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How Much Time?

One of the most common questions I am asked is: How much time should I spend teaching the logic of English?

Unfortunately there is not a magic answer. Though I would like to challenge people to think about the question in a different way. Reading and writing are the foundation to all academics in English speaking countries. If you cannot read and write well, everything else will be difficult. If you are teaching a student younger than 7 this material, it is the key to success in all other subjects. Learning to read, and to read well, should be the focus of our Kindergarten, first, and second grade classrooms. If you have older students who are struggling with reading and/or spelling, you know that lack of mastery in these key areas is holding the student back. For students who are struggling it would be better to quit all other subjects, except math, and focus on reading and spelling for a few months. Time spent learning to read is far more important than any other subject.

Now I understand it is not practical for a fifth grader to stop doing his other homework. But I would like to challenge schools around this nation, if you have 60 percent, 50 percent, 30 percent, or even 20 percent of your students who are not testing well in basic skills like reading and spelling, it is far more important to teach these student to read than anything else. Devoting ninety minutes or more per day to teaching reading, spelling, grammar, and writing is ideal. These subjects are all related and should be taught in a manner that connects the relationships to reading and writing. If your students cannot read their standardized tests well, they will not test well in science or history either. Once students master these foundational skills, there will be plenty of time to teach them the other subjects. In addition, they will become much more independent learners.

It is very important to practice phonograms, spelling words, and writing daily. One of the biggest reasons children fail, after not being taught how English really works, is not practicing consistently. When a student learns a concept one day, then does not practice it for the next two, three, or more days, they forget. This is natural. Learning is the process of forgetting and relearning until the material is mastered. Only subjects that are used daily are retained long-term. This is why, though I took organic chemistry in college, I cannot tell you how chemical reactions work. I am not a chemist, therefore I have forgotten material. If I had continued to use organic chemistry it would be different. The foundational components of reading should be mastered in such a manner that they are never forgotten. They will be used everytime the student reads and writes for the rest of their lives. The only way to do this is daily practice.

Once students read and spell well they will be free to focus on other subjects and have the basic skills needed to master them. Until then, the most important subject is reading/spelling.