To Diana

Reading and writing: age, first grade methods, look-say approach

Reading and writing: do early readers burn out?

 

From: winters_diana
Date: Mon Apr 12, 2004 5:24 am
Subject: Reading and writing: do early readers burn out?

Patrick:

It is my experience, again from 20 years of teaching, that children who have early reading instruction may tire of reading and find it uninteresting after grade 5.

Nonsense. This is another cherished Waldorf legend. I've never heard anyone claim this outside of Waldorf. It is convenient for scaring parents away from the other, bad schools where children are "pushed." I learned to read early (at least by Waldorf standards) and am a lifelong voracious reader. I wonder if you know of any documentation for this claim or if it is just another one of those things Waldorf teachers assure one another, and assure parents, is true. (Kinda like the "fastest growing educational movement," for which we have Daniel's assurance that some people he knows who've been in the movement for awhile have told him so.)

Something is certainly wrong if a child reads well, and yet "finds it uninteresting," by grade 5. That would be extremely sad. Probably the child is not reading as well as the parents and teachers thought he/she was in the early grades. Perhaps because look-say has taken them only so far, and they have no skills to tackle more challenging reading material. They memorized a lot of easy words, in other words, but the stuff a fifth or sixth grader is expected to handle (more difficult non-fiction usually comes in here, like science and history) consists of more multisyllable words and more complicated sentence structure and requires vocabulary to have increased concomitantly, as well as the child's ability to handle more advanced concepts, to reason, to question, to think beyond the actual text, not just be entertained by a story. This is unlikely to be going on when the children are discussing fairies all day.

That is actually a very common place where reading difficulties become apparent (fourth or fifth grade), not just in Waldorf, of course. If Waldorf teachers have observed the "early readers" in their classes losing interest, the teacher's job is to figure out why - have these children evaluated or somehow get to the bottom of what is holding them back. There's an awful lot of interesting stuff to read out there, especially these days. The world of good children's literature has absolutely exploded in the past 20 years. There is no reason any child would be bored. (Unless, of course, they're conditioned to lots of television or electronic button- pushing – but Waldorf schools don't have that excuse for explaining reading difficulties, do they?)

Children often claim to be bored with something when they want to save face and not have to admit that something that used to be easy has gotten harder. Perhaps looking at the "gestalt" of the word, i.e., guessing, is not working any more, nor is approaching the text with "human feeling" much help. They can read easy books but the content is too babyish; they want to read something connecting to their own interests, but those books are harder. It turned into work instead of play, and it's not fun anymore. They don't know why. So they just don't want to do it anymore, it's "boring."

It's very unlikely the age at which the child began reading has anything to do with the claim they are bored with reading, unless perhaps they were really pushed and driven by a parent or teacher, and were just trying to please adults, and now they are suddenly resisting. Even then it would be a rare child who would give up something genuinely rewarding to them to spite the parent or teacher. In other words, look to deficiencies in the instruction, not the age instruction began.

This is really important, and I think it's very sad for a teacher to conclude that their own bias against "early reading" is confirmed by a fifth grader "burning out" on reading. This obvious parroting of the Waldorf party line is what makes it hard to take Waldorf teachers seriously sometimes, they all say the same things. Despite claiming to view the children as individuals, they hold many fallacies that boil down to, All children are alike. "Early readers burn out." How ridiculous. Look into the matter! Something is almost certainly going on skill-wise when a child (of any age) who you thought was reading well, and enjoying it, suddenly says reading is not interesting. (Not just one particular book, but reading in general.) So find them something interesting to read! Consult a good children's librarian. Have their eyes tested. Have them read aloud to you, different types of material, fiction and non-fiction, to get a sense of what the problem is. Ask a few questions about what they read. Perhaps they can decode all the words but the vocabulary is above them. Refer the parents to professional reading specialists and tutors. Don't just blame the parents or some school they previously attended for supposedly "pushing" them too early, and write them off as "burnt out."

My other son taught himself to read at 5 years old while sitting on his daddy's lap and watching the words as daddy read to him.

Well, that certainly shows you are not a purist, as our teachers discouraged parents from doing that. They thought 5 year olds should be read to as little as possible, and ideally shouldn't see printed words before age 7.

And I'm curious what you mean by "early reading instruction" if your own son learned at age 5. Do you expect him to burn out by fifth grade?

Diana

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From: Detlef Hardorp
Date: Mon Apr 12, 2004 6:55 am
Subject: Reading and writing: do early readers burn out?

Patrick wrote:

It is my experience, again from 20 years of teaching, that children who have early reading instruction may tire of reading and find it uninteresting after grade 5.

Diana Winters replied:

Nonsense. This is another cherished Waldorf legend. I've never heard anyone claim this outside of Waldorf.

I add: Who - outside Waldorf - can compare? It is true that there is little consciousness about this outside of Waldorf. But it is known that general interest in school and learning often decreases substantially around grade 5. This certainly has to do with several factors and can also be observed in Waldorf schools, but I would venture to say: less so! And this may well have to do with the fact that students aren't forced into reading and writing comprehension in early elementary school the way they are in almost all other schools.

I observed this in particular with one of my sons. He learned to read and write in a Waldorf environment well before grade 5, but he disliked reading. And he wasn't pushed to perfect it. So his reading remained slow and somewhat awkward. At the same time, he retained a phenomenal memory, always amazing us with how he retained inwardly what he heard orally, being able to cite things he had heard accurately years later. I could go on about other qualities of the soul that lived strongly in him - and, I'm sure, would have done to a lesser extent had he been forced to read more and better by rote in the lower elementary school grades.

Now he is in class 6, and all of a sudden, his interest in books exploded. Form within. He will now now read books all afternoon and no one will ever guess that he would have been considered a "weak" reader for many years. That's the thing: students all learn to read, even if you give them lots of time! Unlike arithmetic: if that isn't practiced thoroughly beginning in grade 1, students develop dangerous gaps in arithmetical understanding and ability.

My other son was different: he was inclined to read earlier. So he did. They both learned in their way and in their pace.

I have heard many professors at universities remarking that former Waldorf students can often be recognised by the fact that they have not yet lost their love of learning. Almost all young children will begin school with an strong love of learning. It almost always gets lost, or I would prefer to say: gets destroyed. And one of the main destroyers is the rote schools generally subject children to in order to assure that all children read and write well early on in elementary school. Learning to read and write is learning to succumb to conventions. Dead conventions. It thwarts the forces of life. This is necessary and even wonderful IF done with the right consciousness at the right pace. If not, it leads to a lot of the problems we face helplessly today, including despondency. What's missing is a spiritual understanding of what learning is and how it affects the human being. Waldorf has a lot to offer here. Some people don't like it because they can't stand spirituality that is alive. But it is here to stay - Waldorf is but a germ, as is anthroposophy in general: anthroposophy tomorrow!

Detlef Hardorp

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From: winters_diana
Date: Tue Apr 13, 2004 5:06 am
Subject: Re: Reading and writing: do early readers burn out?

About the "early readers burn out" claim, I wrote:

I've never heard anyone claim this outside of Waldorf.

Detlef inquires:

Who - outside Waldorf - can compare?

It's all those other horrible, non-Waldorf schools where kids learn to read "early," right? It ought to be easy to compare, then – there ought to be a clear trend that in Waldorf, the fifth and sixth graders and older kids are enthusiastic readers, and in the other, nasty early-reading schools, there should be a high percentage of reading burnouts after grade 5. Where's the evidence of this, Detlef?

It is true that there is little consciousness about this outside of Waldorf.

Detlef, there is a great deal of consciousness of age- and development-appropriate stages of reading instruction, outside Waldorf. Waldorf educators decline to participate, unless it's to push Waldorf. It's not that their "consciousness" is different from yours, it's just that they don't agree with Waldorf.

Detlef refers to the bugaboo that in other schools children are . . .

forced to read more and better by rote

Learning to read "by rote" is an excellent plan. "By rote" means knowing what all the words say, doesn't it? What's the alternative? Having a vague idea what the words say, knowing what some but not all of the words say, having very little idea what the words say but being able to draw a pretty picture?

I suspect you were referring more to methods of reading instruction and don't actually mean to say it is bad to read by rote. Invoking "force" is a piece of propaganda here. Children in Waldorf schools are "forced" to do things that are arguably no more in line with their nature or developmental stage than reading would be, such as recite verses or do eurythmy or watercolor painting (all things that, in my experience, were definitely a matter of "force" with some kids).

What you mean, I think, is that Waldorf differs from other schools in what they believe is developmentally appropriate for children. Invoking "force" is just meant to scare parents (and the irony is that Waldorf schools are probably more authoritarian than other comparable schools today).

Much of the rest of the post isn't worth responding to since it is apparently based on Detlef's sadly uninformed opinion (especially coming from an educator) that:

students all learn to read, even if you give them lots of time!

Diana

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From: winters_diana
Date: Tue Apr 13, 2004 5:17 am
Subject: Re: Reading and writing: do early readers burn out?

Detlef, plaintively:

Who - outside Waldorf - can compare?

The "shrug" hey-what-can-we-do? we're-the-only-ones-doing-the-right-thing- and-we-can't-help-it- if-no- one-else-notices angle here amuses me. If the Waldorf schools saw, or thought they saw, unambiguous evidence that Waldorf kids become better or more enthusiastic readers, Waldorf would be eager to undertake such studies and the findings would be all over the web sites and school promotional pieces. It might admittedly be difficult to nail down. But a few preliminary studies would not be too hard, suggesting a trend, or vague evidence of a trend. Why hasn't this been done? There are a thousand potential measures, not just test scores, but simply attitudes toward reading, professed enjoyment of reading perhaps. It would do wonders for Waldorf's PR if such studies came up with anything favorable to Waldorf. We always hear about this or that professor at a university who loves the Waldorf kids because they are so creative etc etc. If this is so clearly true, why not go out and dig up some actual evidence of it and shut critics up.

Diana

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From: Jo Ann Schwartz
Date: Tue Apr 13, 2004 1:21 pm
Subject: Re: [anthroposophy_tomorrow] Re: Reading and writing: do early readers burn out?

Diana wrote:

About the "early readers burn out" claim, I wrote:

I've never heard anyone claim this outside of Waldorf.

Detlef inquires:

Who - outside Waldorf - can compare?

Er... Actually, there are quite a lot of researchers outside of Waldorf who have noted that early academic instruction / early formal education (which tends to mean early reading instruction) between the ages of 4 and 7 is quite harmful to children and can lead to "student burnout" in the late elementary / middle school years. Some authors that come to mind are Dr. Raymond S. Moore (Better Early Than Late), Dr. David Elkind (The Hurried Child; Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk; and numerous journal articles) and Jane Healy (Endangered Minds).

I also remember reading that in the mid-to-late 1960's, early academic instruction came into vogue in both the US and Germany. However, by the mid-1970's, German kindergartens had gone back to the developmental model -- because educators were concerned by the increase in student burnout in 3rd and 4th graders. Since the only thing that had changed was the kindergarten, they sensibly went back to the 'old' model. (This was in the mainstream education press, not a waldorf pub. If it's important, I can check around at home for the cite.)

For what it's worth, my eldest read early and often -- she more or less taught herself. In her last year of kindergarten, she was allowed to read if she wasn't tired enough to sleep. (Yes, in a waldorf school. ;) My youngest did not read independently until near the end of third grade. Two years later, she is also an enthusiastic reader -- nagging me to take her to the library -- and she was recently evaluated as reading a year or so above grade level. More importantly, she was not made to feel stupid or inadequate because she was 'late' to the reading party.

As always, YMMV (Your Maya May Vary) ...

JoAnn

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Reading and writing: age, first grade methods, look-say approach

 To Diana

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