Teaching Reading Effectively – The Method

Teaching someone to read can be a joy or a catastrophe. Some children learn easily, others struggle mightily. Thirty to thirty-five percent of children will have some degree of difficulty learning to read. Reading problems make everything else about schooling incredibly more difficult. From a review of 100,000 studies on reading instruction, there are proven effective strategies to teach almost any child to read. These methods are largely unknown or ignored by publishers of children’s readers and by both public and private educators. Where proven methods have been adopted, students consistently gain two years of reading skills per year, despite their learning problems.

The most effective strategies for teaching children to read are drawn from a 2.2 billion dollar, national study called Follow-Through, which compared 16 different methods with hundreds of thousands of children over 20 years. A particular method called “Direct Instruction”, developed at the University of Oregon, was the clear winner. It concentrates on teaching phonics, blending skills, irregular word strategies, and reading rules as the basis for effective reading instruction.

Despite the success of Direct Instruction, and despite the fact that it is a public domain method, many of the strategies have been overlooked or ignored by publishers of children’s reading materials.

There is also the issue about reading standards. When is good enough, good enough? We know that when children learn to speak, they speak at or near the same rate as adults. When children have learned to read well, they can read passages at the same rate at which they converse. Children with reading problems may speak as quickly as adults, but they read much more slowly and with more errors or omissions. Competent readers can decode words at 180-200 words per minute, the same rate at which they talk. Ogden Lindsley at University of Kansas developed a measurement system to record daily changes in the reading rates of elementary school children. This system, known as Precision Teaching, allows us to check reading performance in just one minute each day to see if corrects are increasing and errors are decreasing. In a major study over nine years and 22 states, the Sacajewea Project demonstrated that this method consistently provided gains for children in just a few minutes per day.

Sadly again this method has not been widely adopted by public educators despite the multitude of research studies demonstrating its effectiveness.

Unlike most public schools, homeschoolers rarely resist adopting proven methods. They appreciate that they are accountable for their children’s learning and they seek out and implement effective strategies. They readily adopt programs like Saxon Math which has some aspects of Direct Instruction. They happily use the Victory word lists to keeps track of words read per minute like Precision Teaching does.

As researchers, we need to continue to develop and test effective strategies. As authors, we need to continue to search out and publicize effective teaching methods. As parents, we need to share what we know works. The children and in time, the society at large will be the beneficiaries of these efforts.

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