Despite decades of research that has focused on how to ensure all children become adequate readers, the rate of reading failure in the United States remains high—and instruction to promote reading development is a primary concern for both general and special educators.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 32 and 24 percent of fourth and eighth graders, respectively, are performing at Below Basic levels. This means, for example, that a fourth grader performing at this level isn’t able to find details in a text that support simple interpretations. These are clearly fundamental life skills that are important for future employment and attaining higher-level education.
Factors Affecting Reading Difficulties in Children
What causes poor reading skills? There are various factors that lead to reading failure, including impoverished exposure to language and early literacy activities, lack of adequate instruction, and/or more biologically based risk factors. While there are ongoing research efforts in all three areas, I’d like to address the two most relevant to K–12 reading educators: instruction and markers for at-risk readers.
Decades of research, particularly in early reading instruction, has resulted in clear, scientifically based approaches to reading instruction. These rely on explicitly and systematically teaching children sound-symbol relationships, or what is commonly referred to as phonics. However, it should be noted that teaching phonics does not mean that exposure to rich literature and meaningful oral language experiences that support comprehension should be forsaken; rather, there needs to be a focus on both phonics and comprehension-related activities.
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