An Interview With Russ Whitehurst
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Experiment with writing...
It's very important to give children opportunities to experiment with writing materials. Learning to write is a complicated
process. It is as much a motor skill as it is an intellectual skill. And we've seen children exiting Head Start who don't
yet have enough experience to be able to hold a crayon and draw with it. And so children without that experience are certainly
going to be in terrific problems when they hit kindergarten and first grade and are actually asked to write for the first time.
It's also the case that writing experience gives a child an opportunity through his or her own motor actions to start to understand the relationship between letters and print. And so I think it's extremely important to provide opportunities for children to write long before the writing has any conventional meaning to it.
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The most important task of early schooling...
Learning to read is one of the most important tasks, perhaps the most important task, of early schooling. Children who fail to learn
to read, and fail to learn to read early, are at substantial risk of later academic failure. They will fail both in reading
and in all the other subjects that depend on reading. And we know that children who are very slow to develop reading skills
at the end of first grade are at substantial risk of being failures at reading at the end of fourth grade.
So, it's an important task.
We know for example, that many states are now looking at the fourth-grade reading
performance scores in terms of predicting how much prison space they are going to need 10 or 12 years later. So it is the
most important early academic task. It's important the children succeed at it, and it's clear that children who are in
trouble, who don't have the skills necessary for success early on, are at substantial risk of continued failure in that
arena and other academic subjects, as well.
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