Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The importance of domain knowledge

A rich vocabulary and fluency are generally recognized as essential elements required for reading comprehension. Another key element -- domain knowledge -- is getting short shrift under the dominant anti-knowledge ed credo known as progressive/constructivist education. The focus is on fiction and abstract comprehension strategies when endless time is not spent on often trivial hands-on activities and projects.

Let's hope this forthcoming book by E. D. Hirsch will help curtail the prevailing worst practices.

New Book on Reading by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., to Be Called The Knowledge Deficit

Press Release

Charlottesville, VA August 25, 2005 —This March, Houghton Mifflin will publish a new book by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., that will answer questions plaguing educators all across the country. Why do American children fail to perform as well as children in other industrialized countries? Why, after fourth grade, do students experience a slump in reading comprehension? Why, despite federal government spending of a billion dollars a year on the Reading First program, do so many schools fail to meet the goals established by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)?

The book, entitled The Knowledge Deficit, answers these questions not by looking at funding or legislation, but by looking at what children are actually being taught. This, says Hirsch, is where the problem lies. Our children are not learning how to read because they are subjected to a watered-down curriculum that fails to build the background knowledge essential to reading comprehension. Many schools excel at teaching the mechanics of reading, at giving kids the decoding skills they need to make out individual words. However, by fourth grade, students’ deficit in background knowledge trips them up. A steady diet of fictional stories and instruction in abstract thinking skills leaves students starved for facts ─ facts about history, geography, science, literature, mathematics, music, and art. Because of their knowledge deficit, students cannot comprehend the texts they are asked to read in fourth grade and beyond.

Hirsch not only diagnoses the problem with reading in America and explains why students are failing to make adequate yearly progress under NCLB, he also shows how these problems can be corrected. This book builds upon decades of research into school curricula that Hirsch has conducted since his best-selling Cultural Literacy captured the American imagination in the 1980s. The new book is likely to be a bombshell, blasting to smithereens the received ideas of the education school thoughtworld that determine what and how kids are being taught in America today.

Drawing on extensive scholarship and vast knowledge of cognitive psychology, as well as on recent practical experience in school reform, Hirsch points the way out of our current morass, showing educators, policy makers, and parents how we can overcome the achievement gap that leaves poor students, who are disproportionately black and Hispanic, behind. Only by doing this, says Hirsch, can we fulfill the democratic imperative that first drove the creation of America’s public schools.


Author said...

I hope the book stresses the importance of a high level of teacher-student interaction for cognitive development - especially where students come from non-intellectual environments.

Catherine Johnson, author ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION said...

One thing that intrigues me is that boys apparently do not especially like to read fiction.

I first read about this in the TIMES, and it's certainly true of Christopher.

So....are boys reading more nonfiction on their own?

Or are they reading even less than girls, because we keep buying them novels?

I bought Christopher zillions of novels, most of which he had less than zero interest in, and I didn't manage to figure out the problem.

After I read the TIMES article I realized he was gobbling up every Guinness Book of World Records he could get his hands on.

So now that's what I buy him.

Currently he's reading the new Guinness & a book of travel stories about the WWE wrestlers.

I'm sure these books will massively boost his reading fluency.

Anonymous said...

I hope this book rattles parents to demand a massive overall in education and get the social work aspect out of the schools so the teachers can do what they are suppose to do -- teach the subject matter in depth to the children.

I also hope this is a wake up call to the schools of education to require teachers have true subject matter knowledge.

This will be interesting --


Polski3 said...

"....Teach the subject matter in depth". This would be nice. But, here in California (and I am sure many teachers in other states are subjected to this), I have to teach what is mandated by our State Dept. of Ed. via their frameworks.
I am currently teaching Grade 7 History, which, according to the framework, includes the end of the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, European Middle Ages (including the history and influence of the Christian Church, Medieval life and institutions, the Crusades, the Renaissance, Reformation, Scientific Revolution, Age of Reason, Age of Discovery, Age of Revolutions), Survey of Islam and development of Islamic Empire and its Contributions, 'Medieval' African Empires and Cultures, 'Medieval' China and Japan and the major PreColumbian Native cultures of Middle and South America.

This is a ton of material to try to cover with my 175 mostly 11-13 year olds, most of whom did not study early US History in Grade 5 or Ancient History in Grade 6 (also as per State framework) because "they are not tested on social studies" while in grade school. BUT, they are tested on this material in Grade 8.

It would be great to teach some of the above in depth.....especially such personally interesting topics as the Crusades, Black Death, Vikings, Chinese Inventions and Discoveries, the Mongols and their Empire, etc. But I can't teach any of this in depth. I have to 'get through the standards'. They have to be ready for THE TEST.