ALTA students often cite widely held
misconceptions about the teaching and learning of reading and writing as
factors that delayed their literacy journeys. Today we begin a look into some
of these myths.
Since most of us can’t remember when or how we
learnt to read, we tend to think of this skill as being a task we are born to
do, rather than one that requires systematic, focused instruction. In his
article, “Ten Myths about Learning to Read,” the myth of reading as an innate
process is debunked by US-based literacy researcher Sebastian Wren, Ph.D,
author of The Cognitive Functions of Learning to Read: A Framework.
Myth #1: Learning to read is a natural process.
It has long been argued that learning
to read, like learning to understand spoken language, is a natural phenomenon.
It has often been suggested that children will learn to read if they are simply
immersed in a literacy-rich environment and allowed to develop literacy skills
in their own way. This pernicious belief that learning to read is a natural
process resulting from rich text experiences is surprisingly prevalent in
education—despite the fact that learning to read is not only unnatural, it is
one of the most unnatural things humans do.
There is a difference between learning
to read text and learning to understand a spoken language. Learning to
understand speech is indeed a natural process; starting before birth, children
tune in to spoken language in their environment, and as soon as they are able,
they begin to incorporate a language. If the linguistic environment is not
sufficiently rich or if it is confusing, the innate drive to find a language is
so strong that, if necessary, children will create a language of their own
(examples of this include twin languages and pidgin languages). Given the
opportunity, children will naturally develop all of the essential comprehension
skills for the language to which they are exposed with little structured or
By contrast, reading acquisition is not
natural. While the ability to understand speech evolved over many, many
thousands of years, reading and writing are human inventions that have been
around for merely a few thousand years. It has been only within the past few
generations that some cultures have made any serious attempt to make literacy
universal among their citizens.
If reading were natural, everybody
would be doing it, and we would not have to worry about dealing with a
‘literacy gap.’ According to the National Institute for Literacy and the Center
for Education Statistics, more than 40 million adults in this country alone are
functionally illiterate, and despite our best educational efforts,
approximately 40 percent of our fourth graders lack even the most basic reading
skills. These staggering numbers provide evidence that reading is a skill that
is quite unnatural and difficult to learn.
Wren, S. (2002). Ten myths of reading instruction. SEDL. https://sedl.org/pubs/sedl-letter/v14n03/2.html
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