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Has the Movement Towards Structured Literacy Reignited a New Reading War?

Categories: Education & Teaching, In the news, The Digital Age

Blog Author: Heather Wiederstein

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The fact is the tenets of Structured Literacy have lived in reading classrooms since long before IDA succinctly coined the term in 2016. However, since then, and in combination with renewed attention to the science of reading, some would believe that the fervor of the so-called "Reading Wars" of the 1980's and 90's may be coming to a head once again. In reality, differences over the "best" way to teach reading (maybe the first reading war!) can be dated back to the 1920's when Noah Webster (phonics) and Horace Mann (whole word) debated the most efficient pedagogical approach. 

Over the decades, the pendulum has swung from phonics-based instruction to word-based instruction and back again many times. Critics of each side find fault with the other, sometimes citing the same research or foundational base. What has remained true though all the debates and reforms is that no single approach has worked for every child. Were it so, there would be a very clear evidence in the progress of our national reading scores; that is, if one ideological method were absolutely "the best," during the years that method was in favor we would have seen significantly higher growth in reading scores. 

To be clear, systematic phonological instruction has its right place in reading instruction. So does word study, building fluency, vocabulary practice, building background knowledge, etc. Phonological instruction alone does not lead to comprehension. Vocabulary and background knowledge alone also do not lead to comprehension. All of the five components of reading (Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, Comprehension) are essential to a person developing into a reader. We could add foundational oral language skills, writing, social-emotional, and executive function elements as part of a more holistic view of "what makes a reader."

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What gets lost in the swinging of the pendulum from one extreme to another is entire swaths of children for whom that single methodology does not work. Overworked and underprepared teachers have difficulty discerning among the stacks of research, journalism, blogs and opinions, but what many of them do know clearly, is that no single method works for all students in their classroom. Instead, they need a body of research-based best practices and support in implementing the right practice at the right time for each child. This is no small task, and no single methodology can solve the problem. The noise of the reading wars (past or impending) muddies that water even further. 

I think the strength of the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution lies in the fact that it provides equitable access to texts and literature for students in multiple instructional settings. Where a student is being given pull-out support for his dyslexia, he has access to books his teachers ask him to read, as well as to literature he might enjoy reading on his own. Where a teacher is managing the diverse learning needs and reading skills of her individual students, she finds a support for those with reading deficits in the Audiobook App and Educator Portal. Where a reading specialist is providing pull-out systematic phonics instruction, she can also provide access to vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension at the child's cognitive level. Whichever way the pendulum swings, audiobooks support the work of everyone striving with or supporting someone with dyslexia and reading deficits. 


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