Are You Opting Students Out of Learning How to Read?
How a commonly used strategy can have negative, long-lasting effects on students.
By Alana Mangham
Last week, an educator friend reached out to discuss her plans for the upcoming academic year with teacher support structures to put into place since we know students will return with gaps in decoding words. I told her when she closes out the year and meets with teachers to ask them all to answer a few simple questions, keeping in mind how to support a reader when they get stuck on reading a word.
- What strategies do you promote in your classroom?
- What do you say to guide/coach them through their struggle?
After her administration team closed out the year and met with teams of teachers we discussed the responses. Shocked but not shocked all the answers varied by teachers and by grade levels. I asked for the current proficiency scores in each classroom, (names removed for privacy) to compare and look for trends in the data.
The classrooms using the multi cueing, also known as the three cueing system had the lowest proficiency scores. Student data was tracked and showed that these students continued to struggle after second grade. If the instruction is not changed the trends will continue on and follow those students throughout their life.
How do I convince educators to stop using the multi-cueing system in their classrooms?
Ask them if any parent opted their student out of learning how to read? Okay, I know that comes off a little brash and you do not want to have a boycott or revolution on your hands but in all seriousness did they? Probably not, never, who on earth would sign a form saying, “Do not teach my child to read. Thanks,” said no parent ever. But if you are teaching students to guess at words, only use context clues, skip words and memorize high-frequency words to “read” patterns in a leveled reader then you have opted students out of learning how to read. Fundamentally, just because you repeatedly show students the same word over and over does not make it “stick” into their cognitive working memory.
It is a hard pill to swallow because educators truly want to have all students succeed and grow during the academic year. No teacher meets those smiling, fresh faces and thinks to him or herself, “ I am just going to skip the teach you to read lessons.”
Why is the multi-cueing, word attack strategies so detrimental to students learning to read?
Have you ever heard of the reading wars? The war consists of two theories, whole language vs. a phonics-based approach, and has lasted for decades. Neither side has surrendered but many lives have been lost to the whole language approach. The multi-cueing system is a whole language approach that has been debunked by science and counterproductive on how a brain learns to read. “Three cueing or multi cue” is instruction and assessments grounded in meaning, structural, and visual cues (“MSV”). Telling students to “read” by skipping a word and looking at the picture does not store the alphabetic code into the brain. If the alphabetic code is not stored properly, which means it is taught explicit and systematic by a teacher, then how can it be retrieved for later use?
I urge you to read Emily Hanford’s article, “At a Loss for Words, How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers“. Actually, read it with your staff, maybe pass it along to parents, and absolutely require any of those strategies to be removed from the curriculum and classrooms immediately. Focus on code-based learning and always fall back on the sound it out strategy! Changing a student’s trajectory line in life can and should start with a simple change in the classroom. Explicit, systematic instruction for all and remove the cueing systems for good.
Literacy and Learning Specialist