Retired educator doesn’t want ‘Johnny’ left behindAlong with many others persons of his former profession, retired teacher/principal/educational consultant Tony Pedriana of River Falls believes that from kindergarten through third grade children learn to read.
By: Vera Roy-Stoeberl, River Falls Journal
Along with many others persons of his former profession, retired teacher/principal/educational consultant Tony Pedriana of River Falls believes that from kindergarten through third grade children learn to read. And after those first four years, children read to learn.
However, Pedriana has an issue with the reading programs and methods educators have used during those same first four years, more specifically with children from underprivileged areas or the non-affluent pockets of population found largely in inner-cities throughout the nation. That’s why Pedriana has written a book, “Leaving Johnny Behind: Overcoming Barriers to Literacy and Reclaiming At-Risk Readers,” in part to call attention to “the discrepancies between reading ideology and reading science.”
With two-thirds of American children unable to demonstrate reading level proficiency, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Pedriana has made it his mission “to increase unity of purpose among reading practitioners” some of whom Pedriana says are more interested in the glitz and glitter of education — like the latest and greatest in entertaining technological gizmos or the newest cutting-edge teaching psychology or philosophy.
“I find it unconscionable when children don’t learn to read,” said Pedriana.
He says those children’s chances of dropping out of school are greater; adjustment to normal classroom settings is more difficult; a post high school education is most times not even given a thought; and chances of incarceration are statistically much higher.
“Reading failure is a public health crisis,” Pedriana says. “It has a life-long affect, and although it’s not (truly) an illness, it never-the-less forever affects a person’s life.”
The back cover of his recently published effort explains more about Pedriana’s mission, which has caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D. C.
“The 1955 ground-breaking report “Why Johnny Can’t Read” spawned a massive research effort designed to end the reading wars and bring legitimacy and coherence to classroom practice.
“Scientific evidence replicated over five decades has gone largely unheeded.
“No one suffers more from this failure than the poor and disenfranchised children of our inner cities — the children at greatest risk for reading failure.
“‘Leaving Johnny Behind’ shows how: We can teach every child to read at grade level;…we can support, rather than undermine, teacher efforts.”
Pedriana finds it unfortunate that scientific “research does not guide reading instruction” and that sometimes children are taught to read “based on an adult’s perception of a teaching method rather than actual kids’ achievements.”
Pedriana was born and raised in Milwaukee. After completing a teaching degree, he was hired as a high school English teacher, taught fifth and sixth graders, became the principal of an elementary school and in the later years of his career took a job mentoring school principals.
The mentoring position Pedriana described as “a dream job,” but it was not a difficult decision to move to River Falls in 2005, to be closer to his daughter and her family.
During his lengthy teaching career, Pedriana taught in what he described as the “economically depressed area” of Milwaukee. Most times he was frustrated knowing there were some children who entered the school system never having been introduced to even minor educational skills. Those were the children whose pre-kindergarten home life might not have included books, whose parents either lacked nurturing skills or perhaps had low reading proficiencies themselves.
At one point late in his career, Pedriana was introduced to a reading program that had been scientifically researched and produced exceptional results when implemented. He let one of his second grade teachers try it as a pilot program.
All of the 22 youngsters in that class were classified with below average level reading capabilities when they began. Results following the pilot program’s completion found 21 of the 22 students tested at normal average level skills.
The pilot program dealt with language deficits, especially those who entered school with virtually no reading proficiency, but in many educational circles considered a poor choice. Using a drilling form of instruction, like the kind the pilot program employed, was not considered “conventional.” Drilling, repeating techniques were thought of as taboo. It is better to “encourage” students to learn.
Pedriana firmly believes that children who enter school lacking alphabetic principles need a different form of reading instruction compared to those who don’t.
He’s also disappointed about his training as an educator. In his early years, he depended on others more educated, the persons in place to guide the newest teachers, to offer as much information as possible. He did not realize that those persons did not include much of the research that had been done to that point.
Pedriana was bombarded with the newest approaches, the latest cutting-edge teaching techniques to try, not aware that research was being ignored as programs were developed and used in the classroom.
“Research is what I needed the most,” he says. According to Pedriana, research and statistical information is being ignored still, as new teaching programs are developed for the sake of creating something “different.”
Pedriana says he’s not into publishing his book for personal profit.
“I only care that kids learn to read,” he says.
He plans to donate all proceeds from the sales of his book to “Reach Out And Read,” a pediatric organization that promotes reading as a regular part of pediatric care. Pedriana explained that the Reach Out And Read Foundation uses contributions to promote reading by buying books for low income and needy children.
Pedriana is impressed with the work that Reach Out And Read has done, and hopes to start a local chapter of the foundation.
Pedriana’s book will soon be available on Amazon.com, at Ingram Books and Barnes and Noble book stores. Persons interested in buying a copy can call 426-7363 to place an order. Those who go online to www.leavingjohnnybehind.com and purchase a book will receive a discount and personally autographed copy.