The common assumption in our culture is that children must learn to read. A huge amount of research is being done to find out the scientifically best way to do this. In the education stacks of any major university library you will find rows and rows of books and many magazines devoted solely to the subject of reading instruction. In education circles, heated debates – sometimes called “the reading wars” – have raged for decades between those who believe that most emphasis should be placed on teaching phonics and those who take a so-called “whole language” approach to reading instruction.
Debate and research in reading instruction
Many controlled experiments have been conducted comparing one instructional method against another, using kindergarteners and first graders as guinea pigs. The phonics people say their method “won” in those experiments, and the whole language people say the experiments were rigged.
Research in Sudbury Valley School
For more than 30 years, two of Peter Gray’s undergraduate students conducted a study on how students learn to read at Sudbury Valley School. where students are free all day to do whatever they want. They identified 16 students who had learned to read since enrolling in school and who had not received systematic reading instruction, and they interviewed the students, their parents, and school staff to find out when, why, and how each learned. read. What they found defied any attempt at generalization
Diversity in the learning process of reading
Students began their first real reading at a remarkably wide range of ages – from as young as 4 years old to 14 years old (think of what this can do to you as a parent!). Some students learned very quickly, going from apparently not reading at all to reading fluently in a matter of weeks; others learned much more slowly. Some learned consciously, working systematically on phonetics and asking for help along the way. Others just “picked it up.” One day they realized they could read, but they had no idea how they learned it. There was no systematic relationship between the age at which students first learned to read and their engagement in reading at the time of the interview. Some of the most voracious readers had learned it early and others had learned it late.
Changing Reading Habits in Sudbury Valley
His son, who is a staff member at Sudbury Valley, tells him that study is now outdated. His impression is that most Sudbury Valley students today learn to read earlier, and with even less conscious effort than before, because they are immersed in a culture in which people regularly communicate with the written word – in computer games, email, Facebook, etc. texting via mobile phones and the like. For them, the written word is not essentially different from the spoken word, so the biological machinery that all humans have for picking up spoken language is used more or less automatically in learning to read and write (or type). From: Peter Gray PhD – Children teach themselves to read
Natural reading development and environmental factors
Another study indicated this conclusion. The most important conclusion from this research is that frequent reading can happen in a natural way. Similar to the way babies start walking and toddlers start talking. The reading process is generally the result of a person’s intrinsic motivation to read, specifically in the absence of a learning disability or diagnosis of dyslexia.
The influence of the environment on reading
However, the environment appears to play a major role in this transfer. As most of our unschoolers lived in situations where reading was a natural and important part of all everyday life. While it would be difficult to replicate an unschooled environment in education, we can consider that children are given more freedom in how they learn to read and when they learn. This can be very useful. Many of our unschoolers found enjoyment in both reading and listening to stories being read. And it is that joy that we want to capture and recreate in different educational environments.