The Readers’ Writers: Educator, author and professor Siegfried Engelmann
“Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” is the current No. 2 bestselling nonfiction book on Amazon.com. The book was published in 1986. No. That’s not a typo. 1986. My immediate question was ‘why’ this book continues to sell more than any other written on the same or similar subject. The authors are Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox and Elaine Bruner.
Hundreds of reviews from parents point to one basic attribute: simplicity. In other words, the book is easy not just to use, but to understand the techniques and their importance. Beneath the surface is a clear cut guide to implementation and use. All a parent has to do is follow the steps in order to reap the benefits. Simple. The research and methodology utilized to create this book – not so simple by any stretch of the imagination.
In the 1960s, Professor Engelmann and the late Wesley C. Becker developed Direct Instruction, an instructional method focused on systematic curriculum design and skillful implementation of prescribed behavioral script. Basically, that means teaching students from a prepared lesson plan the instructor follows to the letter. Needless to say, but I will anyway, much debate arose and continues today. What cannot be debated is the worldwide use (including by some home schoolers) of Direct Instruction and the program’s effectiveness to students with learning difficulties (cite: Marchand-Martella, & Martella (2002) An Overview and Research Summary of Peer-Delivered Corrective Reading. The Behavior Analyst Today, 3 (2), 214 -235).
Over the years Professor Engelmann has either written or co-authored many books on education, including “Preventing Failure in the Primary Grades,” “War Against the Schools’ Academic Child Abuse,” “Give Your Child a Superior Mind,” and the release on Dec 17, 2012 of “Inferred Functions of Performance and Learning” co-authored by Donald Steely.
What is blatantly clear is Professor Engelmann’s devotion and passion for educating those destined to inherit the world we leave them. He also happens to be a very nice man who hosts an annual Zignic – a gathering loaded with food and fellowship.
Q. Professor Engelmann, were you surprised by the long-term parental interest in “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons”?
A. Confused more than surprised. A school version of the same sequence that appears in “Teach Your Child” has been on the educational market since 1968.
In contrast to “Teach Your Child” — which has 700 positive reviews on Amazon — the school version (Reading Mastery) is not popular, even though it has more experimental evidence of effectiveness than all the other reading programs combined.
Q. What do you believe is the greatest hindrance to verbal communication in our society?
A. The limitation of choices. Issues are shaped by the press and groups that have an interest in conveying particular messages and prejudices. It’s not practical for one to address many central issues because discussions don’t reveal the technical nature of the issues. Discussions of the schools, for instance, rarely identify differences between what the schools are actually doing compared to the rhetoric about what they doing. This perspective makes it very hard to solve problems that are quite soluble.
Q. There is a current tendency to place all blame for a child’s lack of education and/or classroom discipline on the shoulders of the teachers, and none in the home. How do we change that, or can we?
A. Actually, blame for failure almost always is directed to the children. In the 1980s, Galen Alessi analyzed hundreds of referrals of children for being placed in special classes. He did not find one referral based on poor instruction or poor teaching. The number one cause identified by the school psychologists was the student; number two were the parents and the home. In fact, I’ve never seen a child who performed in the normal range of intelligence and could not be taught to read in a timely manner, but the same priorities that Alessi described are with us today. Alessi, G (1988). Diagnosis diagnosed: A systemic reaction. Professional school Psychology, 3, 145-151.
Q. Due to the number of books you have written on education, which one would you recommend a parent read first?
A. The book “Teaching Needy Kids In Our Backward System” provides illustrations and evidence about why school districts are failing and how they would have to change to meet performance standards that are achievable. I think the book presents vignettes that truly characterize why the schools are backward and will continue to be backward until schools become accountable for egregious student failure.
Q. Any parting comments for those not familiar with your work or books?
A. Nobody is to blame for the pathetic state of current instruction, but we have to start looking at what is possible within the constraints of school budgets and draw up rules and regulations that assure schools are doing what they need to do to guarantee teacher success, and therefore student success. We can’t continue to accept students in middle school not being able to perform basic math operations or not being able to read simple texts accurately. See my website Zigsite.com for videos and articles that suggest what can be done.
DA Kentner is the author of the award-winning novel “Whistle Pass.” http://whistlepass.blogspot.com/