Language at the Speed of SightLanguage at the Speed of Sight by Mark Seidenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a refreshing and thought-provoking book, which covered the subject of the literacy gap thoroughly and convincingly.
The book provided in-depth analysis of the subject and current research with insights backed up by conclusions drawn from his research and that of others in the field. For the non-academic reader, which is me, it was overwhelming at times, but his occasional humor made the dry parts more readable. I trudged through the chapters on his research studies, but I must say that much of it was not understandable. I discern that what he says is backed up by scientific data and evidence and that he concurs with the conclusions others who have studied the brain and reading.
Dr. Seidenberg provides a succinct rationale for why the current system of reading instruction continues to fail many and at times he was rather blunt. His passion for teaching and compassion for students informed his perspective. It certainly answered many questions as to how this situation has come about.
What I appreciated the most was the chapter discussing the Two Cultures of Science and Education. I had been aware that the prevailing method and view seems to favor the whole-word approach to reading instruction, and to devalue phonetic methods, but I didn’t understand the arguments. The outlines and tables in chapter 11 present them succinctly. I was astonished to learn there was simply was no scientific evidence to validate whole word. As in, none, nada, zilch.
“What about Smith and Goodman’s own evidence in support of their positions? It did not exist…No need to consider the stack of relevant research findings because,…not much has changed, people still disagree as they always will, c’est la vie…The reader is expected to take him at his word because he mentions no relevant research.”
The difficulty comes from the last question in the subtitle. As to the issue of what can be done about it, that gets much more complicated. Short of overhauling the entire educational establishment in the United States, which he argues is out of touch and outdated in outlook, he suggests some demonstrations that could be tried on a smaller scale, which perhaps might then be replicated at larger scale if they were successful. Oh, and he also proposes a system of actual licensing exams that teachers would need to pass to demonstrate competency in scientifically proven instruction methods.

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