​Since the beginning of the 21st century, the issue of how to teach children to read most effectively has become a subject of debate in American education. These so called “reading wars” have been hotly discussed by many groups, including the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), the Reading Hall of Fame, and other independent experts in the field.

​The NCTQ released a report over the summer on teacher preparation. Some other groups criticized the report, saying that the NCTQ was promoting an old and narrow idea that direct instruction of phonics is the best way to reach reading and that other methods have little or no value.

​A number of scholars, led by Steven Dysktra of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition, have written a letter defending the NCTQ’s position. The letter was recently published by The Washington Post reporter, Valerie Strauss, who herself has published articles [1] criticizing the NCTQ. [2]

​Dykstra and his colleagues argue that the NCTQ believe that learning to teach reading requires that teachers ensure students meet a standard of five topics: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Weakness in any five of these components impedes reading growth. Therefore, the NCTQ evaluated whether programs in colleges and universities covered each of these components for at least two lectures and evaluated them in at least one assignment. From this information, the colleges and universities were rated on how well they taught future teachers to teach children to read.

​In other words, the NCTQ claims to understand that children must be taught to use letters and sounds to decode and spell words. This is in contrast with another school of thought which believes that children should mostly eschew that method in favor of guessing. This second method was founded by Kenneth Goodman and is based on the premise that children should be taught to construct meaning from text based on their own meaning-based understandings about what the words might be. That is, rather than reading the words in a text to expand their knowledge, they should use their existing knowledge to guess at words.

​This second method, though disproved through scientific theory, dominates how many teachers are trained to teach reading. The goal of the method is to keep phonetic decoding of words to a minimum, despite research saying it is a cardinal feature of skilled reading. Therefore, the NCTQ believes that their method should be more widely used, because it is guided by science, the alphabetic nature of our written language, and a common sense recognition that understanding the meaning of text is predicted on accurately identifying words.

Read the full letter published by Dykstra and his colleagues. [3]

What do you think of these "reading wars" and both sides presented? Tell us in the comments!

"Reading Wars" and How to Best Teach Children to Read