The science of reading is getting increased attention from national media, including this cover story, “Inside the Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read,” in Time magazine and Emily Hanford’s recent essay, “School Is for Learning to Read,” in the New York Times. Unfortunately, while focusing on the necessity of foundational skills such as phonics, those two pieces neglected the equal importance of building content knowledge through literature, history, science, the arts, and other subjects.
Thankfully, Natalie Wexler recently published a more complete piece, “Curious About Knowledge-Building Curricula? Check Out This Website,” in Forbes, extolling the virtues of knowledge and pointing to an updated website by the Knowledge Matters Campaign.
“While the interest in knowledge-building curricula appears to be growing rapidly, there are still many who are unaware of the issue or skeptical of its importance. Among those already on board, there’s often confusion about which curricula truly do an effective job of building kids’ knowledge, or what to do if their school or district uses a curriculum that isn’t working.”
“The new Knowledge Matters Campaign website may not answer every question about the topic, and it probably won’t be the final stop on the road to an improved education system. But it makes a great beginning—and it’s a sign of hope for anyone who aims to enable all students to reach their full potential and participate fully and responsibly in a democratic society.”
It reminds us of Wexler’s great 2019 piece, “Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong,” in The Atlantic featuring Sarah Webb, senior curriculum designer, multilingual learners for the humanities team at Great Minds® and Mad River Public Schools near Dayton, Ohio, where Webb previously taught.
“What if the best way to boost reading comprehension is not to drill kids on discrete skills but to teach them, as early as possible, the very things we’ve marginalized—including history, science, and other content that could build the knowledge and vocabulary they need to understand both written texts and the world around them?”
“A couple of years ago, in a low-income suburb of Dayton, Ohio, a fourth-grade teacher named Sarah Webb decided to try out a new content-focused curriculum that her district was considering adopting. The adjustment from a skills focus wasn’t easy, but soon Webb could see that students at all levels of reading ability were flourishing. They wanted to know more about certain topics featured in the curriculum, so Webb took books out from the public library to satisfy their curiosity. She told me that after the unit on “What Makes a Great Heart?” one girl “talked about plasma all year long.” This was the way Webb had always wanted to teach, but she’d never been able to make it happen.”
To continue building knowledge about the science of reading and content-rich instructional materials, check out our series of blogs on the science of reading and knowledge building, including helpful implementation strategies and research reviews.
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Jenny has over a decade of experience in education policy and research. She has worked with states and districts on the development and implementation of college and career readiness policies, especially around the implementation of rigorous standards and high-quality instructional materials. She has extensive knowledge about K–12 standards, graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability systems nationwide. Additionally, she has conducted research for school districts to address pressing needs in those districts. Jenny received her B.A. in English and education from Bucknell University and her M.Ed. in education policy from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.