What Works: Reading

Phonics.  Synthetic phonics.  Explicit, systematic instruction in phonics is what works in reading instruction.

For an explanation of the development of written English and why systematic phonics is a necessary component of a successful reading program, try Diane McGuinness, Why Our Children Can’t Read–And What We Can Do About It.

For reviews of the research on reading instruction try Jeanne Chall or Marilyn J. Adams.  See the National Reading Panel “Teaching Children to Read” Summary Report or Reports of the Subgroups.  See also, Keith Rayner, et al, How Psychological Science Informs the Teaching of Reading, and How Should Reading Be Taught?

For phonics programs see Open Court Reading and Jolly Phonics.  See also the Core Knowledge Language Arts Program currently being developed and tested.  Early results from the pilot program are available here.

Note that, as discussed here, Iowa appears to be committed to a balanced literacy approach.  Consider the following Iowa Core Curriculum Essential Concept and Skill:

Use multiple decoding strategies to read words in text.

  • Apply knowledge of letter/sound correspondence.
  • Recognize sight words.
  • Look for parts within words.
  • Skip the unknown word(s) and continue reading.
  • Reread sentences/paragraphs.
  • Look for graphic cues.
  • Use the context of phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and text.
  • Ask if the word(s) make sense.

Is skipping unknown words the same thing as reading?  Is guessing a word based on graphic cues, context or just guessing a word that would make sense the same thing as reading?  What if there are no pictures?  What if multiple words could make sense in the sentence?  Will sight words or skipping or looking at the picture help a child read a word the child has not previously seen in writing?  Would it be better for the child to use knowledge of phonics to sound out the unfamiliar word and see if it matches a word in his spoken vocabulary?  Keep in mind, these are the decoding strategies not comprehension strategies.  Here’s how one KTM commenter summed up her thoughts on balanced literacy:

About 20 years I ago, I took part in a training program for Literacy Volunteers of America. It was a fairly intense training for volunteers who would be working with illiterate adults.  One thing we learned was the coping strategies that illiterate adults use. This video is a great demonstration of those strategies. Figure out the first letter and look at the picture to guess. We are actively teaching children to use the coping strategies of illiterates, rather than teaching them to read.

hat tip: Kitchen Table Math, source of many great book and article recommendations.