Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Prof. Daniel Willingham: "Reading is not a skill."

Daniel Willingham is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia who is "interested in the application of what's known about the mind to K-12 teaching," as he puts it on his YouTube channel. Prof. Willingham created quite a conversation in the online education community with his most recent column in the Washington Post: "Reading is not a skill," as in, reading cannot be taught as a skill in isolation from content.
Teaching content is teaching reading, Willingham claims:

I often share interesting perspectives from other education writers on this blog without necessarily endorsing those views. But I think I'm more or less on the same page as Willingham on this issue. Countless people complete their P-12 schooling unable to competently and confidently read a newspaper or a good book. I suspect that one reason for this is that these individuals lack the vocabulary (including specialized, disciplinary vocabulary) and the content knowledge to make sense of what they find in unfamiliar writings.

A major counterexample, however, is the case of students reading in a foreign language - including English language learners and English native speakers learning another language. I remain unable to fluently and quickly read a newspaper or novel in Japanese despite 10 years of study - but that doesn't reflect my content-area or disciplinary knowledge. It does, however, reflect my limited vocabulary in that language.