Emily Hanford’s podcast Sold a Story tells the disturbing tale of how schools have come to embrace patently absurd and ineffective methods for literacy instruction. I could summarize one such method, known as “three-cueing,” in one sentence: Teach children how to guess the meaning of a sentence rather than how to read it.
(You can listen to all six episodes of Sold a Story here.)
Despite the implausibility of this strategy – as well as multiple decades of neurological research confirming just how destructive these techniques are – it has a cult-like following among many public-school teachers. As EdWeek reported in 2020:
In 2019, anEdWeek Research Center survey found that 75 percent of K-2 and elementary special education teachers use the method to teach students how to read, and 65 percent of college of education professors teach it.
Episode 4 of Sold a Story, titled “The Superstar,” focuses on Lacey Robinson, an African-American girl in Dayton, Ohio, in the 1970s whose mother insisted she be retained in first grade so she could learn to read. Lacey’s second first-grade teacher taught her to decode words and then Lacey taught her grandmother to read. Inspired, Lacey years later became a teacher with a mission to teach children, especially Black children, how to read.
Lacey Robinson began her career at a Georgia public elementary school where her superiors quashed her efforts to establish a reading program. She moved to a suburban school, hoping to learn what children were offered there, so she could bring it back to inner-city schools.
Along the way, Robinson attended graduate school at Columbia Teacher College and went to work for Lucy Calkins, a leader in three-cueing training. Hanford includes videos in “The Superstar” of teachers fawning over Calkins that are obsequious enough to make 12-year-old Taylor Swift superfans blush.
Robinson found Calkins’ three-cueing system prevalent in suburban schools. got her suburban teaching job and found that Calkins three-cueing was prevalent. But she discovered that her affluent students’ ability to decode words was made possible because they had tutors.
The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”
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2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results
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Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.
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