Six Literacy Myths We Hear Too Often

Myth: Kids can read the words out loud and they can recall what they just read on a literal level. Therefore, they can read.

Reality: Poor readers are often good word callers. That’s how their reading issues slip by. Recall is not true comprehension. Students need to explain the meaning and importance to what they have just read and connect new ideas to previous information before we can call it comprehension.

Myth: The kids are smart enough, but they don’t put out the effort necessary to be successful in class and on tests.

Reality: The kids are smart enough, but they lack the systematic thinking routines, and they have large gaps in their schema. They often don’t know how to use background knowledge to build deeper understanding of what they read. They do not effectively use working memory to build comprehension. They often read through difficult words or confusing parts of the text rather than applying strategies to fix their comprehension.

Myth: Teaching test-taking strategies is more important than teaching comprehension strategies.

Reality: Kids make mistakes and poor choices on standardized tests because they lack word knowledge, word attack skills and background knowledge about the topics. They can’t deduce an answer without understanding what each answer choice means. 

Myth:  Students don’t learn anything from reading easy books.

Reality: When students read texts that they can read with 99 or 100 percent accuracy, they improve their stamina and fluency.

Myth: Teaching literary elements is the same as teaching comprehension.

Reality: Comprehension requires a complex interaction of thinking strategies and routines. Working on isolated literary elements won’t help students understand the text. In fact, this approach will frustrate many readers. 

Myth: Traditional skill are the what the kids need.

Reality: Traditional skills like cause and effect and sequence of events are actually post-reading tasks. They are a way of demonstrating comprehension and depend on the student actually understanding the text they have read. Telling students to find the main idea isn’t the same as teaching students how to find the main idea. Students need to learn how to think while they read before we work on using information after they read.

Myth: Teaching to the Common Core State Standards will make kids better readers.

Reality: The standards largely describe what students should be able to do with information they have read. They don’t address how we should teach students to understand they reading.



  1. Myth: Teaching literary elements is the same as teaching comprehension.
    I think this is a great point. I am currently teaching the CCSS and often wonder if I am doing so effectively. I’ve noticed many resources try to break concepts like close reading into steps in a process while I tend to push students to take a more analytical approach. I have a particularly tough group this year and I’m struggling to get them engaged at the level demanded by the core. Could you recommend any good planning resources or examples of exemplar lessons? (4th grade)

    • Well, I would certainly begin with the books Notice and Note and When Kids Can’t Read, both Kylene Beers, if you haven’t read them. You will learn a system for close reading called signposts. But before we get there, let’s find out if your fourth graders are really ready for close reading. What do you know about their reading levels? What do you know about how they handle confusion? Take some very small chunks of texts, no more than a paragraph or two. Make them rigorous, but not too difficult. Focus on close reading for vocabulary and have them mark their confusion (I use the term “Brain Fails” for places the text just doesn’t make sense.) You’ll nee to do this with some small group and one-on-one conferences. I find in those tough groups, reading comprehension is often a problem. They will engage in a variety of behaviors to avoid revealing their weakness. They will pretend or fake read, they will create distractions and disruptions or they will just disengage from reading altogether. Here’s another thought: you will accomplish more toward “achieving the core” by being intense and intentional about raising the reading level of every student then you will through close reading, rigorous low-interest texts and constructing arguments. Great readers and thinkers are a more than a match for any task. Let me know if I can help more.

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