Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Reading Mastery as Pedagogy of Erasure

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Reading Mastery as Pedagogy of Erasure

Article excerpt

Jean Stockard's (2011) article in the Journal of Research in Rural Education, "Increasing Reading Skills in Rural Areas: An Analysis of Three School Districts," offers a productive opportunity to discuss the standardization of language and literacy teaching and learning in rural schools. The purpose of this response is to (re)initiate conversation about the political nature of all teaching and learning and prompt readers to consider how ideology and power shape classroom practices. To this end, Pedagogy of Erasure is a theoretical construct used to challenge the instrumental arguments that support the standardized instruction of basic skills.

Jean Stockard's (2011) recent article in the Journal of Research in Rural Education, "Increasing Reading Skills in Rural Areas: An Analysis of Three School Districts," offers a productive opportunity to discuss a critical issue in language and literacy education in rural schools. According to the abstract, the intent of Stockard's (2011) study was to identify "ways to help rural schools improve teachers' pedagogical skills" (p. 1). Given that the stated topic of the article was pedagogical development, I expected a study about the professional development of the teachers in a rural school. Instead, I found that the answer to Stockard's question about how to improve rural teachers' pedagogical skills is not professional development for teachers and school leaders, but rather the purchase of a commercially produced "curriculum" called Reading Mastery (Engelmann et al., 2002). I offset the word curriculum to highlight the misuse of the word.

Curriculum is the content to be learned, whereas instruction is how that content should be taught.1 Scripted products, such as Reading Mastery, frequently confuse this distinction by dictating both content and method. Giroux (1994) notes that curriculum is often seen as an objective text that simply has to be imparted to students. Like any text, however, curriculum is always situated within larger ideologies about how the world works. The ideology of basic skills, for example, is compatible with discourses of standardization where "the histories, experiences, and communities" that shape students' "identities and sense of place are irrelevant to what is taught and how it is taught" (Giroux, 1994, p. 35).

DISTAR & Reading Mastery

Readers may recall DISTAR from the 1960s. DISTAR is now marketed as Reading Mastery (U.S. Department of Education, 2007) and is part of the Direct Instruction "corpus of curricula" (Stockard, 2011, p. 2). The following is Stockard's description of Direct Instruction (DI):

The approach attempts to control all the major variables that impact student learning through the placement and grouping of students into instructional groups, the rate and type of examples presented by the teacher, the wording that teachers use to teach specific concepts and skills, the frequency and type of review of material introduced, the assessment of students' mastery of material covered, and the responses by teachers to students' attempts to learn the material (2011, p. 3).

The goal of this approach is to increase in "reading skills" as defined and measured by another commercial product, the DIBELS system (Stockard, 2011, p. 6). DIBELS, The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, according to The Dynamic Measurement Group (http://dibels.org/index.html) is a set of procedures and measures for assessing the acquisition of early literacy skills from kindergarten through sixth grade. In Stockard's words, "DIBELS measures incorporate assessments of various elements of reading development including children's ability to link sounds and letters" (p. 6). Stockard used only two DIBELS measures: Nonsense Word Fluency (NWF) and Oral Reading Fluency. No DIBELS test attempts to measure comprehension. The two DIBELS tests used in this study measure a child's accuracy in decoding nonsense words such as sig, rav, or ov in addition to oral reading speed and accuracy. …

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