In today's schools, too many children struggle with learning to read. As many teachers and parents will attest, reading failure has exacted a tremendous long-term consequence for children's developing self-confidence and motivation to learn, as well as for their later school performance.
While there are no easy answers or quick solutions for optimizing reading achievement, an extensive knowledge base now exists to show us the skills children must learn in order to read well. These skills provide the basis for sound curriculum decisions and instructional approaches that can help prevent the predictable consequences of early reading failure.
The National Reading Panel (NRP) issued a report in 2000 that responded to a Congressional mandate to help parents, teachers, and policymakers identify key skills and methods central to reading achievement. The Panel was charged with reviewing research in reading instruction (focusing on the critical years of kindergarten through third grade) and identifying methods that consistently relate to reading success.
The Panel reviewed more than 100,000 studies. Through a carefully developed screening procedure, Panel members examined research that met several important criteria:
- the research had to address achievement of one or more skills in reading. Studies of effective teaching were not included unless reading achievement was measured;
- the research had to be generalizable to the larger population of students. Thus, case studies with small numbers of children were excluded from the analysis;
- the research needed to examine the effectiveness of an approach. This type of research requires the comparison of different treatments, such as comparing the achievement of students using guided repeated reading to another group of students not using that strategy. This experimental research approach was necessary to understand whether changes in achievement could be attributed to the treatment;
- the research needed to be regarded as high quality. An article or book had to have been reviewed by other scholars from the relevant field and judged to be sound and worthy of publication. Therefore, discussions of studies reported in meetings or conferences without a stringent peer review process were excluded from the analysis.
These criteria are not new in the world of educational research; they are often used as a matter of course by researchers who set out to determine the effectiveness of any educational program or approach. The National Reading Panel embraced the criteria in its review to bring balance to a field in which decisions have often been made based more on ideology than evidence. These criteria offer administrators, teachers, and parents a standard for evaluating critical decisions about how children will be taught to read. In addition to identifying effective practices, the work of the National Reading Panel challenges educators to consider the evidence of effectiveness whenever they make decisions about the content and structure of reading instruction programs. By operating on a "what works" basis, scientific evidence can help build a foundation for instructional practice. Teachers can learn about and emphasize methods and approaches that have worked well and caused reading improvement for large numbers of children. Teachers can build their students' skills efficiently and effectively, with greater results than before. Most importantly, with targeted "what works" instruction, the incidence of reading success should increase dramatically.
This guide, designed by teachers for teachers, summarizes what researchers have discovered about how to successfully teach children to read. It describes the findings of the National Reading Panel Report and provides analysis and discussion in five areas of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension. Each section defines the skill, reviews the evidence from research, suggests implications for classroom instruction, describes proven strategies for teaching reading skills, and addresses frequently raised questions.
Our understanding of "what works" in reading is dynamic and fluid, subject to ongoing review and assessment through quality research. This guide begins the process of compiling the findings from scientifically-based research in reading instruction, a body of knowledge that will continue to grow over time. We encourage all teachers to explore the research, open their minds to changes in their instructional practice, and take up the challenge of helping all children become successful readers.