Making Reading Simple, Like Riding a Bike

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Guest Post by:
The Teacher (AKA – My husband!)

After nine + years of teaching, substituting, over 200 credits of education towards a BS, and Masters degree, I have come across tons and tons of fantastic reading strategies, programs, games, centers, activities, etc.   But have we considered that all of these things while being great and wonderful, might be a little over thought? Have you ever thought that we think too much about how we teach, and not enough about teaching itself? Well over  the last six years as a public school teacher I have noticed one thing, we are obsessed in recreating the wheel, I have taught 6 years and had to turn in a total of 5 different formats for lesson plans. I have taught 4 years in the same grade and turned in a total of 4 different years worth of content, we either changed order, changed focus, etc. Yet we have lost the simplicity of how to get better and create stronger readers. If you are interested in learning how to do this in 1 easy step, read on.

          Lets first consider reading as to learning how to ride a bicycle. When you first start a child on riding a bike, you begin with a bike they don’t pedal, you do or push, after this you move on to a bike they might use their feet to move, then they would pedal a three wheeler or a bike with training wheels, then move on to eliminate the training wheels, etc. You get the idea, nowhere in this pattern did we throw a child on a 10 speed bike and have them start to pedal. The same can be equated in reading. We start students with basics where we really do all the work and they sit and listen to us read. Then we gradually release them to where they read on their own. This is the easiest way to get us to see the similarities. 

           Next lets consider some ideas to drive the point home. How much time do we spend when learning how to ride a bike learning how to steer the bike, pedal the bike only, stop the bike, get on and off the bike, etc. As a parent I really didn’t spend a lot of time teaching these things to my children, they gained this knowledge by actually sitting on the bike and riding it. Knowledge gained by experience. If we consider this in conjunction with reading, think about how much time in school a child learns phonics, comprehension, vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and fluency. All of these are fantastic to learn, but should we be teaching them in isolation like we do?? Do you sit at home and have your child learn only how to get on the bike for an hour? NO we don’t do that, we teach them a few times and they learn by practice. Do we spend hours teaching them how to stop the bike? No the same answer rings true. Then why is it we do this in reading in school?

In school we spend time learning in isolation phonics, comprehension, fluency, phonemic awareness, and vocabulary, but we do so all too often in isolation from the whole. We don’t actually give our students a great opportunity in school to RIDE the bike (Read). Do we?? I know we have our DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read) or SSR (Silent Sustained Reading), but do we have enough? How many late nights, long weekends do you spend with your child practicing to ride a bike? Why do we limit actual reading in school? Think about your students or children who are great readers?? Are they always reading a book? I would venture to say they always are reading because they learned to read by reading. They didn’t learn to read solely by  learning the aspects of reading in isolation. I am not a proponent of only allowing a child to read in school and not teach the components of reading, but I feel we don’t allow our students to ride “the bike” in school, we are too busy teaching them how to ride the bike. Hands on experience will greatly increase ability. If we were smarter, we would encourage reading more and have to spend less time on the isolation.

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