Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind
Why Johnny Can't Read:
Why Johnny Can't Read
Frank B. Withrow, Ph.D.
If you observe your children and grandchildren have you ever wondered why they have not had to have technology literacy courses? The standing joke is if you can't program your VCR get an eight-year-old to do it. They have cell phones glued to their ears and know how to tweak every possible digital fantasy from them. They have mastered video games and computers without a second thought. It all comes natural to them since they live in a sea of electronic digital gadgets. Give the average four year old a battery operated toy and see how fast he or she can put the batteries in the right place and get it to work.
There is of course a generation gap between adults and these children of the Digital Generation. Give an adult a new digital device and they immediately look for the instructions and begin to read them to try to understand how to work the new gadget. Unfortunately, even when they read the instructions many adults still fail to get the new gadget to work properly. If I had relied on my early manuals for computer operations I would still be puzzled by the non-functional data in those manuals. Our kids for the most part are not bothered by such instructions because they don't read them. Some would say they can't read them, but I think it is more their intuitive knowledge of how things digital work. Who in this world of computers has not had a teenager look at you with pity and show you how a program works?
The generational gap between adults and the Digital Generation is a problem since for the most part our formal teachers are part of the adult world. Consequently, they have not as yet learned how to take the marvels of the digital world and adapt them to the day to day activities in the classroom. The good news is that in the next few years we will replace many of the teachers through retirement and other exiting leaving reasons. The challenge is how to train the new generation of teachers so that they can make maximum uses of the digital world around us. How can the tools of the digital world become as common is the learning and teaching of children as the blackboard and chalk? How can schools begin to invest in technology at the rate of business and industry? Business and industry capitalize the digital tools of the average work site at between $2,500 to $5,000 per worker depending upon the work. Schools at best spend $250 in capital investments in digital resources per student.
The virtual school is a reality in many places. How will we adapt these concepts to our traditional understanding of schools? The four walls of the classroom after all were a technological intervention several generations ago that modified society's concepts of universal education. Without the books and classrooms we would still have apprenticeships. The ubiquitousness of the Internet makes the entire world a classroom. The challenge is how to organize our concepts of education so those students are given credit for non-traditional learning through the digital world.
What if a student participates in the School's Marching Band, attends a traditional classroom based Algebra class, takes French Literature from an online program originating in Paris and is taking a creative writing class that meets once a month, but has constant on-line writing and rewriting via Internet? How will the school organize to recognize the student's performance and achievement? What if the student's creative writing teacher does not give the student a good grade, but the student places a number of their stories in both digital and traditional published journals? How can teachers manage and structure the learning and teaching processes so that they are taking maximum advantages of the digital world?
By definition the digital world means that we must develop more performance-based measurements of student achievement. Portfolios of the student's work can and must form the basis of the grading system of the future. The Defense Department's language school in California has five levels of achievement. Level one is that you can speak a language well enough to be a tourist and level five is that your proficiency is comparable to a native speaker. Performance is the essence of measurement in this system.
It seems to me that we need to create performance based educational measurement systems that clearly define the achievements of a learner. In the area of reading we often claim that "Every child shall be able to read by grade three." What do we mean by this goal? Can the child pick up the New York Times and read it aloud and/or silently or can they pick up a Physics textbook and read it. Do they have the word attack skills that allows them to read unfamiliar things? Can they read aloud fluently age appropriate books? Can they read silently instructions and follow them? Can they find things on the Internet? Can they research things, analyze them and draw conclusions? Can they not only read, but can they write?
What do we mean when we say all children should have mastered reading by the end of grade three?
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