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NCLB Outrages

Reading Rockets Misinformation

NOTE: Reading Rockets is an educational initiative of WETA, the flagship public television and radio station in the nation's capital, and is funded by a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Partners include he American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.


Reading Rockets is guided by an advisory panel made up leading researchers and experts in the field of reading.

Dr. Lynn Fuchs
Vanderbilt University, Department of Special Education

Dr. Louisa Moats
Former Director, NICHD Early Interventions Project

Dr. Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar
University of Michigan, Educational Studies

Dr. Louise Spear-Swerling
Southern Connecticut State University, Department of Special Education and Reading

Dr. Lee Swanson
University of California, Riverside, School of Education

Dr. Julie Washington
University of Wisconsin â Madison

Dr. Joanna Williams
Columbia University, Teachers College

This article appeared in the CCW/AFTEF January Newsletter (American Federation of Teachers). See Criticism below article.

Print Awareness During Read-Alouds
(Adapted and Excerpted from Reading Rockets, 2004)

The following is a sample format for what you can do before, during, and after a read aloud activity to help kids develop print awareness.

Prior to reading any story aloud

* Introduce the story by stating the title, then the author's name and asking students, "What does an author do?" (Students should respond, "Writes the story.").

* State the illustrator's name and ask, "What does an illustrator do?" (Students should respond, "Draws the pictures.").

* Hold up the book and say, "This is the front of the book, (turn it sideways and state) and this is the spine." Turn the book to the back cover and state, "This is the back of the book." Then ask, "Do we begin reading from the front or the back of the book?" (Students should respond, "From the front.").

* "Let's look at the picture on the front." Hold up the book with the front cover facing the students. Ask: "What do you think will happen in this story? Remember, I want you to answer using complete sentences."

Before the reading

* Select vocabulary words from the story that you need to discuss prior to reading the story. Write them on sentence strips or on the board. Discuss the words with students.

* Please note the use of open-ended questions that will require the students to give responses that extend beyond Yes/No answers. Remember to use open-ended questions as you read the story and in your discussion after the reading.

* Encourage students to draw upon what they know about the words from their personal lives. For example, if the word is the verb fish, perhaps some of the children have gone on fishing trips with their parents. Encourage a brief telling of personal stories. Their personal stories allow students to make connections with the text.

During the reading

* Briefly discuss the pictures on each page after reading that page.

* Encourage students to guess/predict what will happen next.

After the reading

* Ask students to tell you if they liked the story and why. Encourage responses in complete sentences. "I liked it when the little girl rescued her friends because it showed that girls can be heroes."

Subject: Re: CCW/AFTEF January Newsletter
Comments by Sydney Gurewitz Clemens Comments, author of The Sun's Not Broken, A Cloud's Just in the Way: On Child-Centered Teaching and Pay Attention to the Children: Lessons For Teachers and Parents from Sylvia Ashton-Warner, maintains a resource-laden early childhood web page at: http://www.eceteacher.org

There is so much in the Print Awareness article that isn't good early childhood
practice I hardly know where to begin a critique:

It focuses children on the physical book and not its content;

It encourages the teacher to interrupt a story's flow for testing questions rather than to use the story for enchantment (from which will flow an interest in reading books, perhaps even a passion for reading stories) and rather thanin the search for information, in the case of non-fiction;

It asks questions (what does the author do?) instead of sharing information freely, "The author is the person who wrote down the words of the book" (or,in the case of fiction, the person who made up the story.

It's insulting to tell children "this is the spine" every time you read them a story.

It's disconcerting for the children to be told to use complete sentences...more important for them to say what they think. The teacher can reply in a whole sentence, and even ask the child to repeat that whole sentence, rather than taking the child's attention away from what she has to say.

These five points aren't trivial, they go to the heart of our image of the child. They assume the child to be an empty vessel, with neither emotional engagement with the content of a fiction book nor intellectual engagement with the factual content of a non-fiction book.

This is a training exercise for children, not an attempt to deepen their insight. I encourage the AFT to use my letter (not including this paragraph) in the February issue as a counterbalance to the advice that it has given teachers. Mine respects the children, and assumes they will learn and grow with our support, not with misdirection to the physical book and directives about how they are to speak. We can do better!

Ci sono cose da non fare mai, né di giorno né di notte, né per mare né per terra:
per esempio la guerra.

(Translated from the Italian:
There are things you should never do, not in the morning nor in the night,
not on sea nor land: for example, war.)
­--Gianni Rodari

Here is the AFT reply, with Sydney's comments.

From: Marci Young, CCW/AFTEF

Dear Sydney,

Thank you for your email. We appreciate all of the hard work that early childhood education teachers such as yourself do everyday on behalf of young children and their families. The Center for the Child Care Workforce recognizes that your work sets the critical foundation for children's success in school and beyond.

The excerpt to which you refer is from an article that presents a sample format that teachers can use to teach print awareness to children before, during and after a read-alouds. It is not intended to suggest that this is the only effective strategy nor that teachers should exclude other appropriate methods for meeting the same objectives. Print awareness is one of the fundamental mechanics of literacy development and forms the foundation for beginning reading. However, it is just one of many structural elements. There are many others, such as phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary development.

Nope! mechanics come quite easily to children who want what print offers, and
it doesn't help children read who don't want stories and info in books and magazines...
None of the structural elements is nearly as important as wanting to know, knowing
that books are full of magic and news and ideas. We have NEVER, in early childhood,
believed that children should start with mechanics. And that is why I wrote to you.

Just as important, as you appropriately point out, is fostering a love of reading.

NOPE! Much more important. If people can read but don't, then what have
we gained? We have many such people in this country. We want the kind
who know there's good stuff in books.

In future issues, we will continue to present different areas of childrens development - in language and literacy development as well as other domains. You may visit www.readingrockets.org (the website from which the excerpt was taken) to get research-based

"research-based" has come, in the days of No Child Left Behind, to mean research
done away from classrooms, experienced teachers, and principals. The NCLB report
had only one principal on it, and she wrote the minority report. We have been
hoodwinked by the right, which is attached to phonics and mechanics, and not to

information on how to teach reading effectively as well as resources that help build on children's interest to motivate children with the pleasures of reading. We recognize that children's development is multi-faceted and we remain committed to showcasing that range.

The article wasn't multi-faceted, and the point I make wasn't even listed. I
remain upset and concerned that AFT would be helping with the NCLB position
...and losing the joy of reading in the bargain. I'm going to share this letter--
yours and mine-- with other teachers on a listserv, hoping that they'll try also
to make it clear to you where the voice for early childhood teachers should
be: making the beauty and possibilities of reading manifest, not teaching kids
about the spines of books.


Thank you for taking the time to give us your feedback.

Marci Young

— Sydney Gurewitz Clemens
Comments to listserv


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