S2 E1: Behind & Beyond Sold a Story with Emily Hanford

S2 E1: Behind & Beyond Sold a Story with Emily Hanford
Reading Road Trip
S2 E1: Behind & Beyond Sold a Story with Emily Hanford

Jan 01 2024 | 00:50:14

Episode 1 January 01, 2024 00:50:14

Hosted By

IDA Ontario Kate Winn

Show Notes

Season 2 of Reading Road Trip kicks off with Emily Hanford! Join Kate Winn to get the inside scoop on Emily's reporting work on the science of reading, including the incredibly popular podcast Sold a Story. Emily unpacks her journey into reporting on literacy instruction, how Sold a Story was made, and how she responds to critics.



Show Notes:

Emily's articles and podcasts through APM Reports have shone a light on reading instruction, and have catalyzed conversations and changes to literacy instruction across the world:


Kate and Emily discuss Sold a Story, the incredibly popular podcast Emily created with Christopher Peak. If you haven't yet listened, check out the six episodes and two bonus episodes.


Kate also mentions a webinar series about structured literacy in kindergarten from Emily Moorhead, an Ontario kindergarten teacher and IDA Ontario volunteer. Take a look at the first, second and third parts of the recordings.


IDA Ontario is a registered charity, and we depend on your donations to support our programs, including Reading Road Trip. Please consider donating to support this work

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Kate Winn: Hello to all you travelers out there on the road to evidence based literacy instruction. I'm Kate Winn, classroom teacher and host of IDA Ontario's podcast Reading Road Trip. Welcome to the show. We are so excited to be bringing you the season premiere of our second season. Before we get started, we would like to acknowledge that we are recording this podcast from the traditional land of the Mississauga Anishinabe. We are grateful to live here and thank the generations of First Nations people for their care for and teachings about the earth. We also recognize the contributions of Métis, Inuit, and other Indigenous peoples in shaping our community and country. Along with this acknowledgement, and in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation, we'd like to amplify the work of an Indigenous author. And this week we are sharing the picture book Sky Dancers by Connie Ann Kirk illustrated by Christy Hale. From the publisher: John Cloud's father is a steelworker building skyscrapers in New York City, far away from their home upstate on the Mohawk reservation. When Papa is home on weekends, John Cloud stays close by his father's side, helping him with his work. Between weekends, John Cloud misses Papa and longs to visit him in the city. One day, Mama agrees to take him there. New York City turns out to be busy and noisy, but what really astonishes John Cloud is seeing Papa on a high cross beam of the Empire State Building, the tallest skyscraper in the world. John Cloud feels as if his heart will burst with pride and amazement as he watches his father dance across the sky. Set in the early 1930s and based on the history of Mohawk steelworkers, Skydancers is a warm celebration of family courage and the forces of nature. Sensitively told and stunningly illustrated, this is a story for all ages. Add this book to your home or classroom library today, and also a shout out to Catherine Shawana for sharing some great recommendations for our consideration this season. And to Goodminds, a First Nations family owned business here in Canada, where we purchased many of the titles we'll be talking about this season. And now on with the show. [00:02:17] Kate Winn: I am beyond thrilled to introduce our guest for the season two premiere of Reading Road Trip. Emily Hanford has been working in public media for three decades as a reporter, producer, editor, news director, and program host. Her work has won numerous honors, including a Dupont Columbia University award and a Casey Medal. In 2017, she won the excellence in media reporting on Education Research award from the American Educational Research association. Her groundbreaking podcast episode, Hard Words, on why children aren't being taught to read, was a winner of the inaugural Public Service award from EWA. In 2019. Emily is a member of the EWA Journalist Advisory board and a longtime mentor for EWA's New to the Beat program. She is a frequent speaker and moderator. Emily is based in the Washington, DC area and is a graduate of Amherst College. And I also want to mention, before we dig in, that I had the pleasure of being on a virtual panel with Emily about a year ago. It was Drew Perkins's Teach Thought podcast, and I remember being in line in Wendy's with my daughter and her friend after a volleyball game and receiving an email asking me if I'd like to be on a panel with Emily Hanford, Natalie Wexler, and Mickey Rae from the Kentucky Department of Education. And honestly, my first reaction, I was afraid it was some sort of weird science of reading punked situation, but it turned out to be real and it was so much fun. So it's wonderful to see you virtually again. And thank you for being here with us. Emily Hanford. [00:03:41] Emily Hanford: You are welcome. Yes, I remember that one. [00:03:44] Kate Winn: All right, so, so many questions. Let's take it back to your original audio documentaries on reading instruction in the US. We know that that whole history parallels the same thing here in Canada. And so Hard Words in 2018. And a lot of people credit you for bringing this story to a general audience, including parents, sort of that mainstream information. But I don't think a lot of people realize that that's when this science actually started to reach a lot of teachers, too. I mean, we've said time and time again we weren't taught this in teachers college. We haven't been taught this in our, in servicing all of that. [00:04:17] Emily Hanford: Right. [00:04:17] Kate Winn: So it's not just sort of parents and mainstream. This is how teachers found out was from work like yours. And I'm just curious to know, when did you first realize that this information was going so mainstream and having such an impact? [00:04:31] Emily Hanford: Well, it probably was that 2018 piece that you mentioned, Hard Words, because that was certainly when I started to really hear from a lot of educators. So you're right to pinpoint that as one that really got the attention of teachers. So I had done a piece the previous year in 2017 which focused on kids with dyslexia and why kids with dyslexia have such a hard time getting the help they need in school. And I've been making audio documentaries about education for a very long time. And so I got into that piece through a piece I had done the year before. Usually one story leads to another. So I had done a piece the year before, and it was actually about college students who'd been put in developmental or remedial reading and writing classes in college. And that was where I started to learn about dyslexia. All these students in college who were telling me about their dyslexia, which they hadn't had identified when they were in school, and they hadn't gotten particularly good help for their dyslexia. And I started getting really curious about learning disabilities in general and whether part of the problem with a lot of students who are going on to college and don't have the preparation they need to succeed in college might have to do with sort of unidentified learning disabilities and not getting good help for that. And that's when I started to understand dyslexia. And that second piece was sort of that 2018 piece, Hard Words, was, I have sort of said to my editors, like, okay, we did this piece on dyslexia, but there's more on this topic. Like, I don't want to move on to a new topic next year. I want to keep doing this one. And what's more here is that this isn't just about dyslexia. Dyslexia is sort of the tip of the iceberg here, but there's really a bigger problem, and it has to do with instruction and how kids are taught to read in school. And the fact that kids with dyslexia are the ones who are harmed the most when kids aren't being taught to read in ways that line up with what has been discovered about sort of what we need to learn to become good readers. But as you know, there's a really big, broad continuum, right? So there are some people who have very severe dyslexia, and then there are some people who really learn to read very easily with very little instruction. And most of the rest of us are somewhere in between. And there are a whole lot of kids who don't have dyslexia necessarily, but they're really struggling with reading because they're not being taught. So it was really the parents of kids with dyslexia who started to help me connect the dots on that one, pointed me to this gigantic body of research on reading. And I started digging into that and going down the rabbit hole that so many people go down when you start to realize how much there is, how interesting it is, how many good, accessible sort of books and articles have been written about it at this point. So you can really dig in on this stuff. And so Hard Words was the beginning of me trying to sort of explain this. Hey, there's all this research on reading and how it works. And then the piece, I think that really drew the attention of educators because it really knocked a lot of people off their block, was at a loss for words in 2019, because that's when I first started to identify not just that a lot of teachers don't know about the scientific evidence, which is shocking enough, but that many of the things that are being done in the name of doing the best for kids, in the name of evidence based practice, actually turn out to be at odds with what some of the scientific research says. So, in fact, and this is just a very, very hard thing, and I get it, for teachers to sort of accept is that there are some ways that reading is being taught that I think is really harming some children. And I first started to explore that in 2019. And so, basically, then every year since then, I've gone to my editors every year saying, there's more, let's do more. And here we are, six years later and counting, and here we are. [00:08:11] Kate Winn: Amazing. So, just to clarify something about your job at American Public Media, where you did your original reports as well as your most recent podcast, where does that funding come from? Where does your salary come from? And are you or are you not paid off by big, bad science of reading companies? How does that work? [00:08:28] Emily Hanford: I am a full time employee at American Public Media, which is where APM reports is, and I have been since 2008. And the work that we do in this documentary unit that I'm part of now, documentary investigative reporting team called APM Reports, is almost entirely funded by foundations, by grants. So we've been getting grants for years, and we get them from foundations. We say who the foundations are that support our work. At the end of the podcast, you can hear it. At the very end of every podcast, we say it, and it's on our website. And so people can go to that. I could list the foundations, but they're there. And so, yeah, I am an employee of APM. We are a nonprofit public media company. And the work that we do is funded by grants. And the general operating support in public media also comes from donations from listeners, underwriting support, a very small amount of money from the corporation for public broadcasting. But the work that I've done is really almost entirely funded by foundations. [00:09:26] Kate Winn: Last fall, your podcast Sold a Story was released. And so let me add a couple of things here - made Time magazine's top ten podcast list for the year, which was fantastic. You were also the second most shared podcast on Apple Podcasts. I mean, this is fantastic. I would venture to say that the vast majority of our listeners have listened to Sold a Story. But just in case one of them might have missed it, could you just summarize what that six part series was about? [00:09:53] Emily Hanford: Sure. And it's a six part series. And then there are two more episodes that came out last spring. If people haven't, I think many people who heard the original six don't realize that there are these two bonus episodes, and we're working on another one now. So make sure that you look at your podcast feed. But the original podcast, which came out in the fall of 2022, is six episodes. It's about four and a half hours of listening, I think. And the entire thing is about one idea, just one idea. And the idea is when kids are learning how to read, they don't have to be taught how to sound out written words because they can be taught all these other strategies to figure out what the words say. And it's about what's wrong with that idea. It's about why that's not a good idea. It's about where that idea comes from, how it became so popular, and how it really became really foundational, really core, really central in materials and assessments and leveled reading books and other things associated with what has come to be known as balanced literacy. So that's what we call it in the United States. There's no precise definition of that term. You can ask 20 people and get 20 slightly different definitions. Survey data shows that there is no precise definition, but it is a label for what I realized was a very common set of ideas about how kids learn to read and what they need to be taught. That was in, even though here in the United States, and I won't speak to how it is in Canada, but here in the United States, we are officially, in many ways, very local, control oriented. Right. So sort of baked into the core of american education is really that individual schools and districts and individual teachers have a lot of autonomy when it comes to making decisions about exactly how they're going to teach things and what they're going to teach. We have standards and other kinds of things, obviously, but there really is a lot of baked into sort of the core of its being of american education is this idea of local control and sort of teacher autonomy. And what I started to realize is that there's a lot of different, I mean, this is a gigantic market economy, lots and lots of products. You can go into schools, and we did and literally ask them for the receipts, what are you buying? What are the materials you're using? We were like well, will that tell us how schools are teaching reading and people are buying all kinds of stuff from all kinds of different companies. But my years of reporting on this made me recognize, identify a set of ideas that were in a lot of these materials published by a lot of big publishers, small publishers, individual teachers who put their stuff up on Google, and teachers pay teachers. Right? And so that's what we were really looking at in Sold a Story is sort of, what is the sort of sea, what are the ideas that everyone's swimming in in balanced literacy, and that idea that kids don't have to be taught how to sound out the words because you can teach them all these other ways to figure out what the words say. So that's really balanced literacy, because balanced literacy in some ways was kind of an evolution from whole language, from the sort of version of whole language that did recognize. We've got to have some phonics instruction, we've got to teach some kids some things about words and the way they work. And so you will, in balanced literature, there's a little bit of phonics, there's word work, there's some word analysis. But if you dig deep into the materials and to the minds of the people, the sort of theories and some of the research it's based on, what you actually see is that sort of, at the end of the day, phonics is a little bit of an add on, a little bit of an optional, a little bit of, oh, just a little bit of it. I said in Hard Words, I said a little bit like salt on a meal, not too much, because it might be bad for you, but a little bit of it. And I think it allowed balance literacy to see the sound really good because you could be like, check box, we've got phonics. We know there's all this research that shows that that's really important. That was very clear by the early 2000s. So balanced literacy sort of successfully convinced a lot of people that that box had been adequately checked. And so what the four and a half hour listening of Sold a Story tells you is not just what's wrong with that idea, but the sort of big, big historical story of how that came to be. And again, making these kinds of things is a process of editing all kinds of stuff out. My co reporter and I, Christopher Peak, created a timeline for this story, and it starts in the 16 hundreds, but we ended up really more narrowly focusing on a chunk of history that sort of starts in the kind of 1960s to today. [00:14:37] Kate Winn: And it's so fantastic. And just in terms of our context here in Canada, so much is similar. But even in Ontario, we had our Ontario Human Rights Commission put out their Right to Read recommendations in February of 2022. So I think by the time Sold a Story came out, schools, boards, the Ministry of Education provincially, were kind of starting to move on things. But teachers who maybe hadn't been exposed to your previous research and reporting by listening to Sold a Story, I think for some of them, it's sort of their, oh, that's why we're doing okay, I see now. Right. And I remember I would wake up in the morning. I mean, I listened to a lot of podcasts, and I listened while I walk during the day and whatever, but when every episode of Sold a Story, I would have it on in the bathroom when I had my shower in the morning because I didn't want to be behind anybody getting any of that information because it was great. Now, I think you were probably preaching to the choir in terms of our reading road trip listening audience for a lot of it. But I know that you certainly got some negative feedback as well, and I just want to ask you about that. So one of the common arguments from your detractors seem to be, she's just a journalist, not a fill in the blank, not a scientist, not a researcher, not a professor, whatever, as if that somehow that invalidated what you reported. And I just find it interesting because I don't feel like I've seen that in other fields as much like, well, he's just a sports reporter. He's not a professional athlete. So what does he know? It really seemed to be that argument people would draw on. Why do you think that is? Where do you think that came from? [00:16:12] Emily Hanford: Well, I mean, I think you're right to identify. I mean, I've seen that argument a lot, and I think it's just a sort of profound misunderstanding of what's journalism? What is the role that a journalist plays? I mean, a journalist usually hasn't been the thing that they're covering the White House. Reporters haven't been the president and the NBA. People who cover the NBA haven't played in the NBA. And we have numerous examples, obviously, of the point of journalism is to investigate and uncover important stories. And there's a certain set of skills that you bring as a journalist that isn't the insider information. In many ways, I think journalists can have a fresh perspective on what goes on in a field or in an area of research because they are outside of it. So what we do as journalists is we ask questions and we explain things and we investigate and we look at data. I don't know what to do with that argument because it just seems to sort of say there's no such thing as journalism. It just seems to misunderstand or sort of just fundamentally sort of dismiss the sort of what journalism is. However, I understand where it's coming from. I think that when an outsider comes in and sort of points out that something is amiss in a field, the people who are inside of it get defensive, of course, like, who is this person? What are their credentials? She doesn't have a doctorate. She hasn't been a teacher. I understand that. And I think this has been very challenging work for a lot of people inside of education, as you know. So I'm sort of empathetic with the people who are criticizing the work, and I sort of understand where it comes from. And I guess at this point, I've talked to enough people who have really had such a huge evolution on this over a few years. Like, I've actually talked to people in person. I've interviewed people who really didn't like me, didn't like this work, just completely recoiled at it. And then they started to read it and read other stuff. And now they've really had their eyes opened and they really have evolved on this issue. I've seen people on Twitter x whatever. I literally have examples of people who were among my biggest critics a few years ago who now are really championing this stuff and trying to urge other teachers, please read this, please listen to this, please think about this. [00:18:56] Kate Winn: And it's nice to see people evolve. I mean, by the time I found your work, I was ready for it. But before your work, I was all balanced literacy, and that was what I was taught and what I thought I was supposed to do. [00:19:07] Emily Hanford: Right? [00:19:07] Kate Winn: So it's certainly hard to evolve, as you say. Another argument that to this day will not die because I still see it popping up on Twitter is that your reporting was all about phonics, and there is more to reading instruction than phonics. And it's not just from those bounce literacy people. It almost seemed like even within the world of those who are in the know about evidence based literacy questions, like, but why didn't you talk more about evidence or, sorry, about knowledge building or any of those other evidence based practices? So for the 245th time, could you tell us if you do believe there's more to reading instruction than phonics and explain why you didn't go further in depth on any of those other evidence based aspects of reading instruction? [00:19:47] Emily Hanford: Well, I appreciate the question, and again, I don't really think it's about what I believe. Right. So the question was, do I believe it's about more than phonics? Well, it is about more than phonics. It's not about what I believe. It's very clear from the research, and I think that I have continually in my work mentioned that and nodded to that. But it's true that that hasn't been the focus. It's true that the focus of my work, the sort of central question that I've been interested in, has to do with how kids are being taught to read the words and why that has been so controversial for so long. It has been so controversial for so long, hundreds of years, you can find fights about phonics going back to the very beginning of public education in the United States of America. So I just got very curious about the sort of why of that, and recognizing that there's been something so difficult about the word reading aspect of reading for a really long time that's really gotten in our way. And I think going back to some of the things you were saying at the beginning of the podcast, I feel like the thing that's really been so eye opening for people, the problem that a lot of teachers have had is that they just haven't understood how kids learn to read. They haven't known what that is, how that works. And I think understanding some of these misunderstandings about how you learn to read the words is at the core of beginning to get it. And what I see all over now is when people get into this. Yeah, often it comes with these big aha. Moments about the phonics word reading part. But very quickly, when you start to get into this world, you see all the connections to everything else, including in my work. I've cited it, I've talked about it, and others have talked about the importance of other people. I had someone write to me recently. She was at the International Dyslexia association national Conference a few months ago, and she know I was there. And I was seeing all this stuff about language comprehension and about background knowledge, and I hadn't seen that stuff highlighted in the same way at Ida before. And I really think it's because lots of people are getting it. They're getting into this research. And as soon as you get into just anyone who understands, even at a cursory level, what this stuff is about, knows that this stuff is not about phonics. And I have started to call out some of my fellow reporters because I think part of the problem is that sometimes the way that this gets summarized and the way that it gets reported on, and I am seeing some, I think, sort of reductive headlines that this is all about phonics or it's back to the basics or it's back to traditional stuff. One of the things I like to say is it's not like we need to go back to some great time when we were doing this all so well. There's not evidence that there was some past time when we were doing this really well. There was some time in the 50s where we were doing phonics and everyone was doing great. There isn't evidence for that. What I think has happened, what's different now is that over the last 40 or 50 years, a huge amount has now been understood about reading and how it works and why a lot of kids, not a small number of kids, have a hard time with this. And so we now sort of know better to do better, right? That's not enough. Knowing better, I don't think is enough. But as a reporter, I do think the knowledge part is the most central piece here. It's not enough, but when you have those aha's, you have those understandings so much. For a lot of this may sound, people might not like this, who are sort of like, still using the term balanced literature to describe what they do. But I've had many teachers talk to me about how once they understand this word reading part of it, it's like the balanced literacy cards start to fall. It's like a house of cards, and it just starts to fall apart. So that's why I focused on that, because I really felt like that was key. That was key for me, understanding orthographic mapping and all that stuff is like when people understand that, they're like, oh, right, I get it now. [00:23:58] Kate Winn: And I think you're absolutely right that we start there, because I know even here in Ontario, as I mentioned, the OHRC and the Right to Read that report was basically focused on word reading. There are 157 recommendations, and a lot of it has to do with that because in Ontario, as their inquiry learned, that's where we were really failing the kids from the get go. [00:24:19] Emily Hanford: Right? [00:24:20] Kate Winn: And so that's the starting point. But they do have a line in their executive summary somewhere. Like, there are many other components to reading instructions, such as fluency, vocabulary, et cetera, but they were beyond the scope of this inquiry. So it is a great starting point. And then I think we can all agree that there are other components that figure in there, too. [00:24:38] Emily Hanford: Can I add one thing to that? [00:24:39] Kate Winn: Yeah. [00:24:39] Emily Hanford: I do think it's really important to recognize that this word reading part has been the source of so much controversy and debate for so long, and it's been so hard for us to get it right. But I actually do think at the end of the day, that might be the easier part. Right. I do think this other part of the language comprehension is not only it's very complex, it lasts a very long time. We are not talking about just like the first few years of a kid's education. We are really talking about making some major improvements in education all along the way. It's very much affected by what happens to kids outside of school. So, so much of what they're acquiring in terms of knowledge and language is about other things going on at home. So it's harder for schools to have an impact on that area. Right. So I actually think it's, number one, we've been fighting about the word reading part, and actually that's the easy part, relatively speaking. So, whoa. Think about that for a second. And number two, it is really, really critical for us to get beyond the word reading part and get to all that other stuff, because if we fix this word reading part, we are going to be once again helping very much the kids in more affluent families and not helping a lot of the other kids. Right. So we tend to do this in education, where we do things that have their most sort of immediate effect on and give the sort of most boost to the more affluent kids, the more advantaged kids. So, so many of those kids are the ones who got read two tons, and there's tons of books in their home and their parents are well educated and all the ingredients are there for them to become good readers. But the word reading part is really hard for them because they're somewhere on that lower half of the dyslexia spectrum, right? Like this word reading part is really hard. If schools get really good at fixing the word reading instruction, those kids are going to get a big boost, and they already have in place all that stuff about the language comprehension that's going to take them very far. So schools and education writ large have to get the other part right. If at the end of the day, one of the reasons we're doing this is for equality, for equity, for trying to make sure that education really is something that all kids really have access to, a good education, and that education really can be something that encourages social mobility and that creates opportunity for opportunities for children. So it is really important and we do have to do more than just say in these reports. Oh, well, that stuff's more. We have to do it next. If we're going to do it next, we got to do it next. It should be coming. [00:27:17] Kate Winn: Well, I think it's actually a compliment to a journalist to get as much attention for your work as you are for this. I mean, it's a lovely thing, but you must have to have a thick skin to deal with the negative feedback. I mean, I don't know if you're as sensitive as I am, but even just getting edits from an editor who I know cares about me and wants a piece to be good or whatever, even that can kind of throw me, let alone when there's sort of those Internet trolls and the people who are brave behind their keyboards and who can be nasty. How do you handle. Do you have a social media strategy, what you will and won't engage with? And I have to say that even after drafting these questions, I saw something pop up on Twitter just the other day. And when I took a quick look, it was you saying to somebody, what I don't think you understand is. And then there was a whole thread, and I thought, oh, that's interesting. And then I realized it was from 2019 and it had just been going the rounds, right, and it had just been reposted somewhere. But do you read criticism? Do you engage? Do you have a strategy for all of that? [00:28:14] Emily Hanford: I don't have a strategy that I could articulate. I think I have developed a thick skin over the years. We're all human, and we all know that it's just nasty out there on social media. And sometimes you just have to be like, wow, people, would you really? It's like that thing you say to your kids. Would you say this to someone's face? You do have to take a moment and be like, really? So I take a certain amount of it with a grain of salt. I've developed thick skin. I've seen a lot of the criticism. A lot of the arguments are the same. So a lot of times when I come across, like, someone criticizing me, it's some version of an argument I've heard before. So I have kind of gotten used to it. I learn from the critics quite a bit. So I do try to mean I have to shut things off at a certain point, too. But I don't think I've ever muted anyone or blocked anyone on Twitter. I am interested in what people have to say. I save all kinds of Twitter threads into word documents on my computer because I learn a lot. I'm committed to continuing to cover the story. So I'm trying to learn how to make the reporting better and answer people's questions and respond to the criticism and be more nuanced and explore the things that need to be explored. So I find it really helpful and useful to read as widely as I can what people are saying about my work in particular and this topic in general. So, yeah, I mean, of course, every once in a while, one of the things that I remember, there's social media out there. People can criticize you. You don't have to respond. And that's actually very freeing. Like, just don't respond. And sometimes I respond, and sometimes I do respond. Sometimes I think it's important to, I think I've learned more to just respond less. And then sometimes when I respond, I think, oh, that was a mistake. And also, don't go on Twitter after you've had a glass of wine. Don't let your defenses be down in any way. [00:30:12] Kate Winn: I was really glad you were on Twitter back in September of 2021 because I had written an article for today's parent magazine here in Canada. So they called it. I'm a kindergarten teacher, and the way I've been teaching reading is wrong, but all about sort of my journey from learning what we've all learned now and changing my kindergarten program. But I remember tweeting it, and then I don't know how it ever got to your attention, but you had retweeted it. And to me, that was just like, totally made my day or my week that you had retweeted that. So we have a little Twitter story. [00:30:42] Emily Hanford: I remember that. And one of the things that's been, I think, really important in this whole conversation is teachers speaking up and writing pieces like that. It really speaks teacher to teacher. So going back to the criticism of me, I'm a journalist, I'm an outsider. It's really powerful when teachers hear this from other teachers, right? So I really like to amplify those voices. And I learned a ton from what you and other teachers write about what you used to do and how you figured it out and now how you're trying to change things, because that's, of course, such an important question now. Okay, so how are things going now? Where is it going? Well, are things changing? Are things getting better? Is instruction improving? Are we reaching more kids? Are we reaching all kids? [00:31:29] Kate Winn: I want to give a shout out to another Emily, Emily Moorhead, who's a teacher here in Ontario, too. And I remember a couple of years ago, before I got into structured literacy, hearing her present and know, every kindergarten student leaves my room reading. And I reached out to her after because I thought, ok, I don't really buy that. So what exactly do you mean? And she sort of talked me through it and whatever. And then for the last few years, that's been my situation. Every kindergarten student leaves my room reading. And so I'd say it's going pretty well with that big shift. And I do think we certainly want the impartial journalism that we get from somebody like you. And then I also think there's room for that, teachers to teachers sharing those experiences, too, to just to reinforce it all, I'd like to shift to politics for a moment. I don't talk a lot of politics on the show. So you talk and Sold a Story about President George W. Bush and the whole reading first, and Twitter trolls like to excitedly share a photo of you with former president and Mrs. Bush, as if that's some kind of gotcha that you had your photo taken with them. But I was really fascinated to learn all about reading first. So, I mean, of course, I'm here in Canada. Our government is set up differently. We don't have the same political parties. I don't think I would typically align myself with republican causes. I think I would say your 45th president probably ruined things for some of the good republicans out there. But knowing what I do now, thanks to you, about reading first, I can see how well intentioned it was and that there was a lot of good stuff behind that. I don't think Democrats agreed at the time and probably still wouldn't because it was a republican thing. Also, on that political note, I wanted to share a story of my own that I remember before the Right to Read report came out, I was on sort of an advocacy zoom call with some provincial union leaders. And the question at the end was, will your union publicly support the Right to Read when it's officially released in a few weeks or whatever? And I remember a leader from one of the unions, thankfully not my own. Responding to that question with it will depend on the political climate at the time, which was disturbing to me. How do you see politics playing a role in this big picture of how literacy instruction has evolved? [00:33:41] Emily Hanford: Well, I mean, it just has, like, we have to acknowledge that politics has played a role and is playing a role. So again, as a journalist, I'm just sort of fascinated in the sort of how and the why and how that's played out. I mean, you said, for example, that Democrats weren't behind reading first. They were at the beginning, there was huge bipartisan support for the huge piece of legislation that made reading first possible. Things kind of fell apart because the politics changed. I mean, I think know, at the end of the day, I think there's a lot of good evidence that Democrats in Congress were big time behind killing reading first. And it had to do with some larger politics that had to do with what happened to the presidency of George W. Bush and the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan and the war on terror. A lot of things changed. On September 11, 2001, there was another presidential election coming up. Democrats were looking for a way to undermine, as politicians do, to undermine the achievements that their competitors, that their rivals are trying to claim. And I think you can find strains of politics in these debates about reading that go back hundreds of years. I think there's, like, big p politics and little p politics in all of this. I actually think the sort of little p politics, not sort of partisan, necessarily Republican Democrat, but more kind of progressive versus conservative or traditional, that's just played a very big role. Like phonics just has this reputation for being sort of old school and traditional and associated. So it's always played a role. And the whole language movement was definitely very motivated by sort of more left leaning progressive. And there's a lot of ideas in there. And so part of the problem with politics is particular policies or particular things get caught up with a bunch of other stuff, and some of it might be good, and some of it might not be so good, and you might agree with X or Y. I think it's really fascinating now to, I mean, education, at least here in the United States, has for a long time been very surprising, politically speaking. There's strange bedfallows in education politics, and there just have been for a long time. And this is an example of that. And I think, actually, some of the power of my reporting, to be perfectly honest, came from the fact that I'm in public media. I'm in sort of this entity that's seen as, I think there's evidence is sort of more left of center right. So this was this stuff about phonics and stuff that they thought republicans were all about coming from public media. And I wrote pieces in the New York Times, and people are like, oh, my God, like NPR and the New York Times are saying this stuff that's, like, about phonics and the fact that we should be teaching and that it's a good idea. I think that's been surprising to some people and is sort of one of the many elements that has helped to make this work has helped people sort of sit up and listen, like, oh, that's interesting. Maybe I should take a look at that. [00:36:51] Kate Winn: Do you have any interesting stories about the making of Sold a Story? Were there any big bloopers or any sources who ghosted you or threatened to sue you or anything interesting? [00:37:01] Emily Hanford: Well, we haven't been sued. We had to do it all remotely. It was during COVID so we were just beginning. The reporting on it when Covid came was hard. It was hard. But now that I listen to mean, I'm a reporter who I like to get on airplanes and get in my car and get on trains and go places and go into classrooms and talk to people in person. And then suddenly, we couldn't do that. And for a while, I thought, we can't do this. How are we going to do this? And then I sort of realized, like, of course we can. Yes, we can do it. It's partly because it was so historical in nature. I was like, oh, so much of this project is going to be about finding tape. My co reporter tracked down old vcrs, and we were getting, like, figuring out how we could listen to cds and watch dvds because no one has anyone to play that stuff anymore. And look at you and us are talking remotely now. Like, Covid let us all know about and invented all kinds of new ways that we can speak to each other from afar. So that's not any kind of interesting story. But it was difficult to do. And I think I got on the train to go see Little Zoe and Lee in New York City. And I took one trip to Massachusetts and actually gathered all kinds of tape of a story that I didn't really tell. There were all kinds of stories we were going to tell in Sold a Story that we didn't end up telling because that's what always. So your final story is as good as what you leave out. And we left a lot out, but it's a matter of crafting it and creating the story and getting the most important stuff in there, which is an easy to do. [00:38:37] Kate Winn: Well, that's why I like doing more Q and A type interviews, because it's like, we're just going to run all of this, and I don't have to decide what to leave in and what to take out and how to arrange it all. [00:38:46] Emily Hanford: Yeah. When we're editing, we get down to the individual words. Does this belong in there or not? Very different. [00:38:53] Kate Winn: Episode four of Sold a Story is called the Superstar. And, of course, that is about the way educators really idolize Lucy Calkins. I know one educational leader compared to Beyonce. What do you think about people who are now talking about Emily Hanford with the same excitement? [00:39:06] Emily Hanford: Everyone needs to take a deep breath, know there's way too much sort of hero worship in. So I tell people when I give talks and stuff, I say, I usually end my talks by saying, everyone's got to be humble here. Everyone's got to stay curious. Don't believe in something or someone so much that you're not willing to question it. It's very important for people to be questioning things, not questioning things in sort of a nihilistic way. There is evidence, there is a foundation. We should all be talking. There's sort of a known universe of stuff that we all need to be talking within. But there are still very important questions. I'm sure you come up with this all the time as a teacher about just little things that we don't know the answers to or haven't exactly figured out the best sequence to do it. There's little debates about how to teach phonics, and it's all kinds of good stuff. And so people have to stay open and curious and not idealize people. Like, this isn't about people. This is about the information. This isn't about what you believe or what you believe in or who you believe in. It should be about what the evidence says, what the scientific research shows. [00:40:26] Kate Winn: You always remind people that you aren't an educator or a policymaker, that you are a journalist, as we've talked about. But I do want to ask you, just for fun, based on everything that you know, like all of this journalistic research that you have gathered, what would you tell the teachers who are listening? Because our audience is a lot of those frontline educators. So knowing what you know from these years of doing what you're doing, what do you want teachers to hear? [00:40:54] Emily Hanford: First of all, I want teachers to be thanked for doing a really hard job. I've been an education reporter now for 15 years, and so I spend a lot of time in classrooms, and you guys have a hard job. And so thanks for doing it. There are a lot of teachers who are leaving the profession. Thank you for staying. Thank you for wanting to do this work. I guess I would say to teachers, I hear from a lot of teachers on social media and in my email inbox who are really invigorated by this work. And so that really gives me hope. At the same time, it's a lot of work. Like, I recognize that there are a lot of teachers who are doing a lot of things on their own. They're buying books on their own. They're spending time on the weekends and at night. They're spending their own money to be certified in things and to go to training or they're being asked by their school district to do all kinds of extra stuff. This is a lot of work. And I recognize that. I would say to teachers, first of all, to really talk to each other, many, many teachers felt very alone in this for a long time. Like, there would be one teacher who'd be, like, speaking up and no one else would be listening. Now, there are other people who are talking about this. So if you feel alone, know that you're not, go find the other teachers. And I think one of the most important things for teachers right now is now we know there's a lot of stuff coming down the pike at them, right. There's a lot of policy changes, a lot of legislative changes. It's important for the teachers to speak up and let the leaders and the policymakers know when the stuff that they're sending down the pike isn't helping. Right. Speak up. There's money being spent. There's money being wasted right now. It's important for teachers. I think a lot of why we're hearing a lot of stuff about the science of reading right now is because much of it has been bottom up. There's been a lot of bubbling up from parents and teachers saying, we've got a problem here, we've got a problem here. We need to fix it. We need help from our principals, from our superintendents, from our school boards, from our state legislators. Now they're starting to get help in many places from their state legislators and their superintendents and their school board members or whatever. But I don't think all those policies are well thought through or being well implemented. And I think it's really the teachers who are the ones who are experiencing that and need to figure out ways to speak up by getting together and going to school board meetings and letting people know, letting being a bunch of teachers together, writing things, speaking out on social, really, as a mom and as a citizen of this country, the United States of America and of the world, I really want this story to end know, I really want kids to be taught how to read better and more kids to be better readers. And this is a very important moment. And I really want to tell teachers, have the courage to speak up when it's not going well and let people know and get what you need. [00:43:58] Kate Winn: Thank you the last thing I want to ask, it's sort of a two parter, but what kinds of opportunities have come up for you because of all of this great work that you're doing in that reporting on reading realm? And what's next? [00:44:11] Emily Hanford: Well, I've spent a lot of the past year doing a lot of media appearances and speaking about Sold a Story, and I feel like I'm moving into the mode of the next reporting project. I think it's possible there will be a season two of Sold a Story. We're still sort of working on that. We do have a couple of really big projects in the works right now. I mentioned that there is another bonus episode coming out, and so stay tuned for that. We also have taken a 1 hour version of the podcast and translated it into Spanish, and it is going to be coming out in the new year. And so we really think that lots and lots of people need to know about this. And there are many, many parents in the United States who speak mostly Spanish or are most comfortable in Spanish and are going to receive this information, I think, better or more likely to hear about it if it's in Spanish. So we did that. We're working on hopefully some video material related to some of this. So there's more to come. [00:45:10] Kate Winn: Amazing. And if I could put a french translation on the wish list, because Canada, that would be extremely useful as well. So I'll just throw that. [00:45:18] Emily Hanford: Well, do throw that out there. I have to say that doing this spanish translation has been fascinating and fun and so much work, because know as writers, you can nitpick. We nitpick about every word in the english language. And so now we're doing that, translating into Spanish, trying to get the words right from the English to the Spanish, then the right spanish words. And we're talking about words and spelling, and we have, like, examples and we think, oh, my gosh, here's an english example. Do we have to come up with a spanish example? And then there's all kinds of fascinating stuff, because some of why we fought so much about this in the english speaking world, and I think French, too, is because English and French are actually quite difficult written languages to learn how to read. Spanish, of course, is a much more transparent language. And so we've not only translated, I would say we think about this translation as a translation and an adaptation. We really had to adapt it also. And we're doing a second episode, which is sort of about me and the spanish language host are talking about what some of the implications are for this. Like, if you are a child who is learning to read English in school, but you speak Spanish or some other language at home. What does that mean? And so, of course, you have a lot of that in Canada, often with kids who are speaking French and learning English in school, or vice versa, or both. And that could be a whole nother series of stories about multilingualism and learning to read and reading in different languages. And all this science of reading stuff applies in all these different languages. Some of this research has been done in other languages and revealed really fascinating things about similarities between no matter what language you're learning, but also some differences and also some real differences in what needs to be an instruction, depending on what the language is. So one of the things I say in talks is one of the reasons I think we fight about how to teach reading in the English-speaking world is because there's a lot to learning written English. And it takes a typically developing reader who doesn't have dyslexia, two to three years, with some good instruction, to master the basics of written English. In contrast, it takes usually only like a few months to teach a kid the basics of decoding Spanish or Italian because those are such consistent. It's. It's all so interesting. So anyway, I don't know if we could do this thing in French too, because this has taken up so many months of my life to get it into Spanish, but maybe. [00:47:47] Kate Winn: Emily Hanford thank you so much for being here with us for this season two premiere on Reading Road Trip. [00:47:58] Emily Hanford: Thank you for having me. [00:48:01] Kate Winn: Show notes for this episode with all the links and information you need can be found at podcast.idaontario.com and you have been listening to season two, episode one with Emily Hanford. Now it's time for that typical end of the podcast call to action. If you enjoyed this episode of Reading Road Trip, we'd love it if you could rate and or review in your podcast app as this is extremely helpful. And of course we welcome any social media love you feel inspired to spread as well. Feel free to tag IDA Ontario and me. My handle is Thismomloves on Twitter and Facebook and Katethismomloves on Instagram. Make sure you're following the Reading Road Trip podcast in your app and watch for new episodes dropping every Monday. Also, just a reminder to register for the IDA Ontario Literacy & Learning Conference happening this April in Toronto. If you haven't already, this is going to be an incredible event with keynote speakers like Anita Archer, who will also be joining me for a live podcast taping at a special evening event at the conference. We couldn't bring Reading Road Trip to you without behind the scenes support from Katelyn Hanna, Brittany Haynes, and Melinda Jones at IDA Ontario. If you're enjoying Reading Road Trip, please consider making a donation to IDA Ontario, a volunteer run charity that depends on donations, to do our work supporting educators and families. I'm Kate Winn and along with my co-producer Una Malcolm, we hope this episode of Reading Road Trip has made your path to evidence based literacy instruction just a little bit clearer and a lot more fun. Join us next time when we bring another fabulous guest along for the ride on Reading Road Trip.

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