The argument that children need to learn the basics of decoding before they can engage in rich content and higher order thinking incorrectly assumes a linear progression that most adversely affects disadvantaged children. The comprehension of text, which is the goal of reading, requires knowledge and critical thinking in addition to decoding skills, and both kinds of learning can and should happen in parallel.
Children from economically disadvantaged communities start school with fewer experiences and a more limited knowledge base than their more affluent peers. To reduce this knowledge gap, children need to be engaged in knowledge-building activities (Neuman, 2006) while simultaneously learning basic skills.
Expanding indicators of success
Assessments of basic skills are easy to administer reliably, even by people who may not have expertise in education. However, assessments that are easy to administer tend to be limited in what they can tell us (Afflerbach, 2018) and drive equally limiting programmatic interventions.
Expanding our indicators of success so that improvements in basic literacy skills, while necessary, are not considered sufficient, would deepen and extend education programming to enrich the learning of children and educators.