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[Susan notes: I'm not a big fan of 'Balanced Literacy,' which I consider too rule-based, but this article is such such a piece of garbage. . . . But I've learned one has to moderate one's tone a bit--just to get a comment posted at the New York Times. Having been rejected three time this week, I moderated--and this was accepted immediately.

My site management system insists on labeling this letter 'published.' It was published only in the online section.]

Published in New York Times
07/07/2014

To the editor

Re: The Fallacy of 'Balanced Literacy. When I taught third graders in a working class neighborhood lumped together as the "low readers" in that grade, I did not call it 'balanced literacy'; I called it USSR: Uninterrupted, Sustained Silent Reading (an idea developed by Prof. Lyman Hunt at the University of Vermont). I told 3rd kids to choose a book and read. They knew I'd have to see blood before I'd let anybody out of his seat. At first, I called a halt after five minutes of torture. They mostly watched me read. It's an important rule: teachers must not pervert silent reading time with other tasks. Students must see her reading.

I filled a good part of the rest of the day with wonderful books that I read aloud. Some parents read the same chapter book aloud at home.

By mid-January, those squirrely kids were complaining when I called a halt to their reading after one hour.

One hour of self-selected silent reading.

And when I'd talk about this at conferences, teachers invariably asked, "But when did you teach skills?"

Thirty years later, a deaf student from that class found me on Facebook and told me how finding Amelia Bedelia in that class changed her life. She also told me she'd graduated from college.

The skills and the power is IN the books. Kids are just rarely given access to--and time with-- the books they want to read.

Susan Ohanian


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