Literacy deja vu all over again?


Ran into a former colleague last week. After some pleasantries he asked: was I having a sense of déjà vu all over again?

He elaborated referring to the School District’s approach to raise literacy levels and subsequently graduation rates:

Where does déjà vu come in? Scuttlebutt has it that most if not all of the ‘fixes’ the district is re-introducing in literacy have been tried before with little success and some frustration. They do not adequately meet the complex needs of our students. (That’s not to say they don’t work elsewhere –maybe the do).

In many ways the ‘fixes’ tried previously are fairly appropriate to support reading comprehension. It’s the narrow focus on comprehension that is the problem.

If students are not thoroughly taught the: mechanics of encoding (an understanding sound and the sound-symbol relationship); decoding (making sense of the letters and letter groupings on the page to generate words) along with a healthy dose of vocabulary then understanding (comprehension) will be limited.

In other words: has the District concentrated on only one third of the problem with inadequate attention to the other two thirds.

Learning to read is a very complex business. If we don’t provide students with all the necessary tools are we failing them.

The problem isn’t unique to our school district and it is addressed in a New York Times editorial:

The author, Emily Manford, also has an excellent audio documentary that elaborates the opinion piece. Well worth the listen

Here’s a link:

Bottom line: there’s a great deal of recent scientific research that should be applied to helping children read – the social, academic, economic and intellectual payoff is huge.

Is it time for a more scientific approach to teaching reading de-emphasizing some of the philosophy that has guided literacy instruction for the last two to three decades. The world has changed incredibly in the last thirty years. Is it time to catch up?

Repeating the same techniques and expecting different results sounds almost like Einstein’s purported definition of insanity.

Can we really afford to move forward unquestioningly as a community accepting low reading scores and less than satisfactory graduation rates?


Yes. Not just literacy either.

There’s a lot of change in education, but a general problem (not unique to Prince Rupert) is that the people who are good at “the system” tend to be the ones who make the decisions. There’s a lot of “this is what school was like when I went, so it should be the same now.”

We wouldn’t accept that from any other field (medicine, for example), but we do for education for some reason.

All that being said, I see teachers every day who are teaching using 2019 methods and materials. I know Prince Rupert has plenty of great teachers who aren’t stuck in their ways too.


I agree with that! My 16 year old has an exceptional English teacher at CHSS who is challenging her to develop her writing.


Thanks to both MiG and hitest for responding.

If there is a need to assign blame to the situation we find ourselves in regards to teaching reading it absolutely does not belong to teachers.
There is some incredible teaching going on in this district and in the province. There is a large number of teachers who are diligent, thoughtful, and caring who strive daily to meet the learning needs of their students – a goal that becomes more difficult and complex year by year. With very few exceptions teachers should be commended. There are also pockets of individuals and small groups who are responsible for highly innovative pedagogy.

I believe Administration should take some blame a) for not acting as corporate memory and realizing that this is a ‘been there, done that situation’. I believe they should have been responsible for looking at the plan and casting very serious doubts; b) I believe the have built very serious walls between themselves and teachers; and, c) I believe they have not shown innovation and problem solving. But in the larger picture that blame is minimal.

Truly the blame rests largely on the shoulders of Faculties of Education who in preparing teachers for teaching ignore recent scientific research that is in conflict with their beliefs. The blame also belongs with the provincial Ministry of Education who not only set the curriculum but mandate implementation.

Districts across the province, inter-provincially and internationally are experiencing many of the same issues. My reference to the local District is because that is what I’m familiar with.

The scientific research that is current has shown to be applicable across all alphabetic languages. So a Danish child learning to read and a Portuguese child learning to read and a Russian child learning to read effectively and fluently experience the same general sequence of development.

Parents, teachers, administrators, faculties of Education as well the Ministry need to familiarize themselves with the research and work toward meaningful change.