Recommendations for Practice and Research
As the committee began its study, it was well aware of the history of controversies that have enveloped reading instruction in the United States, and it assumed that the science base had developed sufficiently to finally put recommendations regarding reading instruction on sound scientific footing. The process of conducting this study, of examining the research on reading, has confirmed this assumption. We have found many informative literatures to draw upon and hope, with this chapter, to weave the insights of many research traditions into clear guidelines for helping children become successful readers.
Our main emphasis has been on the development of reading and on factors that relate to reading outcomes. We have conceptualized our task as cutting through the detail of mostly convergent, sometimes discrepant research findings to provide an integrated picture of how reading develops and thus how its development should be promoted.
CONCEPTUALIZING READING AND READING INSTRUCTION
Effective reading instruction is built on a foundation that recognizes that reading outcomes are determined by complex and multi
faceted factors. On the assumption that understanding can move public discussion beyond the polemics of the past, we have made it an important goal of this report to make the complexities known: many factors that correlate with reading fail to explain it; many experiences contribute to reading development without being prerequisite to it; and although there are many prerequisites, none by itself appears to be sufficient. Our review of the research literature makes clear, nevertheless, the general requirements of effective reading instruction.
Adequate initial reading instruction requires a focus on:
· using reading to obtain meaning from print;
· the sublexical1structure of spoken words;
· the nature of the orthographic2system;
· the specifics of frequent, regular spelling-sound relationships;
· frequent opportunities to read; and
· opportunities to write.
Adequate progress in learning to read English beyond the initial level depends on:
· having established a working understanding of how sounds are represented alphabetically;
· sufficient practice in reading to achieve fluency with different kinds of texts written for different purposes; and
· control over procedures for monitoring comprehension and repairing misunderstandings.
Effective instruction includes artful teaching that transcendsand often makes up forthe constraints and limitations of specific instructional programs. Although we have not incorporated lessons from artful teaching practices with the same comprehensiveness as
1 Sublexical means concerning the phonological and morphological components of words, such as the sounds of individual and groups of letters.
2 Orthographic means features of the writing system, particularly letters and their sequences in words.
other topics in the conventional research on reading, we acknowledge their importance in conceptualizing effective reading instruction.
Reading is typically acquired relatively predictably by children who:
· have normal or above average language skills;
· have had experiences in early childhood that fostered motivation and provided exposure to literacy in use;
· are given information about the nature of print via opportunities to learn letters and to recognize the sublexical structure of spoken words, as well as about the contrasting nature of spoken and written language; and
· attend schools that provide coherent reading instruction and opportunities to practice reading.
Disruption of any of these factors increases the risk that reading will be delayed or impeded, a phenomenon particularly prevalent in impoverished urban and rural neighborhoods and among disadvantaged minority populations. Within all demographic groups, children with speech or language impairments, cognitive deficits, hearing impairments or who have a biological parent with a reading disability are at risk for reading difficulties. There are also a number of children, evidently without any of these risk factors, who nonetheless develop reading difficulties. Such children may require intensive intervention and may continue to benefit from extra help in reading and accommodations for their disability throughout their lives. An additional very small population of children with severe cognitive disabilities that limit literacy learning will for a variety of reasons have difficulty ever achieving high levels of literacy.
Three main stumbling blocks are known to throw children off course on the journey to skilled reading. One obstacle is difficulty in understanding and using the alphabetic principle. Failure to grasp that written spellings systematically represent the sounds of spoken words makes it difficult not only to recognize printed words but also to understand how to learn and to profit from instruction. If a child cannot rely on the alphabetic principle, word recognition is inaccu-
rate or laborious and comprehension of connected text will be impeded. A second obstacle is the failure to acquire and use comprehension skills and strategies. A third obstacle involves motivation. Although most children begin school with positive attitudes and expectations for success, by the end of the primary grades, and increasingly thereafter, some children become disaffected. Difficulties mastering sound-letter relationships or comprehension skills can easily stifle motivation, which can in turn hamper instructional efforts.
Levels of literacy adequate for high school completion, employability, and responsible citizenship in a democracy are feasible for all but a very small number of individuals. Yet a substantial percentage of American youth graduate from high school with very low levels of literacy. These youth are particularly likely to be from subgroups in our population that traditionally have done poorly in school (African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans) or to be from poor urban neighborhoods. However, low literacy at the high school level characterizes many students from all subgroups, including students who do not belong to identified risk groups. Most of the reading problems faced by today's adolescents and adults are the result of problems that might have been avoided or resolved in their early childhood years.
In this chapter, we present our major findings, conclusions, and recommendations. We begin with primary and secondary prevention3during the preschool years. We then move to primary and secondary prevention through educational practice from kindergarten through third grade, with particular attention to the provision of high-quality classroom instruction in early reading to all children. Next we address teacher preparation and professional support. The final section provides a research agenda that includes attention to assessment and its role in identifying effective prevention strategies. Although assessment is not at the core of the committee's expertise, we became convinced in the process of the study that the importance
3 Primary prevention is concerned with reducing the number of new cases (incidence) of an identified condition or problem in the population. Secondary prevention is concerned with reducing the number of existing cases (prevalence) of an identified condition or problem in the population.
of assessment warranted the attention of the field and of our project sponsors.
LITERACY DEVELOPMENT DURING THE PRESCHOOL YEARS
Public Understanding of Early Literacy Development
There is abundant empirical and observational evidence that the children who are particularly likely to have difficulty with learning to read in the primary grades are those who begin school with less prior knowledge and skill in certain domains, most notably, general verbal abilities, phonological sensitivity, familiarity with the basic purposes and mechanisms of reading, and letter knowledge. Children from poor neighborhoods, children with limited proficiency in English, children with hearing impairments, children with preschool language impairments or cognitive deficiencies, and children whose parents had difficulty learning to read are particularly at risk of arriving at school with weaknesses in these areas and, as a result, of falling behind from the outset.
It is clear from the research on emergent literacy that important experiences related to reading begin very early in life. Primary prevention steps designed to reduce the number of children with inadequate literacy-related knowledge (e.g., concepts of print,4phonemic awareness, receptive vocabulary) at the onset of formal schooling would considerably reduce the number of children with reading difficulties and, thereby, the magnitude of the problem currently facing schools.
We recommend that organizations and government bodies concerned with the education of young children (e.g., the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the International Reading Association, state departments of edu-
4 Concepts of print are a set of understandings about the conventions of literacy, e.g., directionality, intentionality, stability, use of blank spaces and letters, and multiple genres and uses.
cation, the U.S. Department of Education) promote public understanding of early literacy development. Systematic and widespread public education and marketing efforts should be undertaken to increase public awareness of the importance of providing stimulating literacy experiences in the lives of all very young children. Parents and other caregivers, as well as the public, should be the targets of such efforts, which should address ways of using books and opportunities for building language and literacy growth through everyday activities both at home and in group care settings.
Identification of Preschool Children with Special Language and Literacy Needs
Cognitive and educational research demonstrates the negative effects of deferring identification of, and intervention for, children who need additional support for early language and literacy development. They include those who have a hearing impairment, are diagnosed as having a specific early language impairment, are offspring of parents with histories of reading difficulty, or lack ageappropriate skills in literacy-related cognitive-linguistic processing. There is growing evidence that less supportive early environments for acquiring literacy tend to be associated with several known risk groups, and that some individual risk factors can be identified prior to kindergarten.
Children who are at risk for reading difficulties should be identified as early as possible. Pediatricians, social workers, speech and language therapists, and other preschool practitioners need to be alert for signs that children are having difficulties acquiring early language and literacy skills. Parents and other adults (relatives, neighbors, friends) also play a crucial role in identifying children who need assistance.
Research-derived indicators for potential problems include:
· in infancy or during the preschool period, significant delays in expressive language, receptive vocabulary, or IQ;
· at school entry, delays in a combination of measures of readiness, including
understanding the functions of print,
verbal memory for stories and sentences,
lexical skills such as naming vocabulary,
receptive language skills in the areas of syntax and morphology,
expressive language, and
overall language development.
Through adult education programs, public service media, instructional videos provided by pediatricians, and other means, parents can be informed about the skills and knowledge children should be acquiring at young ages and about what to do and where to turn if there is concern that a child's development may be lagging in some respect.
Public authorities and education professionals should provide research-derived guidelines for parents, pediatricians, and preschool professionals so that children who have a hearing or language impairment or who lack age-appropriate skills in literacy-related cognitive-linguistic processing are identified as early as possible and given intervention to support language and literacy development.
Promoting Language and Literacy Growth
Research with preschoolers has demonstrated that (a) adult-child shared book reading that stimulates verbal interaction can enhance language (especially vocabulary) development and knowledge about concepts of print, and (b) activities that direct
5 Phonological awareness means sensitivity to the fact that there are patterns of spoken language that recur and can be manipulated without respect to the meaning that the language patterns ordinarily convey.
young children's attention to the sound structure within spoken words (e.g., play with songs and poems that emphasize rhyming, jokes, and games that depend on switching sounds within words), and to the relations between print and speech can facilitate learning to read. These findings are buttressed by others showing that knowledge of word meanings, an understanding that print conveys meaning, phonological awareness, and some understanding of how printed letters code the sounds of language contribute directly to successful reading. Other preschool abilities, such as identifying letters, numbers, shapes, and colors, may correlate with future reading achievement, but neither research findings nor theories of reading are available to support the notion that they have a causal link to learning to read.
Failure to develop an adequate vocabulary, understanding of print concepts, or phonological awareness during the preschool years constitutes some risk for reading difficulties. Hence, we recommend interventions designed to promote their growth. At the same time, however, we caution that the focus of intervention should not be limited to overcoming these risk factors in isolation but should be more broadly designed to provide a rich language and literacy environment that methodically includes the promotion of vocabulary, the understanding of print concepts, and phonological awareness. Preschools and other group care settings for young children, including those at risk for reading difficulties, too often constitute poor language and literacy environments. Targeted interventions indicate that literacy and language environments can be improved.
Research provides ample evidence of the importance of cultivating cognitive, language, and social development during children's early years. As ever more young children are entering group care settings pursuant to expectations that their mothers will join the work force, it becomes critical that the preschool opportunities available to lower-income families be designed in ways that fully support language and literacy development. This is perhaps one of the more important public policy issues raised by welfare reform.
All children, especially those at risk for reading difficulties, should have access to early childhood environments that promote language and literacy growth and that address reading
risk factors in an integrated rather than isolated fashion. Specifically, we recommend that the following be included in home and preschool activities:
· adult-child shared book reading that stimulates verbal interaction to enhance language (especially vocabulary) development and knowledge about print concepts,
· activities that direct young children's attention to the phonological structure of spoken words (e.g., games, songs and poems that emphasize rhyming or manipulation of sounds), and
· activities that highlight the relations between print and speech.
ENSURING THAT CHILDREN HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN TO READ
Reading Instruction in Kindergarten Through Third Grade
Findings on the mechanics of reading:
There is converging research support for the proposition that getting started in reading depends critically on mapping the letters and the spellings of words onto the sounds and speech units that they represent. Failure to master word recognition impedes text comprehension.
There is evidence that explicit instruction that directs children's attention to the phonological structure of oral language and to the connections between phonemes and spellings helps children who have not grasped the alphabetic principle or who do not apply it productively when they encounter unfamiliar printed words. Of course, intensity of instruction should be matched to children's needs. Children who lack these understandings should be helped to acquire them; those who have grasped the alphabetic principle and can apply it productively should move on to more advanced learning opportunities.
Findings on comprehension:
Several factors have been shown to promote comprehension: vocabulary, including full and precise understanding of the meanings of words; background knowledge about the subject matter; familiarity with semantic and syntactic structures that signal meaningful relationships among the words; appreciation
of the writing conventions used to achieve different communicative purposes (e.g., irony, humor); verbal reasoning ability, which permits inferences to be made by reading between the lines; and verbal memory capacity.
Comprehension can be enhanced through instruction that is focused on concept and vocabulary growth and the syntax and rhetorical structures of written language, as well as through experience gained by reading both independently and interactively in dyads or groups.
Explicit instruction in comprehension strategies has been shown to lead to improvement (e.g., summarizing the main idea, predicting what text will follow, drawing inferences, discussing the author's communicative intent and choice of wording, and monitoring for misunderstandings).
Our analysis of the research literature in reading acquisition leads us to conclude that, in order to prevent reading difficulties, formal instruction in reading needs to focus on the development of two sorts of mastery: word recognition skills and comprehension skills.
Recommendations on the mechanics of reading:
· Kindergarten instruction should be designed to provide practice with the sound structure of words, the recognition and production of letters, knowledge about print concepts, and familiarity with the basic purposes and mechanisms of reading and writing.
· First-grade instruction should be designed to provide explicit instruction and practice with sound structures that lead to phonemic awareness, familiarity with spelling-sound correspondences and common spelling conventions and their use in identifying printed words, ''sight" recognition of frequent words, and independent reading, including reading aloud. A wide variety of well-written and engaging texts below the children's frustration level should be provided.
· Instruction for children who have started to read independently, typically second graders and above, should be designed to encourage children to sound out and confirm the identities of visually unfamiliar words they encounter in the course of reading meaningful text, recognizing words primarily through attention to their
letter-sound relationships. Although context and pictures can be used as a tool to monitor word recognition, children should not be taught to use them to substitute for information provided by the letters in the word.
· Because the ability to obtain meaning from print depends so strongly on the development of word recognition accuracy and reading fluency, both of the latter should be regularly assessed in the classroom, permitting timely and effective instructional response where difficulty or delay is apparent.
Recommendations on comprehension:
· Kindergarten instruction should be designed to stimulate verbal interaction to instruct vocabulary and encourage talk about books.
· Beginning in the earliest grades, instruction should promote comprehension by actively building linguistic and conceptual knowledge in a rich variety of domains.
· Throughout the early grades, reading curricula should include explicit instruction on strategies such as summarizing the main idea, predicting events and outcomes of upcoming text, drawing inferences, and monitoring for coherence and misunderstandings. This instruction can take place while adults read to students or when students read themselves.
· Conceptual knowledge and comprehension strategies should be regularly assessed in the classroom, permitting timely and effective instructional response where difficulty or delay is apparent.
Recommendations on writing:
· Once children learn to write letters, they should be encouraged to write them, to use them to begin writing words or parts of words, and to use words to begin writing sentences. Instruction should be designed with the understanding that the use of invented spelling is not in conflict with teaching correct spelling. Beginning writing with invented spelling can be helpful for developing understanding of phoneme identity, phoneme segmentation, and sound-spelling relationships. Conventionally correct spelling should be developed through focused instruction and practice. Primary-grade
children should be expected to spell previously studied words and spelling patterns correctly in their final writing products. Writing should take place on a daily basis to encourage children to become more comfortable and familiar with it.
Recommendations on reading practices and motivation:
· Throughout the early grades, time, materials, and resources should be provided (a) to support daily independent reading of texts selected to be of particular interest for the individual student, and also beneath the individual student's frustration level, in order to consolidate the student's capacity for independent reading and (b) to support daily assisted or supported reading and rereading of texts that are slightly more difficult in wording or in linguistic, rhetorical, or conceptual structure in order to promote advances in the student's capacities.
· Throughout the early grades, schools should promote independent reading outside of school by such means as daily at-home reading assignments and expectations, summer reading lists, encouraging parental involvement, and by working with community groups, including public librarians, who share this same goal.
Students with Limited Proficiency in English
Hurrying young non-English-speaking children into reading in English without ensuring adequate preparation is counterproductive. Learning to speak English first contributes to children's eventual fluency in English reading, because it provides a foundation to support subsequent learning about the alphabetic principle through an understanding of the sublexical structure of spoken English words and of the language and content of the material they are reading. The abilities to hear and reflect on the sublexical structure of spoken English words, as required for learning how the alphabetic principle works, depend on oral familiarity with the words being read. Similarly, learning to read for meaning depends on understanding the language and referents of the text to be read. Moreover, because being able to read and write in two languages confers numerous intellectual, cultural, economic, and social ben-
efits, bilingualism and biliteracy should be supported whenever possible. To the extent possible, non-English-speaking children should have opportunities to develop literacy skills in their home language as well as in English.
· If language-minority children arrive at school with no proficiency in English but speaking a language for which there are instructional guides, learning materials, and locally available proficient teachers, these children should be taught how to read in their native language while acquiring oral proficiency in English and subsequently taught to extend their skills to reading in English.
· If language-minority children arrive at school with no proficiency in English but speak a language for which the above conditions cannot be met and for which there are insufficient numbers of children to justify the development of the local capacity to meet such conditions, the initial instructional priority should be developing the children's oral proficiency in English. Although print materials may be used to support the development of English phonology, vocabulary, and syntax, the postponement of formal reading instruction is appropriate until an adequate level of oral proficiency in English has been achieved.
When a large percentage of a school's students are from disadvantaged homes, it is often the case that median student reading achievements in that school will be low. Research has shown the effectiveness of clearly articulated, well-implemented, schoolwide efforts that build from coherent classroom reading instruction. Such school-wide efforts, when they have included coherent regular classroom reading instruction consistent with the principles articulated in this report, have often proven substantially more effective than disconnected strategies or restructuring focused on organizational issues that have not included school-wide curricular reform.
The local adaptation of national models is often a more efficient route to meaningful reform than are numerous local efforts to "reinvent the wheel."
In situations of school-wide poor performance, school restructuring designs that include dual foci on organizational issues and coherent classroom reading instruction should be seriously considered.
Extended Time in Reading-Related Instruction for Children with Persistent Reading Difficulties
Thus far, we have emphasized quality instruction and an appropriate curriculum, keyed to high standards, as the primary route to preventing most reading difficulties. However, additional efforts will still be necessary for some children, including supplementary tutoring provided by professionals with specialities in reading and special education support and services.
At present, many interventions for children in the primary grades are aimed at helping those most at risk of failure, but they are too often implemented as late as third grade, after a child is well behind his or her classmates.
Supplementary instruction has merit if the intervention is time limited and is planned and delivered in a way that makes connections to the daily experiences that the child has during reading instruction. Supplementary instruction can be a significant and targeted enhancement of classroom instruction. In Chapter 8 we presented a number of programs that have supplementary components, but the empirical bases for judging their results are often weak.
Consistent with the view that reading develops under the influence of many early experiences, it is the committee's judgment that deferring intervention until third or fourth grade should be avoided at all costs.
Supplementary programs can neither substitute nor compensate for poor-quality classroom reading instruction. Supplementary instruction is a secondary response to learning difficulties. Although
supplementary instruction has demonstrated merit, its impact is insufficient unless it is planned and delivered in ways that make clear connections to the child's daily experiences and needs during reading instruction in the classroom.
If a student is receiving high-quality classroom instruction in first grade but is still having reading related difficulties, we recommend the following:
· Additional instructional services in supplementary reading programs should be provided in the first grade.
· Instruction should be provided by a well-qualified reading specialist who has demonstrated the ability to produce high levels of student achievement in reading.
· Materials and instructional techniques should be provided that are well integrated with ongoing excellent classroom instruction and that are consistent with the findings, conclusions, and recommendations identified above in "Reading Instruction in Kindergarten Through Third Grade." Children who are having difficulty learning to read do not, as a rule, require qualitatively different instruction from children who are "getting it." Instead, they more often need application of the same principles by someone who can apply them expertly to individual children who are having difficulty for one reason or another.
Resources to Meet Needs
The interventions described in this report require manageable class size and student-teacher ratios, ongoing teacher preparation, qualified specialists, and quality instructional materials in sufficient quantity. School libraries and media resources need to be used effectively. Nationally, there are steady reductions in the average size of elementary classrooms; however, schools in poor urban areas continue to show higher class sizes than schools in all other areas.
To meet the goal of preventing reading difficulties, a greater burden will fall on schools whose entering students are least prepared in the requisite skills (e.g., schools in poor urban
areas, schools with high numbers of children who have limited English proficiency). The resources provided for kindergarten and primary-grade classrooms should be proportional to the amount of instructional support needed, as gauged by the entry abilities of the school's population. This type of resource planning contrasts with the practice of giving schools bonuses for high test scores as well as practices directed toward equating per-pupil resources across schools.
To be effective, schools with greater numbers of children at risk for reading difficulties must have extra resources. These resources should be used to ensure that class size, student-teacher ratios, teacher preparation and experience, availability and qualifications of specialists, quality and quantity of instructional materials, school libraries and physical environments will be at least equal to those of schools whose students are less likely to have difficulties learning to read.
Although volunteer tutors can provide very valuable practice and motivational support for children learning to read, the committee did not find evidence confirming that they are able to deal effectively with children who have serious reading problems. Effective tutoring programs require comprehensive screening procedures for selecting volunteers, training tutors, and supervising their ongoing work with children.
Volunteer tutors are effective in reading to children, for giving children supervised practice in oral reading, and for allowing opportunities for enriching conversation but not usually in providing instruction per se, particularly for children having difficulties.
The role of well-trained and supervised volunteer tutors should be to expand children's opportunities for practicing reading and for motivational support but not to provide primary or remedial instruction.
PREPARATION AND PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT OF PRESCHOOL AND PRIMARY TEACHERS
Some beginning teachers do not have sufficient education to enable them to help all children become successful readers. Virtually all states require that candidates for a K-3 teacher credential do at least some course work in the teaching of reading. Too often, however, such course work is insufficient to provide beginning teachers with sufficient knowledge and skills to enable them to help all children become successful readers. One major factor is that very little time is allocated for preparing teachers to teach reading. A second is that teacher training programs are highly variable in their inclusion of the foundations of reading.
A critical element for preventing reading difficulties in young children is the teacher. Central to achieving the goal of primary prevention of reading difficulties is the teacher's knowledge base and experience, as well as the support provided to the teacher; each of these may vary according to where the teacher is in his or her professional development and his or her role in the school.
Teachers need to be knowledgeable about the research foundations of reading. Beyond this, a critical component in the pre-service preparation of primary-grade teachers is supervised, relevant, clinical experience in which they receive ongoing guidance and feedback. A principal goal of this experience is the ability to integrate and apply the knowledge base in practice. Collaborative support by the teacher preparation institution and the field placement supervising teacher is essential. A critical component for novice teachers is the support of mentor teachers with excellent records of success in teaching reading that results in improved student outcomes.
It is absolutely essential that teachers at all grade levels understand the course of literacy development and the role of instruction in optimizing literacy development. State certification requirements and teacher education curricula should be
changed to incorporate this knowledge base, including at a minimum:
· information about language development as it relates to literacy;
· information about the relationship between early literacy behavior and conventional reading;
· information about the features of an alphabetic writing system and other writing systems;
· information about both phonology and morphology in relation to spelling;
· information about comprehension and its dependence on other aspects of reading and on language skills;
· information about phonological awareness, orthographic awareness, and writing development;
· procedures for ongoing, in-class assessment of children's reading abilities;
· information on how to interpret and modify instruction according to norm-referenced and individually referenced assessment outcomes, including in-class assessments and progress monitoring measures used by specialists;
· information about the learning and curricular needs of diverse learners (students with disabilities, with limited English proficiency, with English-language dialect differences);
· in settings in which children are learning to read in a language other than English, an understanding ofas well as strategies and techniques forteaching children to read in that language and information about bilingual language and literacy development;
· in settings in which non-English-speaking or limited-English-speaking students are in an English as a second language program and learn to read in English, information and skill to help these students confront a double challenge: learning to read and learning a new language;
· information on the design features and requirements of a reading curriculum;
· information about how teachers apply research judiciously to their practice, how to update their research knowledge, and how to
influence research agendas, including teacher-researcher collaborations; and
· information about how to maintain and promote motivation to read and positive attitudes toward reading.
Ongoing Staff Development
Staff development efforts are often inadequate for a number of reasons, including the lack of substantive and researchbased content, the lack of systematic follow-up necessary for sustainability, and the one-shot character of many staff development sessions.
Teachers require ongoing in-service staff development support to absorb the information about reading and reading instruction outlined above. Professional development should not be conceived as something that ends with graduation from a teacher preparation program, nor as something that happens primarily in graduate classrooms or even during in-service activities. Rather, ongoing support from colleagues and specialists as well as regular opportunities for self-examination and reflection are critical components of the career-long development of excellent teachers.
Local education authorities and teacher education programs should give teachers support and skills throughout their careers, especially during their early entry into the profession, to ensure that they are well prepared to carry out their mission in preventing reading difficulties in young children.
Early Childhood Educators
Many preschool programs do not focus on language and literacy experiences that provide a foundation for early reading instruction.
Preschool teachers represent an importantand largely underutilizedresource in promoting literacy through the acquisition of rich language and emergent literacy skills. Early childhood educators should not try to replicate the formal reading instruction provided in schools. Central to achieving the goal of pri-
mary prevention of reading difficulties is the preschool teacher's knowledge base and experience and the support provided to the teacher; each of these may vary according to where the teacher is in his or her professional development.
As with primary-grade teachers, a critical component in the preservice preparation of teachers is supervised, relevant, clinical experience in which they receive ongoing guidance and feedback. A principal goal of this experience is the ability to integrate and apply the knowledge base in practice. Collaborative support by the teacher preparation institution and the field placement is essential.
Programs that educate early childhood professionals should require mastery of information about the many kinds of knowledge and skills that can be acquired in the preschool years in preparation for reading achievement in school. Their knowledge base should include at least the following:
· information about how to provide rich conceptual experiences that promote growth in vocabulary and reasoning skills;
· knowledge about lexical development, from early referential (naming) abilities to relational and abstract terms and finer-shaded meanings;
· knowledge of the early development of listening comprehension skills, and the kinds of syntactic and prose structures that preschool children may not yet have mastered;
· information on young children's sense of story;
· information on young children's sensitivity to the sounds of language;
· information on young children's understanding of concepts of print, and the developmental patterns of emergent reading and writing;
· information on young children's development of concepts of space, including directionality;
· knowledge of fine motor development; and
· knowledge about how to instill motivation to read.
Professional Reading Specialists
Special educators, speech and language clinicians, English as a second language teachers, resource room teachers, and other individuals are available in many schools to support the work of the classroom teacher to prevent reading difficulties. Too often, though, these professionals lack specialized knowledge about the typical and atypical development of reading and of their role in supporting reading instruction.
Schools that lack or have abandoned reading specialist positions need to reexamine their needs for specialists and provide the functional equivalent of such well-trained staff members. Reading specialists and other specialist roles need to be defined so that two-way communication is between specialists and classroom teachers about the needs of all children at risk of and experiencing reading difficulties. Coordination is needed at the instructional level so that children are taught with methodologies that are synergistic and not fragmented. Schools that have reading specialists as well as special educators need to coordinate these roles. Schools need to ensure that all the specialists engaged in child study or individualized educational program (IEP) meetings for special education placement, early childhood intervention, out-of-classroom interventions, or in-classroom support are well informed about research in reading development and the prevention of reading difficulties.
Every school should have access to specialists, including speech and language clinicians, English as a second language teachers, resource room teachers, and reading specialists who have specialized training related to addressing reading difficulties and who can give guidance to classroom teachers.
Educational Products and In-Service Development
There is currently no requirement and little incentive for publishers or adopting schools to evaluate reading-related materials and in-service programs in terms of their efficacy.
Given the significant expenditures on commercially distributed educational products as well as the widespread reliance on the instructional plans and activities they present, critical attention to the instructional quality of textbooks, basal reading series, curriculum kits, education software, and ''promising programs" is both distressingly absent and urgently needed.
Local education agencies should set specific standards of evidence of efficacy for reading-related materials and in-service programs. Materials purveyors that currently do not provide adequate evidence to support data-based decision making about their products should be required to do so. These standards should be used when states, districts, schools, and teachers are choosing materials.
The process of study and discussion on what is known about the effective prevention of reading difficulties in young children has led us to recognize a number of issues that are in special need of attention from researchers. In particular, we have identified two newly emerging areas for research, several related to assessment, and several related to research on interventions.
Emerging Areas for Research
Benchmarks and Standards
Many state and local school districts have recently developed benchmarks or standards specifying what reading skills children should have acquired at successive points during their school careers. These efforts vary substantively not only in their content, structure, and specificity but also in proposals for their dissemination and use.
Research affirms that such benchmarks or standards can effectively improve reading outcomes but only to the extent that they are valid, specific, meaningful to teachers, and actually influence instructional conduct on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, such bench-
marks and standards potentially afford invaluable guidance to school personnel, curriculum planners, publishers, software developers, test designers, and educational researchers for purposes of designing and evaluating instructional plans and materials, designing and evaluating intervention efforts, monitoring progress over time against a constant standard, and developing more sensitive and informative assessments. However, the broader realization of all such benefits will depend on establishing within the educational system new methods and modes for evaluating and iteratively improving, not only the benchmarks themselves but also the various options for their application.
Toward promoting high standards of achievement for all students in all schools, state and local education departments should sponsor research to evaluate and improve the utility and uses of their benchmarks or standards of reading achievement for purposes of informing instruction, evaluation, and allocation of resources and effort, including staffing and staff development as well as student service options.
As documented in this report, recent progress in understanding reading and its difficulties is largely the product, direct and indirect, of findings from basic research. Key contributions have ensued from a number of disciplines, including the neurosciences, linguistics, computer science, statistics, and the psychologies of memory, perception, cognition, and development. Significant contributions from basic research have clustered under funding programs that have emphasized the study of reading and its difficulties, and they have often been enabled by emerging technologies and computational and analytical techniques.
Government agencies and private foundations should ensure strong and continuing support of basic research and associated instrumentation in conjunction with active emphasis on the pursuit of knowledge relevant to reading and its difficulties.
Research Related to Assessment
Screening and Identification
Much has been learned about which particular differences among preschoolers and kindergartners are most prognostic of early reading outcomes, and these findings, in turn, have enabled more effective programs of early intervention. However, the array of instruments currently used to measure such differences are time consuming and costly to administer, even as they are mutually redundant and collectively incomplete with respect to the range of knowledge and sensitivities on which reading growth, including longer-term reading growth, depends. Such measures need to be refined, extended, and, as appropriate, combined into screening batteries that are maximally informative and efficient.
Appropriate government agencies and private foundations should sponsor research and development directed toward improving the efficiency, scope, and sensitivity of screening instruments for identifying children at risk of experiencing difficulties in learning to read so as best to ensure early, effective intervention. Such efforts should address factors that influence the development of the knowledge and capabilities that constrain literacy growth in the middle and later grades, as well as those related to initial reading acquisition.
Informal and Curriculum-Based Assessment
Given that effective instruction consists of responding to children's needs while building on their strengths, it necessarily depends on a sensitive and continual capacity for monitoring student progress. Toward this end, classroom teachers and tutors are in need of a richer and more serviceable inventory of assessment tools and strategies for day-to-day use in verifying that children are reaching curricular goals on schedule, in identifying children in need of extra help or opportunity, in specifying the particular nature of their needs, and in recognizing when difficulties have been adequately overcome to move on. Currently, the availability, quality, and best use of such assessment options vary greatly across classrooms and districts.
Toward the goal of assisting teachers in dayto-day monitoring of student progress along the array of dimensions on which reading growth depends, the appropriate government agencies and private foundations should sponsor evaluation, synthesis, and, as necessary, further development of informal and curriculum-based assessment tools and strategies. In complement, state and local school districts should undertake concerted effort to assist teachers and reading specialists in understanding how best to administer, interpret, and instructionally respond to such assessments.
Decision Making at the School and District Levels
Schools and school districts are constantly confronted with proposals for curricular or organizational change. Whether gauged in terms of time and money or opportunity and hope, the costs of implementing and even considering such change are substantial. Nevertheless, adequate evaluation of the value added by such efforts is rare in prospect or outcome. Decisions about whether to adopt a new basal program, and if so which one, are an obvious case in point. Concern extends to the range of systemic changes, including, for example, implementation of new student services, such as tutoring programs or after-school instruction, new professional development initiatives, and even new evaluation strategies.
The appropriate government agencies and private foundations should sponsor research to help school systems develop and use data-based decision making. This effort should include methods and means for:
· analysis of the system's strengths and weaknesses so as to identify and prioritize needs;
· evaluation the costs and benefits of proposed solutions to targeted problems so as to guide selection ofor, as necessary, the adaptation or design ofthe most promising candidate;
· articulation of an implementation schedule and requirements so as to enable adequate planning;
· collection of data and feedback as necessary for monitoring implementation and measuring results;
· specification of desired outcome criteria and time lines for their attainment;
· public documentation of the effort, including implementation conditions and outcomes, so as to share lessons learned with other systems.
Research on Interventions
Effectiveness of Preschool Interventions
Increasingly, children at risk of experiencing difficulties in learning to read can be identified with a fair degree of accuracy several years prior to schooling. In complement, there is need for more rigorous and long-term research on how to assist such children most powerfully and efficiently. Although research affirms that some early language and literacy intervention programs have produced substantial and long-term benefits, many other such attempts have not. The more and less effective attributes of such programs cannot be adequately identified on the basis of existing data.
Toward developing more efficient and effective programs of early intervention, appropriate government agencies and private foundations are urged to:
· coordinate early screening and intervention research so as to identify causal difficulties and their most effective redress;
· recognize and study the systemic nature of organizational structures in order to offer useful interventions at the preschool level with ties to family, communities, cultural groups, etc.;
· evaluate how promising interventions can be delivered and sustained with greatest efficacy through Head Start programs, home-based programs, day care centers, software, television, and other media and social institutions;
· sponsor long-term prospective studies of early intervention strategies to assess the impact and longevity of different intervention strategies and their components and to determine how those factors interact with later instruction and experience, in school and out.
Reading Among Children for Whom English Is the Second Language
The large and growing number of children for whom English is a second language has thrust upon the educational communitypractitioners no less than researchersextremely important questions and challenges not traditionally addressed within the domain of reading science. By far the most controversial of these is whether it is more desirable to promote literacy in a first or second language for limited-English-speaking children. Although far from conclusive, there is evidence that initial reading instruction in a child's home language (e.g., Spanish) makes a positive contribution to literacy attainment (both in the home language and in English) and, presumably, to the prevention of reading difficulties. The question of how best to promote literacy learning in either or both languages is just as important but overshadowed by the politically more volatile issues of which language should be used and for how long. Researchers and educators possess scant empirical guidance on how best to design literacy instruction for such children in either their primary language or English, much less in both.
Appropriate government agencies and private foundations are urged to sponsor research on the factors that influence the literacy acquisition of children for whom English is not the primary language. For various primary languages (e.g., Spanish, Khmer, Chinese) and along key language dimensions such as alphabetic and nonalphabetic writing systems and traditionally literate versus nonliterate languages, issues that need to be addressed include:
· What are the principal difficulties involved in literacy acquisition in the primary language? What methods of primary language reading instruction are effective?
· What can we learn from successful reading instruction practices in countries where the children's primary language is not written? To what extent are these practices applicable in a North American context?
· In what ways might successful methods for teaching primary language literacy be adjusted to anticipate English language literacy acquisition and facilitate the transition to successful English literacy?
· How does the timing of the transition to English influence literacy prospects in each language? What are the optimal instructional strategies for such programs and how do they differ as a function of when the transition is introduced? Once a child makes a transition to English literacy, what are the advantages and disadvantages of continuing primary language academic instruction?
· Are there threshold levels of oral English proficiency and primary language literacy that are required for successful transition to, and satisfactory achievement in, English literacy? If so, are there adequate instruments for assessing these levels?
· How do similarities and differences in the syntax, semantics, phonology, and orthography of the first language ease or impede the challenge of learning to read in English? What are the instructional implications of these similarities and differences?
· To what extent should absolute level of oral English proficiency and relative proficiency in English and the primary language determine whether a limited-English-proficient child receives beginning and early literacy instruction in English?
· Where initial reading instruction is provided only in English, what are the best instructional strategies for developing literacy in English?
· What are the long-term literacy consequences of being taught to read only in a second language (i.e., English)?
· What are the advantages and disadvantages of learning to read in two languages? In particular, what are the cognitive costs and benefits? Is there an optimal timing and sequencing of instruction?
· Can children learn to read in two languages simultaneously, just as they can learn to speak in two or more languages simultaneously? What are the advantages and disadvantages of learning to read in two languages simultaneously?
· How do cultural issues in how text is used and regarded overlap with linguistic issues among children for whom English is a second language?
Role of Dialect in Reading Achievement
Although it has long been suggested that the dialect features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and its phonology create additional challenges for learning to read English, few efforts to test this hypothesis have been undertaken directly. Demonstration studies of linguistically informed instructional programs for African American youth have yielded promising results, but more analytic and longer-term research is required to gauge these benefits and to understand the factors on which they depend.
Studies of the long-term effects of linguistically informed instructional programs on literacy outcomes for speakers of AAVE could include:
· modifications of phonemic awareness and phonics instruction that are sensitive to differences in the phonological characteristics of AAVE and those presumed by English orthography;
· exploration of morphemic and word analysis strategies for reinforcing the structure and significance of English orthography; and
· research on the role of other linguistic factors, such as syntax, in the reading acquisition of AAVE speakers.
Role of Retention and Extra-Year Programs
Despite mixed research support, schools continue to offer as potential solutions the retention of specific children in a given grade or providing classes of "extra-year" preparation prior to kindergarten or between kindergarten and first grade for groups of children deemed to be at risk. However, there is some evidence to indicate that extra instructional support rather than just the extended time makes a difference in reading outcomes for students who are retained in the primary grades. It is unclear whether delivering the extra support during the first year could be more effective than offering it the second time around. Furthermore, the differ-
ences are not clear between the children who thrive in the long run after an extra year and those who do not.
Information is needed about the nature of the specific interventions for literacy available to children in extra-year programs. More sophisticated research is needed to specify common factors, if any, that are found for children who are successful following retention or an extra-year program.
Appropriate government agencies and private foundations should increase research efforts on the role of retention and extra-year programs in the prevention of reading difficulties. Research should be addressed specifically to the provision for appropriate reading instruction and outcomes. Studies of the long-term effects on literacy outcomes from curriculum variations could address the following questions:
· Can we make screening measures sensitive enough to identify children who would benefit from these types of programs?
· Does one type of program work better than another (e.g., outcomes at the end of first grade for children attending transitional K-1 programs versus those who are retained in kindergarten for an additional year)?
· What are the types of literacy instruction offered by such programs and how do they provide for the needed literacy growth of individual children?
· What evidence is there that children given such additional time or instruction profit more than they would have by proceeding with their age-level peers?
Software Focused on Literacy
Preliminary evaluations indicate that well-designed software programs for supporting early literacy development can produce gains in student performance. Such software can reinforce, motivate, and extend early literacy instruction.
Appropriate government agencies and private foundations should increase research efforts addressing appro-
priate technology that can support reading instruction. Issues that need to be addressed are whether the software programs are:
· consistent with the recommendations made above for "Reading Instruction in Kindergarten Through Third Grade,"
· consistent with classroom curricular goals as well as the specific needs of individual children, and
· used as a complement tonot as a substitute foreffective teaching or a good curriculum.
Effectiveness of Primary-Grade Interventions
Research affirms that quality classroom instruction in kindergarten and the primary grades is the single best weapon against reading failure. Indeed, when done well, classroom instruction has been shown to overwhelm the effects of student background and supplementary tutoring. Although research has made great strides in identifying the attributes of effective classroom instruction, many questions have been inadequately addressed.
Toward improving reading outcomes for all children, research toward increasing the efficacy of classroom reading instruction in kindergarten and the primary grades should be the number one funding priority. Beyond issues addressed in other sections of this chapter, questions in need of answers include:
· How best can the development of decoding automaticity be hastened?
· What factors govern children's induction and generalization of spelling-sound knowledge and how can they best be fostered?
· What are the roles and dynamics of syntactic and semantic factors in beginning readers? How do they influence the growth of decoding and fluency?
· Through what means can word recognition and comprehension development be coordinated so that they develop most efficiently and synergistically?
· What kinds of reading and writing activities and instruction serve to maximize the leverage of each on the other?
· How do syntactic competence and awareness influence reading growth? What aspects of syntax warrant instruction?
· What are the best strategies for building vocabulary growth?
· What are the keys to improving content-area reading?
· Can spelling and vocabulary growth be accelerated by learning about derivational morphology and, toward that end, what are the best strategies for its instruction?
· What kinds of instructional practices and activities serve best to develop children's habits of self-monitoring for coherence and comprehension?
· What is the impact of early childhood and primary-grade instructional practices on reading and literacy growth in the middle and upper grades of school? How should the curriculum be changed to maximize such benefit?
· What is the actual incidence and nature of the ''fourth-grade slump"? Its prevalence and presenting symptoms should be documented and, if so indicated, research on its underlying causes and best prevention should follow.
· What kinds of curriculum materials (including basal readers) are useful for what purposes, and how can published materials and the reading/writing curriculum be integrated?
· What kinds of knowledge and material support do classroom teachers need for greatest effectiveness?
· How can in-service opportunities be used most effectively?
· What are the best strategies for monitoring and managing the range of student progress and difficulties in any given classroom or building?
· What kinds of classroom, grouping, and staffing options would significantly improve instructional delivery in the primary grades?
· What are the best strategies for maintaining constructive communication and collaboration between parents and teachers in support of children's reading development?