Before I read it I thought that what I needed to learn, if I was going to be any use to these people at all (these non-readers) was a knowledge of subjects like phonics or the rules of spelling and to then present these people with carefully selected texts that progressively became more difficult in predictably incremental steps. Then I read Reading and decided that all I needed was my own knowledge of how texts work gained from my being a reader and to find a way to help students discover what they wanted to know about enough, what they were interested enough in, so that showing them books on those subjects would help them become readers. It was a revelation and proved quite effective with the students I helped learn to read. After reading Smith years ago I found myself a convert the view explained in that book is developed and expanded here in his beautifully clear and simple prose. Frank Smith is someone dedicated to the idea that learning is only possible on the basis that the learner is not confused by what is being taught as such his works are the living embodiment of clarity of exposition. The best of this book is where Smith explains how children learn to speak. The Official learning theory asserts that learning is best achieved when it is based on the scientific method. The Official theory is obsessed with measurement because if you havent learnt part one there is no way you can go on to part two. Frank Smiths point is that this meaningless way of teaching suffers from the fact that children arent all that good at learning from meaninglessness. If you were into conspiracy theories it would be hard to find a more effective way to disable learners than this Official method. Smith undermines the theoretical basis of this Official view of learning by pointing out that much of it is based on experiments in which people are literally forced to learn nonsense. But if you force people to learn things that are meaningless to them then you can show scientific relationships between the amount of effort expended and the learning achieved. As soon as what students are being taught is meaningful and engaging then students learn at rates that simply couldnt be accounted for by the official view. But no, that would mean removing how we measure learning and science needs a way to measure. But people dont like to learn things that are meaningless, and so teaching ends up being a way to force people to do things they would never choose to do of their own free will. That is, stop teaching meaninglessness and find ways to show students the meaning behind what they are learning. It is hard to imagine that people might think that learning would be better if it was also meaningless so even if you do think we need to learn the basics first, surely those basics can be learnt in a way that is also meaningful. We don't really need to teach by rote to learn, in fact, rote learning is often the best way to ensure no learning takes place at all.
More, I want every teacher to read this book. Kids learn when and only when they are interested. The good news is, as Smith points out (and supports), kids are always interested and thus always learning.
This book looks into what led to this change in education, and what we can do to get back to the old ways. It left me wanting to figure out what a curriculum would look like and just how much fun it would be to learn with an excited group of learners in this way.
Smith points out how schools perpetuate and control the official theory of learning by separating learning from living and making learning work; whereas, the classic view, which does not need school, celebrates learning and recognizes it as something we are constantly doing, something we can shape and be aware of, and something that is enjoyable.
A student wanting to learn a particular skill would come under the watchful eye of a mentor, who would teach them all they know about a certain skill. "All learning pivots on who we think we are, and who we see ourselves s capable of becoming." (11) Of particular notice, chapter six describes how schools evolved over time. "The larger the class, the more important it is that students can interact with each other, engage in absorbing and collaborative activities--and take the strain off the teacher." (79). Mr. Smith spends a lot of time evaluating the official theory and how it is a travesty to our eduction system. The bottom line is that teachers need to be liberated to do what is interesting and engaging to students.
Not a fan of the use of technology in education, Frank Smith wouldn't approve of my chosen new field in online instructional design.
Smith and Goodman are singled out as originators of the modern psycholinguistic approach to reading instruction.