A Letter to the BC Minister of Education

BC is yet again plugging a push for early literacy fluency.  As an educator, this concerns me.  Feel free to post your own comments on this site:

http://engage.bcedplan.ca/2012/07/a-new-focus-on-reading

I thought I’d post my letter:

I have been an educator for over a decade now. I’ve worked in a variety of environments including public schools, alternative schools, and with homeschooling families. I’ve worked with children from a wide variety of cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. I’ve done a lot of studying on child development and neuroscience. I’ve also had opportunities to observe children learning to read in all these different environments. When a child is allowed to learn to read naturally- meaning, at his/her own pace and in his/her own way- reading tends to unfold for him/her at different times. These learners grow up in a rich literacy environment and are not pressured in any way to learn to read. Many are simply immersed in literacy and love being read to, discussing books read aloud, and creating oral stories. In addition, children tend not to display the decreased confidence and self-esteem that comes from the pressure to learn to read at a young age when they are not developmentally ready to do so. As a classroom teacher, I found that these children were stigmatized by adults and other children. When they were finally ready physiologically to learn to read, their confidence was just crushed and they believed they could not learn to read and that there was something wrong with their intelligence. When I tell kids that the human brain does not develop the myelin sheath around the neurons until about age 7, which helps them decode abstract symbols, most children are relieved. In Denmark, for instance, children only start school at age 7 to accommodate what we now know about children’s brains at that age. We simply insist that children learn to read too early in North America. If we really want to support children in learning to read, we can begin as adults in education to read up on cross-cultural neuroscience studies and adjust our curriculums to reflect what we now know about how the human brain and how a child develops. Expecting a child to know their alphabet before entering kindergarten is but one example of how our expectations do not match the data. Although some children are ready to read at age 5, many are not. Using the natural learning approach, many children learn to read independently between ages 8-10. The learning tends to happen in leaps and bounds and they can be fluent in a matter of 6 months. This does not happen in a forced environment. It happens in an environment where educators and parents trust the natural intelligence of the child and support the child according to the child’s own natural learning style. My intent in writing this is to share my experience, research and view in the hopes that the BC Government re-consider their insistence on learning to read so early and re-write the curriculum to reflect this. While I agree that a rich literacy environment is important for kids growing up, that is different than forcing kids to learn before they are ready and then treating them as if there is something wrong with them because they did not meet the expectations. If we really want to support kids in reading, we will create safe learning environments for them free from pressure to meet unreasonable expectations.

Jen

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