Stop Ignoring the Science on How Children Learn

“Harry is a white working-class boy, the demographic that does least well at school. His story shines a light on a scarcely believable fact: that in the 21st century, in one of the most developed countries in the world, one in five children leave primary school unable to read or write properly.”

—from “Britain’s Battle to Get to Grips with Literacy is Laid Bare in H is for Harry
Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian (March 2019)

In a country which has two of the world’s renowned universities—Oxford and Cambridge—the UK struggles with improving literacy for the general population. How is this possible?  

School systems use testing to determine a student’s reading and learning ability. Sometimes, the results show that a student will struggle with learning to read. However, I recall reading an article years ago stating that there are some children who learn to read despite the data revealing they won’t, and others who should be learning to read easily, but don’t.

This thought has stuck with me for over twenty years. My son Nicholas is one of the few who, according to the “data,” should not be reading. Yet, he is and does. My first student, Christian, spent four years in a phonics-only reading program, only to leave it as a nonreader. After spending three years with my instruction, he was finally reading at grade level. 

In my view, the failure of many children left behind falls not on the teachers, but rather on the administrators and those in power-making decisions. They make decisions in part, for accountability, and then proceed to buy a standardized program marketed to assist every child to read through standardized measures. 

What is ignored, day in and day out, is the science on how children learn. What is promoted is questionable science on “evidenced-based programs.” Children do not learn through “lock-step” instruction. There is no science to support such learning. They do not learn, particularly when they are vulnerable young children by a “just do this” type of instruction presented by the teacher. 

And they will not learn through the mantra “if they do this enough, they will ‘get it.’”
They won’t “just get it,” as this Guardian newspaper article bears out. 

Children are left illiterate through:
-Poor and inadequate teaching. 
-Inability to make the essential connections, through inadequate examples
and “one-size-fits-all approach.” 
-Blaming families for inadequate support.
-Ignoring culture. Children who sit in our classroom are not empty  “vessels”
to be filled. They arrive in school with a culture and experience which
cannot be ignored. 
-Teachers making assumptions on student knowledge: i.e. when a child reads words correctly, therefore they also have complete comprehension.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to blog on how children learn. My sources come from Professor Brian Cambourne's “7 Conditions of Learning” and an academic article from the Board of Science Education, the Division of Behavioral and Social Science and Education. 

We can—and we must—educate, trust, and give teachers adequate knowledge to do the job they are being paid to do. Only then, will more children learn to read.

And, always remember: We do not know the IQ of a six-year-old child therefore, we must make every effort to teach them.