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Curriculum Depends on Fluent Reading

The functions of reading are many. At the fundamental level, the level I think everybody understands, reading is a critical academic task. Itís critical not only in the sense that Language Arts is a core component of the curriculum for elementary school children, but also in the sense that every area of the curriculum starting in elementary school depends on fluent reading.

Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Ex-Director (2002-08), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Source: COTC Interview:

Reading Undergirds Most Curriculum

Reading is the gateway skill. It leads to all sorts of success, both academically and in life. It is the skill that undergirds most of the curriculum, and if children aren't learning that skill by the end of third grade, they are in desperate trouble. For kids with learning disabilities it's a double whammy. You know, seventy to eighty percent of students with learning disabilities have their main problem in the area of reading, with reading based learning disabilities.

James Wendorf, Executive Director, National Center for Learning Disabilities. Source: COTC Interview -

We Need Curriculum Solutions

We need curriculum solutions so that fewer children experience frustration and difficulty during the task of learning to read. We need to change the context of schooling so that the child whoís struggling in reading in third grade can have that problem addressed in a way that isnít stigmatizing to the child and doesnít generate the sense of shame. We need in some way to break out of the lock-step nature of elementary education so that if you donít have what the other children have in first grade for some reason you are forever doomed and will never get the opportunities to pick up that information.  

Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Ex-Director (2002-08), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Source: COTC Interview:

Core, Supplemental and Interventional Curricula

Well, there are some things that are rather traditional and rather predictable in terms of getting schools to scale up to make this kind of difference. Obviously, you need a curriculum. You need a way of codifying the activities that the society and research deems as critical for kids to be proficient in a language system, in a writing system. So, you need tools.

Teachers need to have a curriculum. The assumption is that the curriculum is valid, it's reliable, it's been tested; it has all the critical elements that are associated with this conceit call the alphabetic writing system, and it's based on research. So, there are a lot of things that schools already have in place that we would continue to argue that they ought to have in place ó effective research based curriculum. So, that's one, the curriculum piece.

Now, the question is: Do we have the right curriculum? Is it a curriculum that the public would argue is the best intervention possible? Is it tested? Is it trustworthy? I think right now the answer is no, we don't because we don't have the resources, at least up to this point, we don't have the resources to really test, in a research satisfying way, experimental control group way, curricula that allows us to say, 'Yes, if you pit curriculum A against curriculum B, we have sufficient evidence to suggest that curriculum A gives you the greatest impact for your investment because it gets kids to the kind of reading achievement outcomes you want.'

We're getting there. We still have a lot of work to do. We have a handful of programs that have some empirical evidence that suggests that if you implement the program kids will benefit from the implementation, assuming the implementation has a high level of fidelity. So, that's one big piece, getting the curriculum.

And there's not one curriculum that fits all. So, that's one of the problems. We need multiple types of curricula. We need a core curricula for most of the kids, assuming that you have a normal distribution of aptitude and performance. The architecture is such that it tries to cover a lot of stuff in a short period of time, so it's horizontal. It's going to cover a wide range of things but it's not going to go very deep. In addition to the core curriculum, we need supplemental curriculum that will supplement the holes that you're going to find in the core curriculum.

For example, if we assert that alphabetic insight is critical to reading, the phonics piece, then not all curricula will have the same amount of intensity and explicitness as they should around teaching phonics. We may want to adopt supplemental curriculum to enhance the core curriculum. So, that's two pieces of the curriculum puzzle: a core curriculum and a supplemental curriculum.

Finally, you're going to need a curriculum that's very different in architecture for the kids who are in the bottom twenty, twenty-five percent, because the way they manage information is very different from the kids who can benefit from the core. That kind of curriculum we refer to as an intervention curriculum, because the architecture is very different. The architecture should be more careful in how it thinks about the examples that are used, how it juxtaposes examples, the amount of scaffolding and teacher-wording that's provided, the amount of practice, how much practice is given at any given point in time, how much scaffolding is providing, how much rehearsal, how much fluency is built in.

Edward Kame'enui, Past-Commissioner for Special Education Research where he lead the National Center for Special Education Research
under the Institute of Education Sciences.
Source: COTC Interview -

Unfolding Ambiguity through the Curriculum

David BoultonThe orthographic reform folks have mapped out 1,100 combinations between letters and sounds, 300 or so in common use. 300 combinations in the ways letters can map to sounds. 300 ways that we can spell forty-four sounds with twenty-six letters! Itís a pretty amazingly messy system.

Dr. Anne Cunningham: Well, in a way thatís why in teaching children to read giving them constrained sets is very important. So that if you look at the curriculum of children in kindergarten, first and second grade, with certain good basal programs they only have children having to interact with only some of these mappings and that builds for the next layer.

Anne Cunningham, Director of the Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education with the Graduate School of Education at the University of California-Berkeley. Source: COTC Interview -

Educational Curriculum and Psychological Dimensions of Learning
Well, I would say that in general, educational pedagogy, educational curriculum have not paid much attention to the psychological dimensions of learning beyond the cognitive dimensions.

Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Ex-Director (2002-08), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Source: COTC Interview:

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Dr. Grover (Russ) Whitehurst  Director, Institute of Education Sciences, Assistant Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education
Dr. Jack Shonkoff Chair, The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child; Co-Editor: From Neurons to Neighborhoods
Dr. Edward Kame'enui Commissioner for Special Education Research, U.S. Department of Education; Director, IDEA, University  of Oregon
Dr. G. Reid Lyon  Past Director, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Dr. Keith Stanovich  Canadian Chair of Cognitive Science, University of Toronto
Dr. Mel Levine Co-Chair and Co-Founder, All Kinds of Minds; Author: A Mind at a Time, The Myth of Laziness & Ready or Not Here Life Comes
Dr. Alex Granzin  School District Psychologist, Past President, Oregon School Psychologists Association 
Dr. James J. Heckman Nobel Laureate, Economic Sciences 2000; Lead Author: The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children
Dr. Timothy Shanahan President (2006) International Reading Association, Chair National Early Literacy Panel, Member National Reading Panel
Nancy Hennessy  President, 2003-2005, International Dyslexia Association
Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams Senior ScientistSoliloquy Learning, Author: Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print
Dr. Michael Merzenich Chair of Otolaryngology, Integrative Neurosciences, UCSF;  Member National Academy of Sciences
Dr. Maryanne Wolf Director, Center for Reading & Language Research; Professor of Child Development, Tufts University
Dr. Todd Risley  Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of Alaska, Co-author: Meaningful Differences
Dr. Sally Shaywitz  Neuroscientist, Department of Pediatrics, Yale University, Author: Overcoming Dyslexia
Dr. Louisa Moats  Director, Professional Development and Research Initiatives, Sopris West Educational Services
Dr. Zvia Breznitz Professor, Neuropsychology of Reading & Dyslexia, University of Haifa, Israel 
Rick Lavoie Learning Disabilities Specialist, Creator: How Difficult Can This Be?: The F.A.T. City Workshop & Last One Picked, First One Picked On
Dr.Charles Perfetti Professor, Psychology & Linguistics; Senior Scientist and Associate Director, Learning R&D Center, U. of Pittsburgh, PA
Arthur J. Rolnick Senior V.P. & Dir. of Research,  Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis;  Co- Author: The Economics of Early Childhood Development  
Dr. Richard Venezky  Professor, Educational Studies, Computer and  Information Sciences, and Linguistics, University of Delaware
Dr. Keith Rayner  Distinguished  Professor, University of Massachusetts, Author: Eye Movements in Reading and Information Processing
Dr. Paula Tallal  Professor of Neuroscience, Co-Director of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University
Dr.John Searle  Mills Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language, University of California-Berkeley, Author: Mind, A Brief Introduction
Dr.Mark T. Greenberg Director, Prevention Research Center, Penn State Dept. of Human Development & Family Studies; CASEL Leadership Team
Dr. Terrence Deacon  Professor of Biological Anthropology and Linguistics at University of California- Berkeley
Chris Doherty  Ex-Program Director, National Reading First Program, U.S. Department of Education
Dr. Erik Hanushek Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Dr. Marketa Caravolas Director, Bangor Dyslexia Unit, Bangor University, Author: International Report on Literacy Research
Dr. Christof Koch Professor of Computation and Neural Systems,  Caltech - Author: The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach
Dr. Guy Deutscher Professor of Languages and Cultures of Ancient Mesopotamia, Holland; Author: Unfolding Language
Robert Wedgeworth  President, ProLiteracy, World's Largest Literacy Organization
Dr. Peter Leone  Director, National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice
Dr. Thomas Cable  Professor of English, University of Texas at Austin, Co-author: A History of the English Language
Dr. David Abram Cultural Ecologist and Philosopher; Author: The Spell of the Sensuous
Pat Lindamood and Nanci Bell  Principal Scientists, Founders, Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes
Dr. Anne Cunningham  Director, Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education, Graduate School of Education at University of California-Berkeley
Dr. Donald L. Nathanson  Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Jefferson Medical College, Director of the Silvan S. Tomkins Institute 
Dr.Johanna Drucker  Chair of Media Studies, University of Virginia, Author: The Alphabetic Labyrinth
John H. Fisher  Medievalist, Leading authority on the development of the written English language, Author: The Emergence of Standard English
Dr. Malcolm Richardson   Chair, Dept. of English, Louisiana State University; Research: The Textual Awakening of the English Middle Classes  
James Wendorf  Executive Director, National Center for Learning Disabilities
Leonard Shlain Physician; Best-Selling Author: The Alphabet vs. The Goddess
Robert Sweet  Co-Founder, National Right to Read Foundation


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The Children of the Code is a Social Education Project and a Public Television Series intended to catalyze and resource a social-educational transformation in how we think about and, ultimately, teach reading. The Children of the Code is an entertaining educational journey into the challenges our children's brains face when learning to read. The series weaves together archeology, history, linguistics, developmental neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, information theory, reading theory, learning theory, and the personal and social dimensions of illiteracy. 




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