, difficult words that I’m not getting good at. The 100 or the 1,000 most frequent words, the phonics or sublactic patterns I need to know and the morphological uh patterns. And so when it comes to standardized tests, I look like I don’t know that. Well, in actual fact I haven’t had a whole lot of experience with that. That doesn’t mean that I’m endorsing kids sitting and bubbling things in. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying there is something there that you actually need to be good at, especially in the digital age. I don’t think we’ve actually begun figuring out what that means in reading education. The digital age means there’s just a lot more text there for you to read. You have to be fast.
What am I passionate about? What would I like to happen in education? What am I working toward? What I’m working on right now is something that I call a complex word factor. I’m analyzing beginning reading text to ask how much opportunity do you have with this text to apply things you should be getting good at that are going to generalize? And how much is being demanded of you from this text in terms of figuring out, applying new information? That didn’t quite come out right. I’m going to start over again. This is a really hard thing for me to explain. I’m very passionate about it. Well, let me try to explain it another way. OK. So what I’d like to have happen in the next decade is I’d like to have more accessible text for beginning readers, especially children who because of uh economics, linguistic um experiences learn to read in schools. They depend on schools to become literate. So for these youngsters, I’d like to have books that uncover the critical systems of literacy. And by that I don’t mean that they’re just a codable text or that they’re the high frequency text of um ‘Dick and Jane.’ I’m actually talking about um combining all of those systems. And what I’ve been doing is writing text on critical concepts, for example, on American heroes. And what is unique about these texts is you’re guaranteed that there aren’t any words that are singletons. Like a word like ‘hero’ will happen a couple times. Um, the passages might be about the ocean, but there are a couple of passages that are connected to each other so that you can become expert on different topics because to me that’s part of what you need to do in the digital age. You need to learn that it’s necessary to become an expert. But where you have lots of opportunities to get good with these high frequency words, to apply your phonics and lin—and morphological knowledge. And within that concept you can trust the author, that they’ll be some repetition of that information so that you’re not just being bombarded with lots of material that you might never see again. So I’m working on some notions of what could text look like that would be accessible to low income, immigrant, second language speaking kids. Because I think literacy is just um so empowering. I’m an incredible reader. I read um a couple of novels a week and I read a lot professionally, but I also read a lot—I’ve learned a lot from reading on the Web. You know, I found out things like um finding out how hurricanes are names, um, finding out Munassa has got an incredible set of photos of different parts of the earth and the planets and so on. And to me that’s what literacy can—can open these things up. You can learn a lot about what makes us human; uh how other people in different times have dealt with the human experience. And I want for the people who come to this country wanting the best for their kids, that those kids get that. And I think literacy is part of it. And what I intend to do over the next decade is to help support accessible text for low-income kids. (Interruption) Well, we’re working on it. We’re working on it. (Interruption) I actually do have these really great little passages. So you get a little set of these passages and—well, the kids can’t verbalize it, the um, you know, there—there aren’t—the load isn’t as heavy. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have conceptual integrity. You know, for example, in the “American Heroes,” you know, there’s information about Caesar Shabez and um Roma Rudolph. What—what did these people do and why did they do it? And you learn certain vocabulary over and over again. So that’s what I’m doing. (Interruption) That is what I’m doing.