By Reading Horizons Reading Specialist, Stacy Hurst
In the world of psychology there is a phenomenon called “The Illusion of Explanatory Depth.” In their article on the phenomenon, Rozenblit and Keil (2002) explain that, “People feel they understand complex phenomena with far greater precision, coherence, and depth than they really do; they are subject to an illusion – an illusion of explanatory depth.” Basically, people think they know more about things than they really do. For example, if you asked 100 people on the street if they know how a toaster works, many, if not most would say that they do. Most people have successfully used a toaster, after all. If you then ask them to explain exactly how a toaster works, it would quickly become apparent to both of you that they really don’t know as much about a toaster as they thought they did.
Research about teacher knowledge supports this notion when it comes to reading instruction. Common perception is that being a skilled reader (i.e. knowing how to read) is qualification enough to be a skilled teacher of reading. However, being a skilled reader does not mean one has an explicit awareness of the structures of written and spoken language that is necessary to effectively teach reading. Over the years, Louisa Moats has administered many surveys to teachers with varying levels of experience in order to measure their perceived and actual knowledge of concepts that are essential for effective reading instruction (Moats, 1995; Moats & Foorman, 2003). Teachers taking the survey were asked how confident they were in their ability to teach reading then they were asked specific questions about reading. Moats found some major gaps in teacher knowledge about reading instruction and understanding of the structure of the English language.
Results from these surveys have consistently demonstrated that teachers show a lack of understanding of the following concepts related to literacy knowledge and instruction:
- the difference between speech sounds and the letters that represent the sound
- the ability to identify individual sounds (phonemes) in words
- the ability to recognize a word’s regularity or irregularity (i.e. knowledge of the letter combinations (graphemes) that represent sounds (phonemes) in common words
- identification of spelling units such as digraphs, blends, and silent-letter spellings
- syllable division and spelling patterns in syllables
- recognition of basic parts of speech
The surveys also showed that teachers had difficulty recognizing when students struggled with phonology, orthography, or syntactical elements of reading when analyzing work samples or assessments. This lack of understanding logically leads to misinformed attempts to teach reading.
Moats and other researchers have come to the convergent conclusion that most teachers are ill prepared to explicitly teach reading and writing as demonstrated by a lack of knowledge concerning the phonology and orthography of the English language. Conversely, teachers who have a strong knowledge of phonology and orthography as well as the ability to apply these concepts have students who have higher levels of literacy achievement (Cunningham, et. al., 2004; Spear-Swerling, 2004). This especially applies to teachers who are teaching in the primary grades where literacy acquisition is critical.
In this free 30-day online workshop teachers can learn how to explain the phonology and orthography of the English language. ›
Cunningham, A.E., Perry, K.E., Stanovich, K.E., & Stanovich, P.J. (2004). Disciplinary knowledge of K-3 teachers and their knowledge calibration in the domain of early literacy. Annals of Dyslexia, 54, 139-172.
Moats, L.C. (1995). The missing foundation in teacher education. American Educator (Special Issue: Learning to Read: Schooling’s First Mission), 19 (2), 9, 43-51.
Moats, L.C., & Foorman, B.R. (2003). Measuring teachers’ content knowledge of language and reading. Annals of Dyslexia, 53, 23–45.
Spear-Swerling, L. & Brucker, A.O. (2004). Preparing novice teachers to develop basic reading and spelling skills in children. Annals of Dyslexia, 54, 332-364.
Rozenblit, L. and Keil, F. (2002), The misunderstood limits of folk science: an illusion of explanatory depth. Cognitive Science, 26: 521–562. doi: 10.1207/s15516709cog2605_1