Breaking Down the Myth of “Learning to Read” and “Reading to Learn”

When I’m working with educators, I frequently hear the phrase that goes something like this, “Students in primary grades are “learning to read” and beyond that they are “reading to learn.” As often as I hear this myth, I cringe each and every time.

And here’s why.

Student ReadingHere’s what’s true: It’s true that early literacy skills focus on phonemic awareness and phonics – the nuts and bolts of reading – and typically that instruction takes place in the primary grades. And, it’s true that in about fourth grade students are both introduced and expected to comprehend increasingly difficult informational text.

Here’s the myth: I’ll attempt to unravel this deeply rooted myth. Although students are learning to read by focusing on the sound and symbol match (phonics) in primary grades (K-3), at the same time they are also reading to learn as they read books, printed material, and information online. For example, early readers eat up funny narrative series such as Junie B. Jones and informational books such as What’s Up, What’s Down?, Arctic Airlift, and Stars Beneath Your Bed.

It is true that we anticipate students beyond third grade have the fundamental reading skills in place to read for enjoyment and to learn from informational text. However, with the proliferation of information available, it is a myth to think students need no instruction beyond third grade to learn to read within disciplines such as science, math, and history. In fact, one of the shifts within the Common Core State Standards is that all teachers are teachers of reading in so far as teaching students how to read within their content area. reading studentStudents continue to need instruction in varied reading strategies in order to read poetry, instructions for science experiments, a mathematics text, and online information.

The Bottom Line


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Kimberly has been a teacher, administrator, and literacy consultant who worked in districts across the country to improve student literacy achievement. She currently serves as an Educational Specialist with Solution Tree and project manager for large-scale PLC implementations. Her new book, Blended Vocabulary: Harnessing the Power of Digital Tools and Effective Instruction, was recently released in February, 2017.