Section Five--Recommendations Regarding Reading First

In designing literacy programs for schools and school districts, educators should keep in mind the many flaws and inadequacies of the NRP Report. They should also keep in mind the inaccuracies and distortions in the documents that claim to represent the findings of the Report. To develop classroom literacy programs that are keyed to the needs of students, educators are well advised to draw upon the actual findings of the NRP report, along with evidence from other high-quality research. Educators responsible for teaching children to read should:

1. Develop comprehensive literacy programs that include more than just the five components identified in the Reading First initiative.

Writing enhances reading, reading enhances writing, and listening and discussion enhance both. In fact, all of the language processes and arts are interdependent, and each supports the others (Pressley, Allington, Wharton-McDonald, Block & Morrow, 2001; Braunger & Lewis, 1997).

2. Teach comprehension strategies from kindergarten onward.

The NRP found positive results for seven different comprehension strategies when taught separately (Subgroups, p. 4–42). But multiple strategy instruction in naturalistic classroom settings was found to be most promising. The Report notes that discussing texts in naturalistic settings tends to increase motivation to read and thus to encourage students to read more. The NRP further noted that motivation and increased reading may be important factors in the success of multiple strategy instruction (Subgroups, p. 4-46). Other researchers have concluded that an emphasis on comprehension is an essential element of early reading instruction (Snow, Burns & Griffin, 1998; Metsala & Ehri, 1998; Pressley, 1998).

3. Include silent, independent reading as a classroom activity.

There is no evidence that independent reading fails to promote reading ability, and a great volume of research — literally hundreds of correlational studies — suggests that independent reading does promote fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (Summary Booklet, p. 12). This correlation is documented by government-funded studies and other research summaries, including Neuman, 2001; Neuman & Celano, 2001; Snow, Burns & Griffin, 1998; NAEP 1998 Reading Report Card; NAEP 1994 Cross-State Data Compendium [National Center for Education Statistics, 1995]; Krashen, 1993; Anderson, Wilson & Fielding, 1988).

4. Help children to expand and refine their vocabularies through both direct and indirect methods.

Children develop and refine vocabulary through reading. Studies have long suggested that most of a literate adult’s vocabulary has been acquired through reading (Snow, Burns & Griffin, 1998; Smith, 1994; Nagy & Anderson, 1984; Nagy, Anderson & Herman, 1987), and the NRP’s review of research found, indeed, that vocabulary is learned incidentally, through reading and from listening to the reading of others (Subgroups, pp. 4-4; 4-21 and 4-22; 4-26). In addition, the NRP report found benefits for several ways of directly helping children acquire vocabulary (NRP Subgroups, p. 4-4).

5. Assess even the youngest children with a wide variety of measures that emphasize comprehension and the ability to use ideas from texts in writing and discussion.

Single measure assessments cannot uncover all the literacy strengths and needs of children. In assessing children’s overall reading competency, we need to examine their ability to summarize, interpret, and identify the important ideas of texts through written and oral expression. (Subgroups, p. 2-97; Braunger & Lewis, 1997; Cunningham & Allington, 2003). Of course such assessment is appropriate only if the curriculum has been broadened to include the reading, writing, and oral discussion of real texts.

6. Make high-quality literature and informational books a central feature of literacy programs and ensure that children have continual and easy access to books of the same quality for independent reading (Neuman, 1999; Koskinen et al., 2000; Pressley, 1998; Braunger & Lewis, 1997; Krashen, 1993).

Children are not motivated to read by fill-in-the blank workbooks or “fat-cat-sat-on-a-mat” primers. They need to be introduced to books that are worth reading—through teacher read-alouds, instruction, and independent reading (research cited in Allington, 2002; Snow, Burns & Griffin, 1998).

7. Integrate the teaching of phonemic awareness and phonics with reading real books and with written and oral expression.

There is no evidence in the NRP Report—or anywhere else—that phonics and phonemic awareness should be taught separately from each other or from general literacy development activities. In fact, the report itself emphasizes the greater effectiveness of teaching sounds along with letters (Subgroups, pp. 2-33, 2-34, 2-40, 2-41). The report also finds research supporting the practice of having children use their knowledge of letter-sound relationships in their everyday writing and reading—from the very beginning (Subgroups, p. 2-137). Braunger and Lewis (1997) demonstrate that this conclusion is supported by numerous researchers and reading authorities.

8. Use texts that capture children’s interest and satisfy their curiosity, whether they are predictable, decodable, or even a little beyond the children’s technical abilities.

The NRP report did not examine the effectiveness of decodable texts, and, indeed, there is no research to support their use (Subgroups, p. 2-98; Allington & Woodside-Jiron, 1998). In contrast, there are several research studies showing that decodable texts are harder to read than predictable texts (Kucer, 1985; Rhodes, 1979). Reading books to children that they could not read on their own increases their vocabularies and stimulates their desire to read.

9. Promote fluency in conjunction with comprehension. Don’t assume that fluency guarantees comprehension (Pressley, 1998).

Comprehension does not necessarily require fluency, either. Even on timed, standardized tests, non-fluent readers may succeed if they have been taught to use meaning-making strategies. Many of the same activities that promote comprehension can promote fluency as well (Allington, 2001).

10. Do not treat children’s continuing reading difficulties as evidence that they need more of the same type of instruction they have been receiving.

If children have difficulty demonstrating skills like phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency, don’t persist in giving them more of the same instruction. In discussing the data that show little or no positive effect from phonics instruction on older poor readers, the NRP Report suggests that different instructional strategies need to be tried (Subgroups, p. 2-138; Boder, 1973). Other researchers concur, most frequently substituting real reading and writing for drill in discrete skills (Allington & Walmsley, 1995).

11. Don’t allow phonics, phonemic awareness, and fluency to become gatekeepers for children’s advancement through the grades.

There is no evidence that children must develop any of these skills before reading and writing texts. Instead of holding children back for lack of such skills, guide and support the children in writing and reading as needed. (Pressley, 2002; Allington, 2001; Allington & Walmsley, 1995; Shepard & Smith, 1990). Keep in mind, too, that the NRP Report found that helping children invent spellings is one of the best ways to teach phonemic awareness and phonics (Subgroups, pp. 2-34, 2-39).

12. Provide professional development for teachers in all aspects of literacy instruction, not just the five components of reading instruction that are required in the Reading First initiative.

There is more to developing literacy than simply teaching five isolated kinds of reading skills. Many researchers have found that the key factor in developing competent readers and writers is a high-quality teacher (Allington, 2002; Pressley, Allington, Wharton-McDonald, Block & Morrow, 2001; Pressley, 1998).

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