Do you need to know the physics of opposing forces and motion in order to ride a bike?
No — you have to ride a bike to learn how to ride a bike.
Do you need to understand buoyancy and thrust in order to learn how to swim?
No — you have to get in the water to learn how to swim.
Do you need to know a bunch of rules in order to learn to read?
Hmmm. . . .
Reading Is a Skill
Author Mortimer Adler, in The Paideia Proposal, talks about three types of learning. The most advanced type is discussion, the ability to understand concepts and form ideas. This is far removed from teaching a child to read, but I wanted to mention it, because it’s super annoying when someone says, “There’s three types of learning, but I’m only going to tell you about two.” Argh! Tell me the third!
The two other types of learning are knowledge and skills, and these are the two that really affect reading.
This is really cool, to think about the differences between these two types of learning.
Knowledge is a process of fact acquisition. In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The 50 states, along with capitals. The multiplication tables. The letter sounds.
By comparison, skills are habits or abilities — like riding a bike or swimming. Once children know the multiplication tables, can they use that knowledge to solve problems? That’s a skill.
You have to do a skill to learn to do a skill, if that makes sense. You have to try to ride a bike to learn how to ride a bike.
So math needs both knowledge and skills.
What about reading?
Students definitely need to know the sounds that the letters make. The knowledge of that “sound-to-letter correspondence” is a non-negotiable in learning to read.
But after that — reading is a skill.
Isn’t This a Chicken-or-the-Egg Problem?
Here’s a problem, though — how can you read if you can’t yet read? Reading isn’t really that much like swimming . . . is it?
A good swim teacher will put students in the water and break down swimming into separate skills: floating, kicking, breathing, arm motions. Students who can float and kick are actually swimming, even though they have more to learn.
Most children learn to ride a bike in a few stages, too: maybe they use training wheels for a bit, to figure out pedaling and rudimentary balancing. They are still enjoying the process of self-propulsion, even though they have more to learn.
This is how the Happy Cheetah Reading System works. The entire process starts with simple tasks, and students gradually add additional skills.
But the awesome thing is that students are practicing reading from the very beginning. Like the swimmer in the pool, Happy Cheetah students are in books, and working on specific skills.
After students can swim, they can learn all they want about buoyancy and thrust . . or not! This head knowledge has nothing to do with the act of swimming.
After children can ride a bike, they can learn all they want about opposing forces and motion . . . or not! This head knowledge has nothing to do with the act of riding a bike.
After students can read, they are welcome to learn about syllable division rules and spelling rules — both of which are really more like guidelines — or not! This head knowledge has nothing to do with the act of reading. Or, surprisingly, spelling.
Were you able to read the words “hi” and “him” without understanding that one is an open syllable and one is a closed syllable? It may be gratifying intellectually, as a reader, to understand the difference, but it isn’t required for a new reader to be able to read those words.
Students don’t need to understand dozens of theories and rules.
They just need to read.