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Remedial Reading for Teens

July 27, 2002

I read with great interest "Teens Get a Second Chance at Literacy" (July 21), on the "Language!" program being used in the Los Angeles Unified School District. I used the program this past year with sixth-graders who were two or more years below grade level in reading at the school where I teach in La Mirada. I am an ardent supporter of the program. Students reading at the second- or third-grade level in high school have lots of holes in their literacy education and do need to go back to the beginning to fill them in.

Several of my students and their parents were reticent about reading stories and working on skills that seemed too "babyish" for sixth-graders, so I am sure in high school the reticence is even stronger. However, nothing is more important than getting students to read at the appropriate level. Doing nothing and allowing students to continue to be unable to read "Romeo and Juliet" and other great works of literature when they graduate would be a real tragedy.

Linda Summers

Brea

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James McPartland of Johns Hopkins University seems to think that "almost every child of [high-school] age can sound out words." Unfortunately, he is mistaken. Time and time again, in my ninth-grade classes at Jefferson High School, I have watched students struggle with texts and give up in frustration.

Students who come to high school with a first- to third-grade reading level almost always lack basic decoding skills, especially if they are asked to attack a sentence or word list at a fluent-reader rate of speed. They need extra help and practice to be able to attack "real reading in real books." The "Language!" program gives them the practice to build those skills. Students are able to practice independent reading, at their level, using a program called Accelerated Reader. In addition, teachers read "real books" out loud to model fluency and then discuss the literary elements of those books with their students, thereby practicing critical thinking skills.

"Language!" is not a phonics program, though it does have elements of phonemic awareness. It addresses grammar, language mechanics, semantic relationships, vocabulary development, morphology, syntax, sentence structure, composition and critical thinking skills. Properly taught, it can make a huge difference for students.

Glenna M. Dumey

National Board Certified

Teacher, Jefferson High School

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The LAUSD's decision to pump $16 million into phonics for middle and high school students ignores one of the district's major problems: poor libraries. Districts and states that have more books per student in the school library have higher reading scores, even when other factors, such as poverty, are taken into consideration. The average school library in the U.S. has 18 books per child. California is last among states with 12 books per child. The LAUSD has a dismal six books per child.

For the U.S. as a whole, there is one school librarian for every 900 students. California is last in the U.S., with less than one school librarian for every 5,000 students. The LAUSD does not fund a librarian in any of its elementary schools' libraries.

Including some phonics in a basic reading program is a good idea. It is one way of making texts more comprehensible. However, the problem readers in the new program have already had phonics instruction. Remedial readers need lots of interesting and comprehensible reading material. Because California has one of the worst public library systems in the country, and because so many poor readers are children of poverty, this reading material is not easily available outside of school. Improved school libraries are the only chance these children have.

Stephen Krashen

Professor Emeritus

School of Education, USC

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