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One Reading Report That Won't Sit on the Shelf!


Share School Issues Center LogoThere is no magic bullet that can teach all children how to read, according to a comprehensive study by the National Reading Panel. After reviewing more than 115,000 studies, the panel concludes that a combination of methods that includes teaching phonics, reading aloud, and using comprehension strategies is the best way to teach reading. This is one report that won't sit on the shelf, one official told Congress. Included: The panel's four primary recommendations plus their findings on the use of technology in reading instruction.

There is no magic bullet that can teach all children how to read, according to a comprehensive study by the National Reading Panel. After reviewing more than 115,000 studies, the panel concludes that a combination of methods that includes teaching phonics, reading aloud, and using comprehension strategies is the best way to teach reading. This is one report that won't sit on the shelf, one official told Congress. Included: The panel's four primary recommendations plus their findings on the use of technology in reading instruction.


Does Technology Have a Place in Reading Instruction?

The National Reading Panel examined the use of technology in reading instruction. Panel members were encouraged by reported successes in the use of computers to teach reading but found there were few specific instructional applications based on the 21 studies they reviewed. Because there were so few studies that met its criteria for review, the panel found it difficult to draw conclusions about the role of computer technology in reading instruction.

The panel did find, however, that the studies report positive results indicating that it is possible to use computers to teach reading. Panelists point to two promising trends in using computers to teach reading:

  • the use of hypertext that links to underlying definitions or supporting or relating to text; and
  • the use of computers as word processors, noting that reading instruction is most effective when combined with writing instruction.

  • The debate on how to best teach children how to read has filled countless volumes of scholarly journals for decades. A recently released comprehensive study, Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction, by the congressionally mandated National Reading Panel may help settle what has often been called the "reading wars."

    The panel finds there is no magic bullet that can teach all children how to read. The best way is a combination of techniques and systematic strategies that includes teaching phonics, reading aloud, and teaching kids how to understand what they read. Systematic phonics instruction integrated with other reading instruction in phonemic awareness, fluency, and comprehension strategies creates a complete reading program and is the best way to teach children how to read, the 14-member panel reported to Congress in April.

    Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), who convened the panel, told Congress this is one report that won't sit on a shelf.

    WARNINGS ABOUT AN ALL-PHONICS APPROACH

    The National Reading Panel recommends the following four practices as effective instructional approaches:

    • Phonemic awareness -- Teach children to break apart words into smaller components and manipulate the sounds in words.
    • Phonics -- Teach children the sounds that are represented by letters of the alphabet that can be blended together to form words.
    • Guided repeated oral reading -- Have children practice these skills out loud with guidance and feedback.
    • Reading comprehension strategies -- Help
      and guide children to understand what they are reading.
    However, the panel warns, some teachers tend to allow phonics to become the dominant component in their classroom, particularly in the first grade. Panelists recommend that teachers not judge a child's reading competence based solely on his or her phonics' skills and not diminish the child's interest in books because he or she cannot decode words accurately.

    Of critical importance is for teachers to understand that systematic phonics instruction can be done in an entertaining, vibrant, and creative way, the panel recommends. Panel members also found that in order to teach reading, teachers must also understand how children learn to read, why some children have difficulty, and how to identify those children.

    MOST COMPREHENSIVE STUDY ON READING

    "The report of the National Reading Panel is the most comprehensive effort of its kind, intended to find out which methods for teaching reading are ready for use in the classroom," Alexander told Education World. "In their exhaustive review, panel members combed through more than 115,000 English language studies on how children best learn to read."

    Unlike many other such reports, the panel's report is based only on studies that meet the rigorous scientific standards that might be applied to evaluating a new drug or medical treatment, Alexander added.

    The report is intended to be a guide that delineates the underlying principles of how children best learn to read, Alexander said. "Every classroom is unique, as is every child," he said. "How to apply those principles is determined at the local level." Currently, the NIHCD is developing a guide to assist teachers in applying the findings of the panel.

    The 14-member independent panel comprised scientists in reading research, reading teachers, representatives of colleges of education, educational administrators, and parents was established in 1997 in response to a congressional request.

    The NICHD and Department of Education selected the 14 members from more than 300 people suggested for the panel. Those who had taken strong stands supporting or opposing any particular approaches to teaching reading and anyone with a financial interest in commercial reading instructional materials were eliminated from consideration.

    ADDITIONAL ONLINE RESOURCES ON TEACHING CHILDREN TO READ

  • Why Children Succeed or Fail at Reading This is a thorough explanation of phonemic awareness and phonics, two key concepts in the National Reading Panel's report.
  • National Assessment of Educational Progress 1998 Reading Report Card for the Nations and States This report presents the results of the 1998 NAEP reading assessment for the nation and for participating states or jurisdictions. Results in 1998 are compared to those in 1994 and 1992.

    Diane Weaver Dunne
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2000 Education World

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    05/22/2000