The era of test-based accountability has brought about an intense focus on reading and math instruction that sometimes leaves other subjects behind. The directors of the Knowledge Matters Campaign say this is a big mistake if we truly want to improve children’s reading ability.
It seems obvious to suggest that if you want to get better at something, you should spend more time practicing it. But there’s a paradox at the heart of our efforts to raise reading achievement: When elementary schools take time away from science, social studies, and the arts to dramatically increase time on reading instruction, they are likely to slow children’s growth in reading comprehension. This slowing won’t be apparent right away; it might not be apparent in the elementary grades at all. But in later grades—when students are expected to read historical speeches or science textbooks or biographies of artists—they will struggle.
The authors cite studies that have found that in grades K–3, only 19 minutes per day are spent on science and only 16 minutes are devoted to social studies.
Reading comprehension is not a “skill” like riding a bike or throwing a ball. A child does not become a strong reader by learning to sound out words and practicing reading alone (though these are important). Reading comprehension—the ability to make meaning from text—is largely a reflection of a child’s overall education. Good readers tend to know at least a little about a broad range of things. The best way to build a strong reader is with high-quality instruction in science, social studies, and the arts—as well as in reading.