Even as phonics battles rage in the realm of primary reading and with two-thirds of American fourth and eighth graders failing to read proficiently, another tussle has been with us for ages regarding how best to develop the vital elements of reading ability that go beyond decoding skills and phonemic awareness.
The dominant view is that the way to improve America’s abysmal elementary reading outcomes is for schools to spend more time on literacy instruction. Many schools provide a “literacy block” that can stretch to more than two hours per day, much of it allocated to efforts to develop reading skills such as “finding the main idea,” and “determining the author’s perspective.” But it doesn’t seem to be working.
Yet a small army of cognitive psychologists, analysts, and educators has long cast doubt on the view that reading is a discrete skill that can be mastered independently from acquiring knowledge. To these contrarians, a focus on academic content—not generalized reading skills and strategies—will equip students with the background knowledge they need to comprehend all sorts of texts and make them truly literate.