Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Elizabeth Moje responds to “reading wars” in National Education Policy Center interview


In response to a recent radio documentary by education journalist Emily Hanford that argues that children are failing at reading due to poorly executed phonics instruction, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) interviewed Dean Elizabeth Birr Moje. The debates spurred by the documentary have contributed to ongoing professional disagreements, so-called “reading wars,” about the best ways to teach literacy to children in order to ensure their reading success.

Said Moje, “There will always be people who are going to focus on one portion of what it means to teach and learn to read—one dimension of the evidence. The reality is that we need to think about all aspects of reading instruction. From my perspective, casting the challenges we face as a nation to educate thoughtful, engaged readers (and writers) as ‘wars’ misses the crucial point: We need to do a better job of ensuring that all children learn to read with proficiency and power. And we need to ensure that teachers are well prepared to teach children to read (among other essential skills).”

Dr. Moje explained that most elementary teachers are aware of, and primarily use, the balanced literacy instruction approach, in which teachers teach reading across all five dimensions of phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency, and reading comprehension strategies. She posits that the biggest challenges in teaching reading are not knowledge-based problems that have to do with poor training processes for teachers, but rather “have more to do with the fact that it is hard to teach many different people with many different backgrounds and experiences a really complex process all at the same time.”

In explaining the U-M School of Education’s efforts in training educators about literacy instruction, Moje said, “My own School of Education provides high-quality literacy instruction in all the dimensions of the reading process and in the sociocultural dimensions that shape how and why people engage in literate practice in different ways. My School of Education literacy colleagues also teach teachers how to teach reading, not just how reading occurs in a single individual. Our students practice what they learn in two years of sustained experience in elementary school classrooms and report feeling well prepared to teach a range of skills.”

Elizabeth Birr Moje is George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Education and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor; Dean of the School of Education

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