Is the learning of reading a magical thing?


A Contemplative Baboon moment, ‘I learnt to read better during secondary school. However, I wonder if I would have been a better reader, if someone had actually taught me?’

Is the learning of reading a magical thing in secondary school? Does it happen when we are not looking? I recently did a study ( – abstract available here) – a discourse analysis of 100 lessons – 5000 minutes of the lives of some students. Modes of discourse (reading, writing, speaking, listening & acting) were identified. I would like to make you guess what percentage of all of that classroom discourse was reading based.

…waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting,waiting, waiting…

OK, that’s enough time. It was just 4% of all discourse – at least in my sample.  There were many things in the results that didn’t surprise me, but this did. To make matters more distressing, a high percentage of this discourse was teacher-centered. I don’t even want to add another thorn, yet I must. No explicit teaching of reading was identified. This is 100 50-minute classes. That is quite a lot. At least I thought so when I had to analyze it.

This brings me back to my question – is the learning of reading a magical thing? Students get better at reading, yet we don’t explicitly teach it.  I have kept my eyes open for the elusive explicit-teaching of reading in the secondary, but it continues to confound me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that students learning to read better is miraculous. Perhaps it is just some type of inexplicable magic. It just doesn’t seem to happen when we are looking.