In Memphis, the Phonics Movement Comes to High School

MEMPHIS — For much of his life, Roderick, a high school junior, did not enjoy reading. As a boy, he trudged through picture books that his mother encouraged him to read. As a teenager, he has sometimes wrestled with complex texts at school.

“I would read, and I’d go back and reread,” he said. “It’s just stressful.”

But recently, he said, he has made strides, in part because of an unusual and sweeping high school literacy curriculum in Memphis.

The program focuses on expanding vocabulary and giving teenagers reading strategies — such as decoding words — that build upon fundamentals taught in elementary school. The curriculum is embedded not just in English, but also in math, science, and social studies.

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