Ep. 318 ‘Reading Wars’ Panel Discussion

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Ep. 318 ‘Reading Wars’ Panel Discussion

Drew Perkins talks with Emily Hanford, Natalie Wexler, Micki Ray, and Kate Winn in this first-ever live panel discussion on the ‘Reading Wars’.

Our panelists:


*Note, this podcast panel discussion was recorded before our name change from TeachThought PD to ThoughtStretchers Education. 



  1. Sheila Keller

    Thank you! I enjoyed listening, and so appreciate everyone’s time and expertise. One comment: I found the idea of teaching “pure decoding” (i.e. redefining reading as decoding only) with no meaning instruction at all troubling. Some students will already have the words they are learning to decode in their semantic lexicon, and that advantages them. Others will need the teacher to take a few seconds to show a picture or explain the word in a sentence (as well as lots of other great strategies to teach meaning as needed). The lessons should not be meaning-based, but responsive to the oral language knowledge of the students. And of course, I 100% agree that you must teach the additional read-aloud based language comprehension/knowledge focus, with explicit vocabulary instruction, etc.., but saying that comprehension ought to be cut off from teaching decoding entirely promises to keep the (language) rich, very rich and the language gap, wide. We got into this mess because folks misunderstood the intricacies of how children learn to read, and we can only get out of it by getting that right.

  2. Allison R.

    This conversation was a great reminder for all teachers: when we know better, we must do better! As a result of the large body of scientific evidence about reading acquisition, teachers must fine tune their practices in response to new findings. We are obliged to use scientific research to guide us in using the most effective practices, while simultaneously weeding out practices that have been proven to be ineffective. Teachers are not to blame for past misconceptions about reading instruction, nor should educators be blamed by outside entities. Just as medical doctors fine tune their treatments based on new research, we must do the same in the educational field. We know more; thus, we must move forward with that knowledge to better serve our students.

  3. Heather R.

    Last year, I worked in a school that made the shift from balanced to structured literacy. Teachers participated in the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) professional learning which supported their growth as early literacy teachers. The principal participated in the Administrators’ version of LETRS and was able to see why the shift needed to happen at our school. The primary teachers adopted the University of Florida Literacy Institute (UFLI) Foundations instructional resource to address the word recognition part of Scarborough’s Rope and build foundational skills necessary to support students as they move from learning to read to reading to learn in the intermediate grades. The energy behind the change was felt throughout the building as teachers, kindergarten through fifth grade, chose to participate in school level professional learning on how the brain learns to read. The school literacy committee decided to pilot a high quality instructional resource to address language comprehension and provide students with sufficient background knowledge to become skilled readers. I don’t know that any of this would have happened without teachers having access to knowledge on how to best support their students. Knowledge is power and aids in making systemic change.

  4. Lacy L.

    I’m thankful for the attention that several panelists bring to the relationship between literacy and equity. The National Equity Project explains that an important part of educational equity is “removing the predictability of success or failures that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor.” When schools aren’t explicitly teaching foundational skills like phonemic awareness and phonics, families with more resources will be able to get outside help for their struggling reader, while more disadvantaged families may not have that option. When it comes to comprehension, we know that background knowledge has a profound impact on whether students fully understand what they read. Since students come to school with varied experiences, vocabulary and background knowledge, systematically building knowledge for everyone within the classroom is vital for preparing ALL students to comprehend complex text that they will encounter as they move through their education and beyond.

  5. Tiffany L.

    I am hopeful that every administrator, educator, and stakeholder will hear this message and join in similar conversations about literacy and instruction. We have more research and knowledge about how the brain learns to read than ever before. Reading is the foundation for all learning, and it is essential for success in every classroom. As educators, it’s our professional responsibility to acknowledge and embrace what we’ve learned from the research, take measures to review and refine instructional practice, and better prepare learners for the future. Structured literacy is a highly engaging approach to teaching reading which builds necessary skills and fuels students’ reading efficacy. We must work together toward our most fundamental goal of education, ensuring that all students are truly literate.


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