FREEDOM INTERVIEW WITH BENNETTA SLAUGHTER
The Closing of the Achievement Gap
CEO, Applied Scholastics International
Slaughter: It is not understanding what you’re reading or what you’re hearing. Anyone can string some words together and anyone can learn to put sounds together and that’s phonics and phonemics*.
But what is it that you get out of those words? What is it that you come away with in terms of understanding? That is what Study Technology is about: building text comprehension; having strategies for actually doing something about what you don’t comprehend; understanding when you do comprehend and what you can do with that information.
Freedom: You talk of building text comprehension. What does that mean and how do you do it?
Slaughter: It means that students have to have skills for monitoring their own comprehension. They have to be aware of what they do understand, to identify what they don’t, and to have appropriate fix-up strategies to resolve problems in comprehension. That’s how they build on their comprehension and are able to advance their learning.
When students aren’t taught comprehension strategies, they fail. Applied Scholastics equips students with direct and specific strategies that allow them to not only comprehend what they’re reading, but also to be able to assess when they do not understand — and then to self-correct.
Freedom: So this is not simply a better or faster reading program?
Slaughter: Correct. It goes beyond those fundamental skills — into really being able to acquire understanding, to comprehend subjects and subject matters in order to build upon a core or base knowledge and, from there, into more and more advanced learning.
Freedom: With respect to the “No Child Left Behind” education model, how does Study Technology address the demand for school and teacher accountability?
Slaughter: Study Technology speaks to accountability both in the student and the educator. It provides students the tools by which they can comprehend, by which they can learn from what they’re reading. They can understand what they’re learning, and when they understand and comprehend their subject matter, they can pass tests. This then speaks to the accountability that is being demanded of educators from the educational system.
Freedom: And with respect to closing the achievement gap — a linchpin of “No Child Left Behind” programs?
Slaughter: The key is early learning. In early learning environments, there may or may not be adequate environments that lend themselves to successful pre-school or pre-formal education learning.
Consequently many children enter an education environment where no one is ever taught how to learn, how you build skills for comprehension. So there are the problems of learning to read and then, beyond that, reading to learn. And those are what create such a horrible achievement gap.
Study Technology directly assists teachers in such a way that, no matter what they’re teaching, they can raise student comprehension.
But more basic than that, it is about learning how to learn, and being able to comprehend what you are reading so that you are reading to learn.
Freedom: How does Study Technology measure up to scientific standards for text comprehension instruction?
Slaughter: It’s an extremely effective method because a student does increase comprehension skills. He increases his vocabulary. He increases his text comprehension, and his ability to actually utilize and apply what he has learned.
Therefore, while we are not a reading program, we do use reading tests to be able to point to our successes and to increase in capability. But that’s the only reason. It’s an excellent measure because it is the fundamental skill that must be developed.
Key is an understanding of words that students previously have only regurgitated as things that they’ve heard — often with little or no true understanding of what they’re saying or what is being said to them.
We address this with the only true answers to really being able to take the skill of reading and expanding it to the skill of reading to learn further and apply. This is particularly important for a child’s progress through those critical years of the 4th through 8th grades, where you’ve really got to be able to consistently add on and on and on to your text comprehension.
That is the only way to be able to grasp the subjects under instruction so the student truly understands them and can apply that knowledge to his or her life goals.
* The branch of linguistics involved in the classification and analysis of the phonemes [basic speech sounds] of a language. — Encarta College Dictionary, 2001.