Students Are Doing Too Much “Stuff”—And Not Enough Reading and Writing

Studies show that the 25 fastest-growing professions of the past decade—computer software engineers, database administrators, and medical assistants among them—require higher-than-average literacy skills, particularly in informational texts, reports Sarah Sparks in Education Week.

In order to develop these skills, students need to read “across texts, evaluate them, respond to them all at the same time,” as Sparks quotes Dorothy Strickland, a reading professor at Rutgers University: “In office work of any sort, people are doing this sort of thing all the time.” Yet that’s not what our students are practicing doing, Sparks continues:

“In a series of experiments across several grades beginning in 2000, Nell K. Duke, a professor of language, literacy, and culture at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, found elementary classrooms spend on average only 3.6 minutes a day reading non-story-based informational, as opposed to narrative texts. In classrooms with high numbers of poor children, informational reading occupies less than two minutes a day.” (Read more here.)

To throw one more researcher’s name at you—Richard Allington, education professor at University of Tennessee, has long called attention to the “reading and writing vs. stuff” ratio in America’s classrooms: that is, how much time students spend actually reading and writing as opposed to doing “stuff”: filling out worksheets, copying dictionary definitions, engaging in reading-related activities. “When stuff dominates instructional time,” Allington has written, “warning flags should go up.” (Read more here.)

Bottom line: Our students need to be reading and writing, a lot—and a lot more than they are now.

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