Claude Goldenberg joined the podcast to introduce what he argues is much-needed skepticism to the conversation of reading science. Goldenberg mentions that while the Science of Reading may be the latest buzzword, reading science is here to stay and, like any other science, will only grow stronger alongside informed critique. He later talks about the foundational skills and what the movement can learn from the failings of Reading First; offers advice for implementation; and ends with a hopeful note, highlighting that all educators can come together around a shared mission to see students succeed.
“If we listen, if we communicate clearly, if we pay attention, giving people the benefit of the doubt that what they want is for all kids [to succeed], I think we can move forward.”
— Dr. Claude Goldenberg
Lessons Learned? Reading Wars, Reading First, and a Way Forward by Margaret Goldberg and Claude Goldenberg
Reading Wars, Reading Science, and English Learners by Claude Goldenberg
Amplify’s Virtual Symposium 2022 - Celebrating Biliteracy: Realizing a Better Future for Our Spanish Speakers
Teaching All Students to Read: Practices from Reading First Schools With Strong Intervention Outcomes by Elizabeth Crawford & Joseph Torgesen
Catch Them Before They Fall by Joseph K. Torgesen
Susan Lambert: 0:01
Before we jump into today's episode, I want to invite you to register for a free virtual symposium on May 19th, 2022: Celebrating Biiteracy: Realizing a Better Future for Our Spanish Speakers. During this event, you'll discover how to celebrate and honor the unique skills, strengths, and needs your multilingual learners bring to the classroom as well as how to accelerate literacy development for your Spanish speakers. Register now at the link in the show notes. Dr. Claude Goldenberg joins me today in an episode that is packed with a bunch of information and some entertainment. If you don't know his work, Dr. Goldenberg, who recently retired from Stanford, is a biliteracy expert whose work has been influential in moving forward evidence-based literacy practices. I'm keeping this intro short, so we can just jump right in. And don't worry if you don't have a way to take notes, you'll be listening to this episode again and again. Well, welcome, Claude. We're so glad to have you on today's episode. Welcome.
Claude Goldenberg: 1:09
Thanks Susan. It's a pleasure. Thank you very much. Happy to be here.
Susan Lambert: 1:14
Well, you, as you know, we always like to start this by you introducing yourself and sharing with our listeners just a little bit of your journey. How did you end up in this world of literacy?
Claude Goldenberg: 1:25
The world of literacy, right! Well, after college my parents were living in San Antonio, Texas. And so I went to San Antonio and I taught there for two years. I taught junior high back in the day. We called it junior high; it's now middle school. I feel like I always have to—
Susan Lambert: 1:43
<laugh> I remember those days.
Claude Goldenberg: 1:45
I bet you do. So I taught junior-high reading and history for two years. My first year I had five periods of very low readers. The principal I interviewed with said, "Well, we got a place for you. I got kids who are so low that I took away their elective and told 'em they have to take reading. So you wanna do that?" <laugh> So of course, outta college, I thought, "Well, the more impossible, the more better! I mean, I'm in it! You know, this is what I'm this what I'm coming for!" So I took the position and honestly, I was just shocked at the kids, that they were so low. I had some literal non-readers. These were eighth graders who were anywhere from five to eight years behind in reading; I mean, some of 'em are reading at a pre-primer level. The idea that you'd give a beginning teacher this assignment is...well, we can leave that for another day. But the principal really was not on his game, shall we say? But in any case I took the job and I realized very shortly thereafter that I was just woefully unprepared. I just could not really—I mean, I had a lot of ideals, a lot of ambition in terms of doing the right thing for the kids, but I took a couple of classes in reading at the local university, but I was really kind of lost. But, you know, I sort of muddled through, and then I decided to go to go back to graduate school to learn more about child development. And at that point, reading, per se, wasn't my interest. Although I was teaching reading. So I got a little bit into that literature. But it was really just the horrible state of the educational achievement of these students. So I went to graduate school and see if I couldn't learn more. And then during the course of my graduate years, I came to see literacy really as a linchpin of education. Certainly formal education, right? Which, you know, human beings have invented many different forms in order to make sure that some of the succeeding generation have the knowledge and tools to keep the society going. And of course, we also know that those opportunities to gain the knowledge and skills are not equitably distributed. So this both, you know, reflects, but it also perpetuates, the inequities in our society. In our societies. It's not unique to the United States by any means. So for all these reasons: the centrality of literacy, the unequal and unfair access to literacy and what it affords to people, I decided it was where I wanted to focus my efforts. And in particular, literacy for historically and currently disadvantaged and marginalized populations.
Susan Lambert: 4:46
So did you find that that graduate program helped prepare you for classroom? Or did it spur you more into your curiosity about what kids need? What path did it take?
Claude Goldenberg: 4:59
Well, the most immediate path it took was the dissertation. The study that I did was on Hispanic, Latino kids in a very poor area. It was actually like an immigrant entry point for many, many students and their families. And I did my dissertation at the school that had a bilingual program. And I discovered some really important, interesting things about what differentiated success and lack of success...and I decided that after I finished my dissertation, that I was so learned in the area of early literacy <laugh> that I wanted to have my own classroom to use as my laboratory and to be able to demonstrate things that I had learned, that I thought I knew. And so I taught first grade for three or four years after finishing my PhD. And I focused on literacy. Literacy development, homeschool connections, and various aspects of that. That's what I did.
Susan Lambert: 6:06
Interesting. So going from junior high down to first grade, and then a PhD, and taking a more unusual path back into the classroom, how did you find the differences between teaching junior high and teaching first grade? 'Cause that's a big change!
Claude Goldenberg: 6:27
Yeah, well, let me count the ways! <Laugh>
Susan Lambert: 6:30
Claude Goldenberg: 6:31
Let's just say that my junior high kids had lot of positive qualities, but passing through adolescence was not one of them. <laugh> I remember I wasn't particularly fond of my adolescence and I wasn't particularly fond of theirs, either. It was a challenge. And teaching first grade was also a challenge, but in a very different way. I mean, I have to say that the younger kids—I really just personally enjoyed interacting with them. Now, I had a lot of colleagues in junior high who love that age, and I know there are people around the country, you know, teachers who love that—
Susan Lambert: 7:07
Thank goodness, right?
Claude Goldenberg: 7:08
<laugh> Thank goodness! And God bless them, you know, because those kids need people who love working with them. You know, the thing is, one minute they're mature, well-formed adults; the next minute they're crybabies and immature and you just can't reason with them. I mean, that's the nature of adolescences in our society, for better and for worse. And it was hard, in addition to all the achievement questions of teaching the reading and teaching history and the low levels of achievement, adolescent Sturm und Drang...I mean, that's what adolescence is all about. So I really like six-year-olds much better.
Susan Lambert: 7:42
<laugh> Well, bless you for that. And for our listeners, you're actually, you're actually biliterate yourself, right? So you speak Spanish, English, read, write, all that, in both languages.
Claude Goldenberg: 7:55
Yeah. I mean, I'm originally from Argentina. I was born in Argentina. My parents and I came to the States when I was three. So Spanish was my first language. English is now my dominant language because I've had all my education here and I'm far more proficient in English and all aspects of English language. In Spanish, I'm fluent. I can read and write, not particularly well. If I have to write anything in Spanish, I email it to my mom <laugh> so she can correct my spelling and accent-free writing and so forth. But as long as you mention it, my parents actually provided me with a world-class bilingual education, 'cause they insisted that I speak Spanish at home. They said, "Aqui hablamos en Español." I mean, they were very unambiguous about that. And I resisted, you know, because you learn English, that's the language of status in this society. I was all set rattling off in English. They wouldn't have it. You speak Spanish at home. And, they said, you're gonna thank us one day.
Susan Lambert: 9:02
And here you are thanking them this day!
Claude Goldenberg: 9:04
Here I am thanking them. And actually, one of my books, I dedicated it to them for providing me with a world-class bilingual education.
Susan Lambert: 9:13
That's that's so powerful. And we'll talk about it. I'm sure, in a few minutes. But just this idea that honoring, respecting that home language that students come in, and not just that, but continuing to help them develop in it helps them then develop as readers and writers in English, too.
Claude Goldenberg: 9:32
I think so. The big controversy—and we can get into it later—but the big controversy is what should be the school's role in that? Because ironically, if there had been bilingual education 65 years ago, <laugh> which there wasn't, at least not where I was, my guess is my parents would've resisted putting me in bilingual education because they say, "We want him to learn English in school! We'll take care of the Spanish." And in fact, I've had several conversations with my father, who just didn't understand. "What's all this bilingual education stuff? You didn't have bilingual education and you turned out basically OK!"
Susan Lambert: 10:09
Claude Goldenberg: 10:10
OK! Point noted. But I told him there's some differences and and we have different populations who don't come with the social capital. My parents were college-educated people. I had literacy and academic language and all those sociocultural resources in the home. And a lot of the kids who come to schools, speaking a language other than English, don't have those resources in the home. So it's not that those parents don't provide support, can't be helpful. But I had the advantage of having the kind of interactions at home that you have in a college-educated home with the kind of work that you do at school, that's academic—supposed to be, you know, by its nature. And so the combination of those was extremely powerful. So I had to explain to my dad that our context was very different from the predominant context throughout the country for many of the emergent bilinguals that we teach in our schools. And then even if they were the same, the school still has a role to play. You can still play a role in an academic program promoting, supporting biliteracy. See, in fact, I think if I had been in that kind of program, there's a good chance that my literacy skills in Spanish would've been stronger than they are now. I took Spanish in high school and that actually did help my oral language. I learned all sorts of things about the subjunctive and the preterite and all those fine points of language that I didn't know existed. But when I took Spanish formally, I learned about them and I learned about accenting. I systematically and formally learned about my first language in a way that I never learned. My mom taught me to read, and that was a real springboard for me once I got to school, but beyond that and making me write letters to my grandmother and so forth, there was very little formal education in the Spanish language and Spanish literacy. And I think I could have benefited from that if I had been in a bilingual program. But, you know, it's just speculation.
Susan Lambert: 12:14
That's interesting. We will get into that biliteracy piece in just a little bit. But hearing you—let me say that again. Me hearing you talk about that development helps me realize that this term, Science of Reading... I haven't decided, Claude, if it's ubiquitous, <laugh> if it's like, "Them are fightin' words!".... It's clearly not as deeply understood as what it needs to be. So I'm gonna ask you this. When I say Science of Reading, since this is Science of Reading: The Podcast, what does that mean to you?
Claude Goldenberg: 12:56
Well, Susan, this might shock you, <laugh> but I think—are you ready to be shocked?
Susan Lambert: 13:03
Ready! I'm ready. Bring it on.
Claude Goldenberg: 13:05
But I think of a bog. As in, we get bogged down with labels that mean different things to different people. And I think Science of Reading is the latest example of this. There are plenty of others. And since you asked me about Science of Reading, let me pick on Science of Reading. Now on the one hand, I think science is a good thing. I think it's a very good thing. And scientific research on reading—whether you call it science or not makes no difference to me—but research on reading has helped us understand a wide range of very, very important things. For example, how, how essential it is to teach foundational skills to beginning readers, so they can tightly link—or bind is the term in some of the literature—the sounds of the language with the letters and the letter combinations that represent those sounds. Now this is usually called phonics or decoding. Some people call it common sense. <laugh> I won't take that on any further, other than to say that it is a bit more complicated with aspects that are really less obvious, but whatever you call it, linking the sounds of the language, the representation in print, in the spelling system, is absolutely essential for learning to read and write. We also know that we can identify and intervene early with kids who are at risk for reading difficulties. And that those difficulties spring from really different causes, even though they might, as a doctor might say, present very similarly. They result from very different causes, and that if we instruct and intervene appropriately, we can really head off a number of reading difficulties, particularly at the beginning and early stages. And we also know that continued development in reading and writing requires a whole lot more than just foundational skills. As foundational as they are, really reading development requires more than that. It requires aspects of language development. It requires background knowledge. It requires direct experience that helps you contextualize what you're reading. It requires increased levels of motivation that'll keep you engaged and work at understanding and further development as a reader. So these are all very important insights and knowledge that that's been gained from reading research or Science of Reading, if you prefer that term.
Susan Lambert: 15:50
Can I ask you a question before you go on?
Claude Goldenberg: 15:53
Susan Lambert: 15:53
Let me ask you this question. So since we're gonna talk about biliteracy later, those principles apply to whether you're learning English or, let's say, whether you're learning Spanish, am I right? That's still the same things you still have to understand to be a reader and comprehend what you're reading.
Claude Goldenberg: 16:11
Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. There's actually a worldwide literature on what are the essentials of learning to read. And it's particularly true for alphabetic languages, but it turns out it's also true for idiographic and languages with different characteristics. But let's focus on alphabetic languages, that letters and letter combinations in writing represent the sounds of the language, the sounds contained in words. Any alphabetic language, the foundation of learning to read is linking the sounds of the language with their visual representations. Across the board. And And it's true, even if you're learning to read a language, that you are simultaneously learning to speak and understand. The difference is if you don't know the language as you're learning to read it, you also have to be taught the meanings of the words and the texts that are being used to teach you to read. The process is the same, but the semantic system of the language, what the words mean? You can't take those for granted. Whereas if you're six years old and you speak English and you're learning to read in English, you can assume that the student understands the words that you're using to them to read: RUN. I. SEE. STOP.
Susan Lambert: 17:42
Claude Goldenberg: 17:43
That's if you do an English language development lesson with English speakers. But kids who don't know the language, you need to make sure they're understanding the words that you're using to teach them to read. That's the fundamental difference.
Susan Lambert: 17:57
Got it. We'll unpack more of that later. So I know I totally interrupted you, 'cause you were gonna give us another—what else you believe about Science of Reading.
Claude Goldenberg: 18:06
Another part of the bog!
Susan Lambert: 18:09
Right? There you go.
Claude Goldenberg: 18:10
I hope no one's offended by that. <laugh> So let me talk a little bit more about science. So there are many aspects to science. Some get privileged, shall we say, more than others. So science is not all randomized controlled trials. I mean, they're important, right? That's a way of getting some knowledge that, if not definitive, is, let's say, a little more secure than simply observing or doing correlations or ethnographic studies. So there's a place for different forms of knowledge in the empire of science, if you wanna call it an empire. But there are two things that are true of any sort of science that I know about. One is precision or clarity. They mean slightly different things, but I'm gonna kind of use 'em interchangeably, precision and clarity. The other is skepticism. And both of these are lacking in the discussion over Science of Reading. And I'll give you an example from both sides of the fence, so to speak.
Susan Lambert: 19:15
Claude Goldenberg: 19:16
First of all, um, from the Science of Reading side of the fence. <laugh> I hope I don't get in too much trouble with my Science of Reading colleagues. But be that as it may, Science of Reading advocates love to cite a group of very important studies that were reviewed by Joe Torgesen in 2004 in a really important but way undercited paper in American Educator—you know, the AFT publication?
Susan Lambert: 19:42
Mm-hmm, <affirmative> yep.
Claude Goldenberg: 19:44
In this article, Torgesen really persuasively demonstrated that we have the tools to help as many as 95% of all kids get to at least low average in reading level by the end of second grade. Now this sounds very modest, but it's not trivial. Because in fact it would be a hugely important accomplishment if we were to do this on a national scale. So I'm not downplaying its importance at all. But here's what's rarely discussed. First, reading level is a bit misleading. Because what Torgesen and the other researchers were referring to were word-reading skills, sometimes called word-attack skills. It's a little militaristic, I'm afraid. But that's what they're called. And there are subtests that are labeled word-attack skills. You can unpackage that with a linguistics person you have on your podcast later on.
Susan Lambert: 20:42
Claude Goldenberg: 20:42
But I'm not gonna touch that. Just pointing it out. So, OK. That's a very important part of reading, word-attack skills, word-reading accuracy. But it's a pretty constrained definition of what reading actually is. And you know, I never see this acknowledged except in Torgesen's review, which everyone should read, by the way. And if you haven't, I would strongly suggest it, and I'd be glad to send you a link to it. Torgesen himself, you know, who's one of the leading lights and researchers in the field of beginning and early reading and prevention of reading difficulties, he acknowledged this in the article. And he said, and this is a direct quote: "This"—meaning word-reading skills, "this cannot be considered the ultimate for the effectiveness of early preventive instruction." Have you ever heard that acknowledged? I haven't.
Susan Lambert: 21:36
I've read the article multiple times. Um, tell our listeners why you think that is so important.
Claude Goldenberg: 21:43
Because it's a very constrained definition of what reading is! As important as word-attack skills and word-reading skills are important—one might say foundational—it's a very constrained definition. There's much more to reading than that. And if that's what you cite and that's what you claim is gonna pull kids outta the bottom quartile and not acknowledge that you're talking about a very important but limited aspect of reading, then you're not telling the whole story.
Susan Lambert: 22:19
Can I phrase that another way? Just to be sure that I have some understanding here. What you're saying is those word-level reading skills, you have to have those.
Claude Goldenberg: 22:31
Susan Lambert: 22:32
But there's a lot more that we need to develop in students when we're talking about being great, proficient, comprehenders and readers.
Claude Goldenberg: 22:41
Susan Lambert: 22:41
That's only one element. And we need to make sure we talk about all these other elements.
Claude Goldenberg: 22:46
That's right. And we need to be very clear about what we're claiming when we say rather loosely that Torgesen and the study's reviews showed that you can get kids out of the bottom quartile if you focus on these foundational skills. It's true, but it's incomplete.
Susan Lambert: 23:04
Claude Goldenberg: 23:05
And a big part of that incompleteness comes in another form, in other aspect of what Torgesen says, because as important as we acknowledge those things are, these studies say nothing about preventing reading difficulties from grade three and beyond. Since we know from other research that hitting at least low average in reading skills after grade two requires a whole lot more than foundational skills. You know, the things that I mentioned, language, background, knowledge, et cetera, et cetera. And again, Torgesen himself in this article challenges the reading community, particularly researchers, to do the work to enable us to hit that mark from grade three and up. And nothing that I've seen, nor anyone that I've asked, indicates that we're close to meeting what you might call the Torgesen challenge. You know, maybe they have, and I just haven't seen it or heard of it. But I haven't heard or read anything that's been said. Or I haven't heard or read...everything's been published, so, you know, I might have missed it. But the fact is that rarely gets discussed. In fact, I never hear it discussed by Science of Reading advocates, who have a very firm basis for certain claims, but don't acknowledge that it's a fairly constrained set of claims that can be made.
Susan Lambert: 24:35
I'm gonna ask you a follow-up on that because here on Science of Reading: The Podcast, the way we define Science of Reading as we use, or I do, the framework of the simple view of reading, making it very clear that word recognition is only one element. And that language comprehension also needs to be developed, not just at third grade, but starting already when kids come to us in kindergarten, and we can do that even with texts through a read=aloud environment. But it's very important we start that language development and language comprehension starting in kindergarten. Do you agree with that?
Claude Goldenberg: 25:18
Yes. I have no problem with that. But let's say the evidentiary base, or the science, on which different parts of those statements are based vary in their kind of robustness. Right?
Susan Lambert: 25:36
Claude Goldenberg: 25:36
Their "scientific-ism." Whatever term you want. The knowledge base in many respects is very solid and very secure and in other respects is still kind of speculative. And there's much more to know and understand. And my concern is that when "Science of Reading" gets interpreted in a fairly superficial, incomplete, and imprecise way, that gets translated into policies in state legislation, into Department of Education requirements, standards, and mandates that are equally superficial, and don't tell a full story, don't tell the full picture. And people walk away thinking, "Well, are you using the simple view of reading method?" Well, that's not a method! <laugh> You know, that's a way of thinking about the elements. And even that has its limitations. Even though I have no objection—I mean, I think Phill Goff made a huge contribution, as did Joe Torgesen, as all these other giants that we try to stand on by identifying this. But the story is more complex and is being built out. And there are elements that don't get as much attention as they should. Partly, I think, because the knowledge base around foundational skills is so solid. I mean, it's got its own quirks, right? And its own imprecisions. And it's very probabilistic. There's very little that is guaranteed in the world of education. We have to think in terms of—and people don't like to think in probabilistic terms. If you do certain things in education, you're not guaranteed some result. You either increase or decrease the probability of getting what you want. I was just reading an article yesterday about the problem with discussing public policy—is that people don't think like economists. Well, of course not. And people don't think in probabilistic terms! They want certainty. They want assurance. And I understand that. But there is no certainty. There is no assurance. There's probabilities. Greater or lesser. Depending on the kind of things that you do and don't do.
Susan Lambert: 27:40
Right. And our goal then is to take those high-probability concepts and work through those to give our kids the best chance at learning how to read.
Claude Goldenberg: 27:52
Absolutely. And right now I can tell you that it's—I don't wanna be melodramatic, but it's a crime. I mean, it's a crying shame, if nothing else, that we don't have fully implemented throughout the country a strong emphasis on foundational skills as the foundation, as the basis, of becoming literate. And they're like, "The reasons why we don't..." We might get into this later on, but if nothing else, that should be put in place! And it's a failure of implementation. A failure of implementation, not of the science, that we haven't done that in all 50 states, territories, and everywhere else.
Susan Lambert: 28:31
One last question on that. And then we're gonna jump to another question. So about this, the evidence base, and that's really strong in foundational skills, but sort of these other language elements.... If you could wave your magic PhD wand <laugh>, where would you like to see more research in what areas to help us with that?
Claude Goldenberg: 28:57
That's a good question. And if I get a PhD wand, I'll let you know—
Susan Lambert: 29:03
Claude Goldenberg: 29:04
And II'll check back with you in case I've forgotten something. No, I think language development is phenomenally important. Now, as you know, I work with English learners, so that's particularly salient in my field and my colleagues and so forth. But it's true across the board. Because as Torgesen pointed out and even the simple view says, without really advanced and developing levels of language proficiency, your ability to progress in terms of literacy is really constrained. Now, there are lots of aspects of this, a lot of issues, some of them ideological, some of them political, some philosophical and theoretical, practical.... So there are lots of dimensions to this, including the fact that some people resist the notion of say, casting standard English, academic English, as the lingua franca for everyone. I mean, you know, there are many dimensions to this. But putting those aside for a moment, there's just no doubt that if kids don't develop language in a comprehensive and progressive sort of way, their literacy skills are gonna be limited. And part of the problem is developing language, as I'm talking about, requires lots of things. Not just knowing more words, as important as vocabulary is. And not just having a grasp of syntax. But the amount of background knowledge that you need, both specific to what you're reading, but also more generally to kind of like world knowledge, is considerable, is tremendous. And we know that all of these things matter, but we don't really have a good handle on how to accelerate their development. I mean, it's particularly problematic for English learners, but not just English learners. Kids who speak limited English for whatever reason, because they speak a version of English, a variety of English, which is valid and true in its own context, in the general school context, it's a disadvantage, not being highly proficient in the language, the academic language that's the coin of the realm in schools. And I know even for English learners, we have very poor knowledge base on how to accelerate English language development. And most of that, limited studies, and even those are at very beginning stages. So we have some studies of vocabulary development, later on, middle school and middle elementary and middle school and on up, and vocabulary is important. But we don't have a real, robust knowledge base because the transfer from learning vocabulary words to actually then improving your reading achievement—there is some bump, right? It's not nothing. But it's very, very modest. So we have a lot to work on in that domain.
Susan Lambert: 32:03
Well, that that's great. So calling all researchers or wannabe researchers, maybe we can recruit some of them to fill in the gaps of this research. That would be amazing.
Claude Goldenberg: 32:15
Well, let's hope so! And if you recruit them, Susan, what I would say is put to them the Torgesen challenge
Susan Lambert: 33:03
I love that you said that, because yeah, if it was easy, we would be doing it. And there's nothing about developing proficient readers that's actually easy. Proficient readers and writers. I should add that for sure.
Claude Goldenberg: 33:13
For sure. Absolutely. That's a good point. Absolutely. I used "reading" and "literacy" interchangeably, which I know is imprecise, you know, violating my own rule of precision. But I'm glad you mentioned that. Susan, can I—I know you were gonna ask me, but I wanted to give you an example of lack of precision from the other side of the fence.
Susan Lambert: 3:31
Oh, I forgot about that! Yes, please!
Claude Goldenberg: 33:32
Just for equal time. Is that OK?
Susan Lambert: 33:33
Oh, for sure. Absolutely.
Claude Goldenberg: 33:37
'Cause I wanna be evenhanded about it, whatever it is. So you know, there's a lot of...I mentioned skepticism as an important part of science that most people, I mean, I rarely hear being talked about, certainly in this context. People just don't acknowledge it. There's certainly a lot of that in Science of Reading. But from the standpoint of Reading of Science skeptics, which include a lot of people, as you well know, there's a lot of misunderstanding. A lot of, I should say, skepticism, fueled by a combination of misunderstanding and legitimate skepticism. I mean there's legitimate room for skepticism of reading research. But when it's fueled by misunderstanding, then that's just not a good thing. Now, Science of Reading advocates have contributed somewhat to that misunderstanding, as I indicated. But beyond that, there's more misunderstanding and lots of suspicion. And one of these misunderstandings is what actually constitutes foundational skills. So as I mentioned, as you know, foundational skills are those that link or bind the letters with the sounds to enable decoding and word recognition. OK? So what happens is that a lot of the skeptics say that Science of Reading has led to states mandating 90 minutes of phonics and decoding instruction. Now, when I first heard this, I thought, "That sounds strange." I mean, first of all, that's a very bad idea. <laugh> I would never subscribe to that. And I don't know any Science of Reading people who would subscribe to it. But it turns out, just to cut to the punchline here, it turns out that people were confusing foundational skills with those five pillars that the National Reading Panel identified as essential for early reading instruction. Well, the five pillars are the foundational skills PLUS vocabulary and comprehension! So when people complain that some states and districts mandate 90 minutes of phonics decoded, what they actually mean, but don't realize it, is that states and districts mandate 90 minutes of those five pillars! Phonological awareness, phonics, which includes letter-sound knowledge and decoding, fluency, and 4 and 5, vocabulary comprehension! Now, we can surely disagree which of those five should be the sum and substance of early reading instruction, OK? We can disagree. That's a legitimate question. But at least let's be clear and precise about what it is we're talking about. And it turns out that's harder than it would seem. So for a lot of phonics skeptics, which—and skepticism is not a bad thing! it's part of science! absolutely part of science!—but if you're skeptical because you don't understand certain things, that's never a good thing.
Susan Lambert: 36:58
You know, I've never thought about that, Claude, about a misunderstanding between the five pillars that came up from National Reading Panel and what foundational skills are and how people maybe conflate those two things. And so I'm glad you called that out, because I'm gonna keep my ears open for that now.
Claude Goldenberg: 37:15
Well, let me know if you hear it and, conversely, if you don't hear it. Who knows. You know, everyone might have listened to this podcast and be disabused of that confusion or they might disagree! You never know.
Susan Lambert: 37:30
You never know. Well, we'll find out, because our listeners are pretty good about sending us comments and feedback. So I'll let you know if we get any feedback on that one. This leads then to an article that you authored with our friend Margaret Goldberg. She's amazing. Just a plug for her. Recently, on The Reading Teacher, by recently, I mean February, right?
Claude Goldenberg: 37:58
It's the last one that came out.
Susan Lambert: 37:59
Yeah, I think so too. I kind of forget what month we're in right now, but yes. <Laugh> The title of the article—I'm gonna read it, because I have to read it with the correct punctuation here. So the title of the article or piece is called "Lessons Learned? Reading Wars, Reading First, and a Way Forward." <laugh> Did you hear me articulate that question mark in there?
Claude Goldenberg: 38:21
I did. Your inflection was spot-on!
Susan Lambert: 38:25
<laugh> Thank you very much. So my question is what prompted the two of you to write that piece?
Claude Goldenberg: 38:32
I'm glad you asked that. You know, I love the shout out to Margaret. I'm a huge fan. I heard her on some webinars and read some of her posts and she actually contacted me a couple of times to do some questions. And I was always so impressed by her ability to present really important findings and insights from research as they apply to what classroom teachers need to do to help all kids learn to read. But at the same time, and this is what really captured me, at the same time she was supremely empathic and understanding of the tough spot that so many teachers are in. And this is even before the pandemic! I mean, it's in spades, right? It's unspeakable now, but even before the pandemic, that teachers were in a tough spot and how hard it is to change and to give up assumptions and beliefs that have defined their practices and to which they feel such commitment. In some cases, you know, religious commitments that are sort of aided and abetted by some of the thought leaders. I remember Ken Goodman talking about whole language as being, as whole language being a symposium, like a revival meeting. So they actually fueled most of this religious like zealotry. So when teachers are in that position it makes it very hard to kind of reconsider, think outside the box, you know choose your cliche. So teachers have challenging jobs, that's not new news, particularly with kids who don't have the same opportunities as mine, and I suspect yours had. And they've not been given the best tools to work with as far as research and successful practice and so forth. And so anyway, I just e-mailed Margaret one day and we chatted, and I just proposed that we write something together. I figured I couldn't miss learning something useful from her and she seemed like such an engaging and insightful person. So anyway, we started batting around topics - it really took us several months and several false starts before we landed on this topic. And the spark was really something that almost an offhand comment that she made either to me or in one of the Zoom gatherings and she said we don't want a repeat of Reading First. So I've been sort of thinking along the same lines, but hadn't articulated it quite as crisply. It turns out she lived through Reading First on the front lines, as a teacher, pretty freshly minted teacher, this was in the early 2000's. She got her teaching credentials and started teaching in a pretty affluent district and the things that were going on before Reading First, like Balanced Literacy and so forth, they seemed to work pretty well and no heavy problems. So then Reading First came in, and she changed to another district where the challenges were quite different. And she said there are definitely some lessons to be learned there, and I was thinking along the same lines, so we decided to try to draw them out and try to speak to the current moment where we both saw inklings of another road down the Reading First path.
Susan Lambert: 42:18
For our listeners that maybe don't know what Reading First is, maybe they're young in the classroom and don't remember those days, can you give us a quick, quick history lesson?
Claude Goldenberg: 42:30
Sure. Well, Reading First followed on the heels of No Child Left Behind, the signature education legislation of the Bush administration. And the purpose of Reading First was to encourage states to develop policies, scientifically based reading research, what Science of Reading was called 20 years ago—old wine, new bottles, blah, blah, blah—to encourage states to implement that in their districts and in their schools. Now states were not required to do Reading First. It's very important. I mean the federal government there's very little that can require, All they can do is withhold funds. Which is requirement enough! You know, 'cause most school districts will do what they can to get those funds. So even though technically they weren't required, these funds that would support materials and professional development and all sorts of good things that that districts need. If they wanted access to those funds, then they had to commit to implementing scientifically based reading research in their states, and then make available through a sort of a grant offering procedure, make available to districts this fund with the same proviso: that they would establish district policies to implement scientifically based reading research. So that was the whole point and purpose of Reading First. And it's useful to know the organizational structure, because when people say this is the federal government intruding on reading policy, that's, that's not exactly correct. Because states could have said, no, we're not interested in that. We're not gonna do it. But it turns out, I think, 49 states plus the Bureau of Indian Affairs, I think, they went after the funds. And they became Reading First states. Now, not all school districts applied for the funds. Some districts were not interested. But you know, a lot of districts did. And so in, in the final analysis, only a minority of school districts around the country implemented Reading First, but those that did signed on to the whole notion of scientifically based reading research, specifically implementing those five pillars, that the National Reading Panel had stipulated.
Susan Lambert: 45:14
Got it. And then why did you and Margaret feel like this was a really good example? What can we take from that to what's happening now?
Claude Goldenberg: 45:23
Right, right, right, right. Well, the simple reason was that that we saw we were going down the same road. And we didn't wanna repeat of it. And we knew that there were different narratives about what happened with Reading First. For some people, Reading First was not a failure. It worked where it worked. And there's a whole narrative around that, complete with lessons about it failing where it didn't work because of political undermining, failure to implement, malfeasance inside, now outside, of the program. For others, Reading First was an absolute failure. A complete, utter, absolute failure. And there was, as you probably know, a national evaluation that concluded modest effects on decoding skills, aka basic reading, and no effect on comprehension. Not much to show for a billion dollar a year investment, that by the last year, fiscal 2008, had been cut down to under 400 million. Which Reading First defenders or apologists said was part of the problem. They'd never fully funded it. So. Neither these two narratives is wholly accurate, <laugh> as you might imagine. And we were fortunate in that Reid Lyon, who was the architect of Reading First, was incredible in helping us piece together a more realistic and accurate portrayal of what happened, why, and what the lessons are. Would you like to hear some of those lessons?
Susan Lambert: 46:59
I'm dying to hear! <laugh>
Claude Goldenberg: 47:03
Need to know, need to know basis. <laugh> Well, there's several. Im gonna highlight two. I think the fundamental one, the first and the most important lesson, is that you just can't bulldoze through reading policies and classroom reading practices where educators really don't fully understand what the rationale is, and why they're being required to implement them. You know, education is famously—the organizational theorists call it loosely coupled, a loosely coupled enterprise. Which means that policies dictated from on-high are very hard to implement throughout the system. You know, each level has a fair amount of autonomy, all the way down. I say that advisedly. Al the way down to the classroom teacher. Which is where, you know, as they say, the rubber hits the road. And there's a fair amount of autonomy at each of these lessons. You know, you can do implementation walkthroughs and check on people, as was done, for sure, during Reading First. But you know, when the observer's gone, you don't really know what's going on. I suppose that if you have a TikToker posting on a regular basis, you might know something. But you know, there was no TikTok in the early 2000s. <laugh> So people make the unfortunate assumption, and I've actually heard this voiced explicitly, that you implement education policy in the same way you command an army. REALLY? I mean, that is just preposterous! And if that's your theory of implemention, then you should join the military. You'll be very happy and at home there. Secondly, and very tightly related to this first issue, teachers have to understand why they're being required. And I don't even like to talk in terms of requirements, since it sends a really a terrible message. But why they are required, recommended strongly encouraged, whatever you prefer to use...why they are expected to do this, rather than that. You know, a clear rationale for this rather than that was never adequately spelled out, as far as we can tell, and from Margaret's direct experience. She never heard that. The communication and the professional development was wholly inadequate, often boiling down to "Do this because it's the policy." Now, that's not made up. That's not hyperbole. That was actually in Reading First documents that went out to Reading First programs around the country. I mean, it's documented! There's no secret here. But teachers need to be helped to understand that the dominant theory or approach to early literacy known as balanced literacy or three-cueing, both of which are direct descendants of whole language, they needed to understand that it was simply wrong. It would continue to fail millions of children. And in contrast, a foundational skills approach, combined with attention to vocabulary, and comprehensive—t was not just about phonics—that this approach would create a better foundation from which most of those millions of kids would be able to make further sustained progress. You know, as I mentioned before, it was not a guarantee. There are no guarantees. But it almost certainly increased the chances substantially of reading success for kids who traditionally just have not been served well by our schools.
Susan Lambert: 50:33
Claude Goldenberg: 50:34
So there are other lessons I can babble on about, but I'd say those are the top two.
Susan Lambert: 50:39
You know, that really resonates with me, because I talk with a lot of districts and schools and educators across the country. And I hear a lot of times that this district is implementing Science of Reading and all teachers now need to be teaching Science of Reading. But they don't provide any rationale. They don't provide professional development. They don't help their teachers understand what making this shift to a different program or different assessment actually supports that element. And so the thing that's closest to the learning outcomes or the students—the teacher, who has the biggest impact on what what the students actually achieve—are being left out of the process.
Claude Goldenberg: 51:27
Absolutely. Aa hundred thousand percent. And again, that's another indication of how we're going down the same road.
Susan Lambert: 51:34
Mm-hmm, <affirmative> yeah.
Claude Goldenberg: 51:36
A perfect illustration.
Susan Lambert: 51:37
And, and I'm hoping, like, I'm hearing more talk about looking at higher ed and making some changes there, and how we can provide more robust professional development. I hope that—and maybe this podcast will be a way to sort of highlight the importance of that—but I hope we're not going down that same road, for the sake of the kids.
Claude Goldenberg: 52:01
Absolutely. Couldn't agree more.
Susan Lambert: 52:05
Yeah. So let's make a transition here. We talked a little bit about biliteracy development. We talked a little bit about the Science of Reading relates to biliteracy development. But you also authored an article in the Reading Research Quarterly, and we can link our listeners in the show notes to all of these resources we're talking about. I think this was the special Science of Reading edition, if I'm not mistaken.
Claude Goldenberg: 52:32
Yeah, that's correct. They turned out they had two or three. They had so many articles that they ended up doing, I think, two or three issues on Science of Reading.
Susan Lambert: 52:40
Interesting. Well, this one you titled "Reading Wars, Reading Science, and English Learners."
Claude Goldenberg: 52:44
Susan Lambert: 52:46
So what was sort of the genesis for that article? And how can we bring in this idea of the English learners then to the conversation?
Claude Goldenberg: 52:56
I'm glad you mentioned that. It's interesting, Science of Reading and English learners. Someone this morning sent me a link to an online biliteracy symposium that Amplify is sponsoring.
Susan Lambert: 53:11
<laugh> Uh-oh <laugh>
Claude Goldenberg: 53:14
No! <Laugh> No "uh-oh," absolutely not! I mean, in fact, the tag phrase is—I'm gonna read this, make sure I don't mess it up—"How the Science of Reading Can Help You Accelerate Literacy Development for Your English Language Learners." I hope I got that right. Now, I'm I'm encouraged by this! There's no irony here. <laugh> I am unabashedly encouraged by this. Because right now, English language learner advocates, and some researchers, expressing profound skepticism about the Science of Reading saying, for example, the science encourages one-size-fits-all thinking, and that it's of limited utility for kids learning to read in a language they are simultaneously learning to speak and understand...I think that's nonsense! I mean, I think it's utter nonsense. But again, we have a problem with communication, with understanding, with clarity, and with appropriate skepticism. And I think there are definitely some areas for convergence and this one is one of them. Because what we know, as I said before, about Science of Reading, what we know about learning to read is that regardless of what language you're reading in—and again, I'm mainly talking about alphabetic languages, just for clarity—regardless of what language you're learning to read in, and regardless of whether you are learning to read in a language you are simultaneously learning to understand, those foundational skills matter. They are foundational, they're called foundational for a reason! <laugh> The difference is that for kids learning to read in a language they're simultaneously learning to speak and understand, you need to provide second-language support, so that they understand the words they're being taught to read. And we have very good evidence from two fundamental—I should say, foundational—studies, one by Sharon Vaughn and one by Linnea Ehri—names that I'm sure are familiar to you and should be familiar to your listeners—who demonstrated very persuasively that if you take the foundational plus vocabulary and comprehension and even throw in some writing, as you very appropriately mentioned, if you take those fundamental things, elements of instruction, and add to them English language support, so the kids understand the words, can use the words, can write the words, can understand the words, can define the words—you know, however you define knowing—the language that you're being taught to read. If you include that, then you'll get a significant bump in early reading development. And these are all kids who are at risk for early reading difficulties. These were not kids labeled dyslexic or anything like that. Mm. They were at risk based on certain screening elements that can be used to identify kids who might have a problem. It's not a definitive diagnosis by any means. Which is another area where we have a lot of misunderstanding. But they were at risk. So these are lowest achievers, like the bottom quartile or so. And if you do these foundational skills plus vocabulary and comprehension plus writing, and you add an English-language development component to give them meaning access to what they're learning to read, then you get a very important, modest-to-strong effect on their reading achievement. So I would consider that part of the Science of Reading. And anyone who excludes that from the Science of Reading really is just misinformed.
Susan Lambert: 57:05
So just like there are some wars in Science of Reading, teaching English, it feels like—I even hate to say this and get it out in the universe—but there are some disagreements or wars happening in biliteracy too. Ugh. It feels awful.
Claude Goldenberg: 57:24
Well, yeah, it does. It does. I'm gonna tell you some good news in just a minute but—
Susan Lambert: 57:28
Claude Goldenberg: 57:28
—lemme just clarify that. What happens is that—if we want to keep using the war metaphor, which I hate—but there are different fronts that have opened, or facets or dimensions or aspects of the debate. There's the traditional one. I mean, years ago when Jeanne Chall was writing Learning to Read: The Great Debate, when I was in kindergarten— <laugh>
Susan Lambert: 57:57
I wasn't born yet. <laugh>
Claude Goldenberg: 57:58
You weren't born.
Susan Lambert: 58:00
Claude Goldenberg: 58:00
And you were on the horizon. It was whole-word versus phonics. Whole-word versus phonics. In subsequent years, whole-word transformed into whole-language, which is more than just whole-word, in all fairness. People still think about whole-word versus phonics. Whole-word is in the past. Then it became whole-language, right? Whole-language versus phonics. And then when whole-language got a suspect name that then transformed into balanced literacy. Or three-cueing. Or literature-based reading. That was the nomenclature. Again, there was a lot of old wine in new bottles going on. But it was always that other thing that is not-phonics versus phonics. So that's been a traditional line of demarcation, shall we say. Now, since then, other players and interests and advocates— I don't mean to disparage them by any means. There's the parents of dyslexic kids. They have become very active because it's now become clear that there are tools for identifying kids with potential reading difficulties. And Joe Torgesen wrote another really important article, like 1998, we're talking about a quarter century ago! Something like "Catch Them Before They Fail," or "Don't Wait Until They Fail." And the special-ed system in our country is really broken, because you gotta fail before you're eligible for additional help. Whereas in reality, those early signs of potential problems exist earlier, when kids come into kindergarten. Now, we've also gone to extremes, and there's legislation that says "screen using nonsense words," which itself is nonsense. So we keep bouncing back and forth between ridiculous extremes, but let's just leave it at this: That we have means of identifying kids with potential reading difficulties, and really, you can prevent dyslexia to a large extent. And parents of dyslexic kids, whose kids have not had their needs met, they realized that early on—maybe not as early as kindergarten, because they weren't screened—say, you know, we gotta do something about this! We've gotta catch 'em before they fail, because the price of is just too high! So they've come down foursquare on the side of Science of Reading. Sometimes not with as precise an understanding as we might like. But they've become an advocacy and an interest group. And the third group that I know about are the ones that you brought up, the people—and I include myself in the category—of people who worry about English learners. I mean, that's why I got into this whole thing, however long ago. Forty, 50 years ago. Not 50. That's too long. I'm not that old. <laugh>
Susan Lambert: 1:00:51
Claude Goldenberg: 1:00:51
But you have to be worried about English learners. We have different labels for them. But again, the issues and the challenges that they face and their teachers face have largely remained the same. And what's worse is that the debate over bilingual education, up until the early 2000s, basically obscured any other research, advocacy issues, identifying the needs of English language learners. Now, just to be clear, I'm a big fan of bilingual education. I'd be glad to come and talk about it sometime if you'd like. But I don't wanna get off track. But just suffice to say that the bilingual education debate, dominated discussion, discourse, and research around English language learners. Very recently, we have realized that there's more to their school success than bilingual education. Bilingual education can make a contribution. But there are much more challenges, many more challenges, in addition to that. So now the English language learner community, being concerned about a repeat of Reading First and how Reading First, according to their narrative, was an abject failure, say, "Uh-uh, we're not gonna stand by and let this happen again." And you got all this reading science with people very excited, but it's one-size-fits-all. Our kids have no place in it. Plus the fact that they're not learning to read in their own language, what are you gonna do about that? Reading science has nothing to say about that. Untrue. And reading science has nothing to say about bilingual education that we're interested in. Well, too bad, but it does have something to say about bilingual education, if you just listen and pay attention! So there's lots of Science of Reading can say to all of these groups. Some privilege it more than others. Some are more skeptical than others. But I'll tell you what, here's the good news, Susan. I know you've been very patient waiting for this good news.
Susan Lambert: 1:02:45
Claude Goldenberg: 1:02:48
The good news is that there's a lot of commonality. There's a lot of common ground where people don't realize it. I have not met a single advocate for any of these sides that I sketched out that wants kids to fail, that wants kids to get screwed, that doesn't want the very best for all kids. Their own, for sure. But everyone's kid. They're all very kid-oriented. They just have very different definitions and ways of approaching that, without realizing that underneath there's a tremendous amount of agreement that we can build on as our foundation for putting in place what needs to get put in place, while we push ahead on things about which there are some legitimate disagreements, issues that need to be resolved, in practice and research. I am optimistic that there is a way forward here.
Susan Lambert: 1:03:37
Hmm. You know, it feels like—oh, there's so much more to explore here, we may have to have you on for another session—but...
Claude Goldenberg: 1:03:46
<laugh> Twist my arm.
Susan Lambert: 1:03:47
OK. I will. I promise. It feels like, first of all, we should sort of wrap this thing up because there's lots of nuggets in here, and listeners, you're gonna be listening to this one more than once. I guarantee it. With that hope and optimism that there is a way forward—and thank you for ending on that, because that makes me feel a lot better—is there, in all of the sea of stuff, whether it's Science of Reading, bilingual education, and all the sea of stuff, are there any like real nuggets or final thoughts or pieces of advice that you want to leave our listeners with?
Claude Goldenberg: 1:04:23
Yeah. I would wanna leave them with that. That there is a way forward here, but it's gonna require clear communication, accepting skepticism when skepticism is warranted, and listening. It's gonna take a lot of listening, assuming the person you're discussing or arguing with wants the same things for their kids that you want for yours. And that what we want for our kids, we have more in common than we have dividing us. There are some divisions. There are some things that need to be prioritized. I'm not saying let's sing kumbaya and our—I mean, that would be totally naive. It'd be the opposite of skepticism. It'd be sort of idealistic fantasy. It doesn't exist. But if we listen, if we communicate clearly, if we pay attention, giving people the benefit of the doubt that what they want is for all kids...then I think we can move forward. And I actually have a really good example. I think what's going on in Illinois—I've been involved in some of the conversations in passing some of their legislation, which they've sort of put on pause for a while to get more people in to discuss the various issues— they've taken seriously the lessons Reading First and have made, from what I can tell, a commitment not to go down that road again. Because our kids are too important. Learning to read is too important. You can't have another bulldozing attempt to force people to toe the line and step in line and command and control and "this is what you will do"—we just can't afford to do that. And I see the beginning glimmerings of that sort of approach in Illinois. And my most fervent wish would be A, for that to be successful, obviously, and B, for it to spread around the country. That's what I would wish for.
Susan Lambert: 1:06:21
I love that. It's a great place to close. And I'm just going to do that rallying cry in just my own way that I communicate: It's really about the kids. And let's put our adult stuff aside and come together for the sake of the kids in our country. And just support them with what they need. Claude, it's been fun. Wow.
Claude Goldenberg: 1:06:45
Thanks, Susan. It is my pleasure. Thank you so much. You're a terrific interviewer.
Susan Lambert: 1:06:49
Well, thanks so much for joining us, and thanks for the work that you've done and the work that you continue to do. We really do appreciate that.
Claude Goldenberg: 1:06:55
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Susan Lambert: 1:06:59
Thanks for listening, and keep your feedback coming. Want to learn more? Be sure to stay connected by subscribing to your favorite podcast app and join our Facebook discussion group, Science of Reading: The Community.