As we start a new decade, I wanted to examine how research can lead the way to improving literacy outcomes for our learners and unlocking their potential. This is the first in a series of five blog posts based on my recent webinar, “The Five Big Research-Based Ideas That Will Have a Positive Impact on Literacy Outcomes,” where I’ll highlight recent research and best practices to help shape new “Reading Resolutions” for 2020.
Simply, this blog post could have been called “Five Evidence-Based Ways to Change the World of Reading.” I don’t make personal resolutions but I do appreciate the meaning of the word resolution—“the quality of being determined or resolute.” This characteristic is more important than ever as we respond to the current student achievement situation as revealed by national and international assessments:
- 35 percent of fourth graders were found to be proficient on NAEP, down from 37 percent in the previous administration (NAEP 2019 Report Card).
- Eighth graders went down from 36 percent and to 34 percent (NAEP 2019 Report Card).
- In large cities, vulnerable students such as these eligible for the National School Lunch Program showed decreases (NAEP 2019 Report Card).
- International assessments of 15-year-olds (PISA, 2018) revealed stagnation since 2000 and, most significantly, an increasing gap between high and low performers (New York Times, December 5, 2019).
These results present big challenges, but we have the evidence on what works from scientific research on reading instruction, intervention, cognitive processing, motivation, and engagement. Now, we must show our resolve by applying this robust evidence base and what we've learned from effective teaching practices.
Reading Resolution 1: Start Right, Finish Strong
My two-year-old great-nephew is very taken with the ABC song. There is such a sweet and simple optimism expressed when he sings, “Now I know my ABCs...” Of course, he hasn’t acquired the necessary alphabetic knowledge and the understanding of the alphabetic principle to read competently—yet. It is my hope that at the right time he will have a well-prepared teacher and access to evidence-based instructional materials so he will get the right start.
You have probably been hearing a lot about the science of reading. We are very fortunate to be in an era when we know what it takes to teach a child to read. While we have the scientific knowledge, it is also important to have an implementation plan that will ensure all children have the best possible opportunity to learn to read. Here are considerations for that plan:
- Build a Reading Brain: The science of reading has benefited from a deeper understanding of neurodiversity and the reading brain. Creating environments within which neurodiverse learners can thrive is essential. This can be addressed in the plan by instilling in children the understanding that reading is incredibly useful, interesting, and learnable.
- Take Time: Providing direct instruction and productive personalized practice takes time. Most children will need to be engaged in foundational reading activities for 20 minutes a day, and some children with specific learning needs will require more time.
- Vocabulary, Fluency, Comprehension, and Knowledge: Combined with phonemic awareness and phonics, these are the essentials of a research-based approach to learning to read.
- Measure and Adjust: It’s important to have ongoing assessment to measure progress and to adjust instruction accordingly. In addition, special attention needs to be focused on the children who are striving.
- Joy: Dr. Marilyn Adams has us question why we would expect young children to find out about a language that took thousands of years to evolve without providing them with structure and direct instruction? We need to teach them, and she advises us to do it “joyfully” to reach them.
We have the skill (from the science and high quality teaching), we have the will (as we really are working hard), and we’re not forgetting the thrill experienced by children, their families, and their teachers from learning to read and loving to read.
Stay tuned for Reading Resolutions #2–5.
Learn more about HMH’s literacy programs.