The Debate Over the Best Way to Teach Reading

June 4, 2022 | The New York Times

OPINION LETTERS: Readers discuss an article about a trend back to emphasizing phonics.

Re “She Helped Transform Reading Lessons. Now She’s Backtracking” (front page, May 22)

To the Editor:

The decades-long debate over how to teach reading has flared up anew. What this and prior deliberations fail to factor in is a harsh and immutable reality that is present before a child ever sets foot in the classroom: 90 percent of the brain develops in the first five years.

It is heartbreaking that two out of three of American children are missing critical literacy benchmarks in fourth and eighth grade. And no amount of reading instruction — phonics-based or otherwise — will work if it is built on an inadequate early literacy foundation. If that foundation is not laid in the first five years, everything that is tried in the classroom will fall short, with devastating consequences for our children’s — and our society’s — future.

How to teach reading? Begin at birth. Provide parents with consistent support and tools from Day 1. Help them build a rich and robust home literacy environment that includes lots of books. Help ensure that children arrive at kindergarten strong and ready for what lies ahead.

Only once we stop ignoring the first five years can we meaningfully turn to the debate over how to teach reading.

Ginger Young
Chapel Hill, N.C.
The writer is the founder and C.E.O. of Book Harvest, which provides books and literacy support to children and families.

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