Thirty Years of Research: What We Now Know About How Children Learn to Read

Thirty Years of Research: What We Now Know About How Children Learn to Read

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) educational research program, initiated in 1965, began to focus on reading difficulties as it became clear how extensive the reading problem was in the general population. The 1985 Health Research Extension Act resulted in a new charge to the NICHD to improve the quality of reading research by conducting long-term, prospective, longitudinal, and multidisciplinary research. Reid Lyon led the new charge by closely coordinating the work of more than 100 researchers in medicine, psychology, and education in approximately 14 different research centers. (Numbers vary from year to year.)

Below are the seven key principles of effective reading instruction identified in the research. The research findings indicate that to prevent reading problems classroom teachers should do the following:  (The first three were discussed in previous lessons)

  • Teach phonemic awareness

Phonemic awareness is the awareness that words are made up of sounds that can be taken apart and put back together. Sounds can be rearranged in different order to make different words.

  • Teach each sound-spelling correspondence explicitly.

Phonemic awareness alone is not sufficient. Explicit, systematic instruction in common sound-spelling correspondences is also necessary. Researchers found that the greatest gains occurred when the explicit instruction moved into teaching the sound-spelling relationships concurrently with the instruction in phonemic awareness.

  • Teach frequent, highly regular sound-spelling relationships systematically.

Only a few sound-spelling relationships are necessary to read. The most effective instructional programs teach children to read successfully with only 40 to 50 sound-spelling relationships. (Writing can require a few more, about 70 sound-spelling relationships).

  • Teach students directly how to sound out words.

After students have learned two or three sound-spelling correspondences, begin teaching them how to blend the sounds into words. Show students how to move sequentially from left to right through spellings as they “sound out,” or say the sound for each spelling. Practice blending words composed of only the sound-spelling relationships the students have learned.

  • Teach students sound-spelling relationships using connected, decodable text.

Decodable text is composed of words that use the sound-spelling correspondences that children have learned to that point. Students need extensive practice applying their knowledge of sound-spelling relationships as they are learning them. This integration of phonics and reading can only occur with the use of decodable text composed of words that use sound-spelling correspondences that have been systematically taught.

  • Teach reading comprehension using interesting teacher read stories.

Comprehension should be taught using teacher read stories that include words most students have not yet learned to read, but which are part of their spoken vocabulary.

  • Teach decoding and comprehension skills separately until reading becomes fluent.

Both instructional activities should occur, but decoding and comprehension instruction should be taught separately while students are learning to decode. Comprehension skills learned through teacher read literature can be applied to students’ own reading once they become fluent decoders.