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Dick and Jane as comparative lit? September 9, 2008

In recent years, parents of grade-school children, and even those of preschoolers, have witnessed the disappearance of what we always thought was a staple of little kid school life: recess.

Then last year, we Atlantans had to relearn for our grade-schoolers the math we’d struggled so to learn the first time around: a “new” new math, as it were, requiring that students document in writing the answer to every problem. It’s no longer enough to come up with the right answer; now children have to explain their answers. Their answers to simple subtraction problems now look like geometry theorems. (For proficient math “guessers” like me, it would never have flown.)

Now, apparently this same penchant  to overthink the thought process seems to have infiltrated Ontario, Canada’s elementary classroom reading circles. It’s called a “reading strategy.”

“It’s not enough any more just to teach the little tykes to read. Now they must also be taught to be aware of their metacognitive processes,” writes Margaret Wente in Ontario’s Globe and Mail. The new system seems to frown on reading a book straight through. “Now, the teacher is supposed to stop after every page and ask, ‘What do you think is going to happen next? How do you infer that?’ ”

This seems OK — for older students who have already mastered the language and can view literary works as a whole, not a classroom of very young children traditionally only quantified, rightly or wrongly, by who got to fly up to the Bluebird reading group and who struggled behind with the Wrens. 

Wente adds that to make sure classrooms comply, the young Canadian students are removed from class by visiting experts and grilled on their skills, using words like “schema” and “inference,” Wente writes.

This not only would seem to kill the scant time teachers have already to teach basic phonics and comprehension, but destroy that magical time in life that a little child can feel good about his or her reading accomplishments, and then learn to enjoy a good book.

So I guess this means that coherently reading, “See Spot run” will no longer be enough. Now reading tots will have to consider, “Why might he be running?”

Run, Spot, run. Run while there’s still time to run for the joy of it.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

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