About Reading

Hemispheric specialization for visual words is shaped by attention to sublexical units during initial learning

Yoncheva, Y.N., Wise, J., and McCandliss, B. Hemispheric specialization for visual words is shaped by attention to sublexical units during initial learning, Brain and Language, Volumes 145–146, June–July 2015, pages 23-33.

This study investigated how the brain responds to different types of reading instruction. Results indicate that beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships, or phonics, instead of trying to learn whole words, increase activity in the area of their brains best wired for reading. To develop reading skills, teaching students to sound out "C-A-T" sparks more optimal brain circuitry than instructing them to memorize the word "cat." And, the study found, these teaching-induced differences show up even on future encounters with the word. The study provides some of the first evidence that a specific teaching strategy for reading has direct neural impact. The research could eventually lead to better-designed interventions to help struggling readers.

The Next Chapter: Supporting Literacy Within ESEA

Haynes, M. (August 2015). The Next Chapter: Supporting Literacy Within ESEA. Alliance for Excellent Education, Washington, D.C.

Noting that 60 percent of both fourth and eighth graders currently struggle with reading, this report urges the U.S. Congress to focus on students’ literacy development from early childhood through grade twelve as it works to rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). As part of a solution, the report highlights proposed federal legislation, the Literacy Education for All, Results for a Nation (LEARN) Act, which would encourage schools and educators to use research-based strategies to teach reading and writing within subject areas and across grade levels. In addition to its legislative recommendations, the report examines why students struggle to read and measures the success of other federal efforts to improve literacy, including Reading First and the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program.

Building Strong Readers in Minnesota

Lieberman, A., Bornfreund, L. Building Strong Readers in Minnesota: PreK-3rd Grade Policies That Support Children's Literacy Development (September 2015). New America Foundation: Washington, D.C.

An examination of state policies and local initiatives in Minnesota that aim to improve literacy outcomes for all students by shaping their learning trajectories from a young age. Intentional alignment of education systems from pre-K and into the early grades of elementary school — a ‘PreK–3rd grade’ framework — can help narrow opportunity and achievement gaps. In this report, the researchers explore how Minnesota’s early learning policies are helping or hindering the ability of school districts, schools, and teachers to ensure that all children are on track to read on grade level by the end of third grade.

Kids & Family Reading Report: 5th Edition

Scholastic (2015) Kids & Family Reading Report: 5th Edition. New York: NY.

This biannual survey explores the reading attitudes and experiences that most influence children's reading habits, including reading aloud at home, independent reading at school, presence of books in the home, and more. Findings from the 2014 survey show that just over 1,000 children ages 6 to 17, only 31 percent said they read a book for fun almost daily, down from 37 percent four years ago. The report asks what makes children frequent readers, creating two models for predicting children's reading frequency-one each among kids ages 6–11 and 12–17-constructed through a regression analysis of more than 130 data measures from the survey. Across both groups, three powerful predictors that children will be frequent readers include: (1) the child's reading enjoyment; (2) parents who are frequent readers; and (3) the child's belief that reading for fun is important.

How Well Are American Students Learning? With Sections on the Gender Gap in Reading, Effects of the Common Core, and Student Engagement

Loveless, T. The 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education How Well Are American Students Learning? With sections on the gender gap in reading, effects of the Common Core, and student engagement (March 2015) Washington, D.C. The Brown Center on Education Policy, The Brookings Institution.

Part I of the 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education: Girls score higher than boys on tests of reading ability. They have for a long time. This section of the Brown Center Report assesses where the gender gap stands today and examines trends over the past several decades. The analysis also extends beyond the U.S. and shows that boys’ reading achievement lags that of girls in every country in the world on international assessments. The international dimension — recognizing that U.S. is not alone in this phenomenon — serves as a catalyst to discuss why the gender gap exists and whether it extends into adulthood.

Early Reading Proficiency in the United States

Early Reading Proficiency in the United States (2014) The Annie E. Casey Foundation

Children who are proficient readers by the end of third grade are more likely to graduate from high school and to be economically successful in adulthood. This KIDS COUNT data snapshot finds 80 percent of fourth-graders from low-income families and 66 percent of all fourth-graders are not reading at grade level. While improvements have been made in the past decade, reading proficiency levels remain low. Given the critical nature of reading to children’s individual achievement and the nation’s future economic success, the Casey Foundation offers recommendations for communities and policymakers to support early reading. Early reading proficiency rates for the nation and each state are provided.

The Joy and Power of Reading: A Summary of Research and Expert Opinion

Bridges, L. (2014) The Joy and Power of Reading: A Summary of Research and Expert Opinion. New York: Scholastic.

This summary of research and expert opinion highlights the importance of reading volume, stamina and independent reading and how that builds comprehension, background knowledge, vocabulary and fluency skills. The report also discusses the value of reader choice and variety in developing motivation and confidence; guided reading and interactive read alouds in schools; and reading aloud plus talk at home.

Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind

Kidd, D. C. & Castano, E. (2013) Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind. Science, 18 October 2013: 342 (6156), 377-380.

Theory of Mind is the human capacity to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires and that these may differ from one's own beliefs and desires. The currently predominant view is that literary fiction — often described as narratives that focus on in-depth portrayals of subjects' inner feelings and thoughts — can be linked to theory of mind processes. The researchers in this study provide experimental evidence that reading passages of literary fiction, in comparison to nonfiction or popular fiction, does indeed enhance the reader's performance on theory of mind tasks — a set of skills and thought processes fundamental to complex social relationships and functional societies.

Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating?

West, M.R. Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating? (2012) Brookings Institution, Center on Children and Families.

Whether a child is a proficient reader by the third grade is an important indicator of their future academic success. Indeed, substantial evidence indicates that unless students establish basic reading skills by that time, the rest of their education will be an uphill struggle. This evidence has spurred efforts to ensure that all students receive high-quality reading instruction in and even before the early grades. It has also raised the uncomfortable question of how to respond when those efforts fail to occur or prove unsuccessful: Should students who have not acquired a basic level of reading proficiency by grade three be promoted along with their peers? Or should they be retained and provided with intensive interventions before moving on to the next grade? This paper looks at the background on grade retention, a case study of test-based promotion in Florida, and policy implications.

Third Grade Literacy Policies: Identification, Intervention, Retention

Rose, S. and Schimke, K. Third Grade Literacy Policies: Identification, Intervention, Retention (2012) Education Commission of the States.

This paper examines policies to promote 3rd-grade reading proficiency, including early identification of and intervention for struggling readers, as well as retention as an action of last resort. The authors outline case studies in both Florida and New York City, and identify decisions policymakers must consider as they implement policies around 3rd-grade literacy.

Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading

Graham, S., and Hebert, M.A. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Writing to Read is a new Carnegie Corporation report published by the Alliance for Excellent Education which finds that while reading and writing are closely connected, writing is an often-overlooked tool for improving reading skills and content learning. Writing to Read identifies three core instructional practices that have been shown to be effective in improving student reading: having students write about the content-area texts they have read; teaching students the writing skills and processes that go into creating text; and increasing the amount of writing students do.

Family and Neighborhood Sources of Socioeconomic Inequality in Children's Achievement

Sastry, Narayan, and A.R. Pebley. 2010. "Family and Neighborhood Sources of Socioeconomic Inequality in Children's Achievement." Demography, 47(3): 777-800.

Researchers examined family and neighborhood sources of socioeconomic inequality in children's reading and mathematics achievement using data from the 2000-2001 Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey. The researchers found no inequality in children's achievement by family income when other variables in the model were held constant. Mother's reading scores and average neighborhood levels of income accounted for the largest proportion of inequality in children's achievement. Neighborhood economic status appears to be strongly associated with children's skills acquisition.

PreK-Grade 3 Reading and Literacy Practices That Matter

Ryan, M. PreK-Grade 3: Reading and Literacy Practices That Matter. (2010). Education Commission of the States. New York, NY.

This snapshot of five recent research studies addresses reading and literacy in the early grades. Policy recommendations on practices that matter are included for each of the five studies.

Are Achievement Gaps Closing and Is Achievement Rising for All?

Chudowsky, N., Chodowsky, V., and Kober, N. (2009). State Test Score Trends Through 2007-08: Are Achievement Gaps Closing and Is Achievement Rising For All? Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy.

This report examines testing data from all 50 states to determine if achievement gaps between subgroups of students are narrowing. The report also looks at the achievement trends of subgroups of students at the elementary school level.

How to get recreational reading to increase reading achievement

Kamil, M. (2008). How to get recreational reading to increase reading achievement. In Y. Kim, V. J. Risko, D. L. Compton, D. K. Dickinson, M. K. Hundley, R. T. Jiménez, & D. Well Rowe (Eds.), 57th Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 31–40). Oak Creek, WI: National Reading Conference.

The conclusion from these studies is that recreational reading by itself has no effect on reading achievement — teachers and instruction are the critical variables in the relationship of recreational reading to reading ability. The current research provides a strong test of the notion that having students read a lot will produce reading achievement gains. This holds true for the entire range of measures used from alphabetics to comprehension. However, instruction can leverage recreational reading to produce some gains in reading achievement, most notably in fluency and comprehension. When recreational reading is encouraged in the context of improved instruction, there are improvements in fluency and comprehension, although not in vocabulary.

Using Research and Reason in Education: How Teachers Can Use Scientifically Based Research to Make Curricular & Instructional Decisions

Stanovich, P. J. & Stanovich, K. E. (2003). Using research and reason in education: How teachers can use scientifically based research to make curricular & instructional decisions. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; Department of Education; and Department of Health and Human Services.

As professionals, teachers can become more effective and powerful by developing the skills to recognize scientifically based practice and, when the evidence is not available, use some basic research concepts to draw conclusions on their own. This paper offers a primer for those skills that will allow teachers to become independent evaluators of educational research.

Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind

Wright, P.W.D., Wright, P.D., Heath, S.W. Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (2003). Harbor House Law Press.

The No Child Left Behind Act is confusing to parents, educators, administrators, advocates, and most attorneys. In this comprehensive book, you'll find the full text of the No Child Left Behind Act with analysis, interpretation and commentary, advocacy strategies, tips, and sample letters.

Progress in Understanding Reading: Scientific Foundations and New Frontiers

Stanovich, Keith E. (2000). Progress in understanding reading: Scientific foundations and new frontiers. New York: Guilford Press.

From a nationally known expert, this volume summarizes the gains that have been made in key areas of reading research and provides authoritative insights on current controversies and debates. Each section begins with up-to-date findings followed by one or more classic papers from the author's research program. Significant issues covered include phonological processes and context effects in reading, the "reading wars" and how they should be resolved, the meaning of the term "dyslexia," and the cognitive effects and benefits of reading.

Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science: What Expert Teachers of Reading Should Know and Be Able to Do

Moats, L. C. (1999). Teaching reading is rocket science: What expert teachers of reading should know and be able to do. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.

This foundational report reviews the reading research and describes the knowledge base that is essential for teacher candidates and practicing teachers to master if they are to be successful in teaching all children to read well. Developed by the American Federation of Teachers(AFT).

Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children

Snow, C.E., Burns, M.S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

In this report, we are most concerned with the large numbers of children in America whose educational careers are imperiled because they do not read well enough to ensure understanding and to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive economy. Current difficulties in reading largely originate from rising demands for literacy, not from declining absolute levels of literacy. In a technological society, the demands for higher literacy are ever increasing, creating more grievous consequences for those who fall short. The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked the National Academy of Sciences to establish a committee to examine the prevention of reading difficulties. Our committee was charged with conducting a study of the effectiveness of interventions for young children who are at risk of having problems learning to read. The goals of the project were three: (1) to comprehend a rich but diverse research base; and (2) to translate the research findings into advice and guidance for parents, educators, publishers, and others.

Why Reading Is Not a Natural Process

Lyon, G. (1998, March). Why reading is not a natural process. Educational Leadership, 55(6), 14-18.
Nearly four decades of scientific research on how children learn to read supports an emphasis on phonemic awareness and phonics in a literature-rich environment. These findings challenge the belief that children learn to read naturally.

Literacy Instruction in Nine First-Grade Classrooms: Teacher Characteristics and Student Achievement

Wharton-McDonald, R., Pressley, M., & Hampston, J.M. (1998). Literacy instruction in nine first-grade classrooms: Teacher characteristics and student achievement. The Elementary School Journal, 99, 101-128.

Classroom observations and in-depth interviews were used to study 9 first-grade teachers from 4 districts who had been nominated by language arts coordinators as outstanding or typical in their ability to help students develop literacy skills. Based on observational measures of student reading and writing achievement and student engagement, 3 groups of teachers emerged from the original 9. The following practices and beliefs distinguished the instruction of the 3 teachers (2 nominated as outstanding, 1 as typical) whose students demonstrated the highest levels on these measures: (a) coherent and thorough integration of skills with high-quality reading and writing experiences, (b) a high density of instruction (integration of multiple goals in a single lesson), (c) extensive use of scaffolding, (d) encouragement of student self-regulation, (e) a thorough integration of reading and writing activities, (f) high expectations for all students, (g) masterful classroom management, and (h) an awareness of their practices and the goals underlying them. Teaching practices observed in 7 of the 9 classrooms are also discussed. The data reported here highlight the complexity of primary literacy instruction and support the conclusion that effective primary-level literacy instruction is a balanced integration of high-quality reading and writing experiences and explicit instruction of basic literacy skills.

Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children

Hart, B. and Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Brookes Publishing Company

The landmark longitudinal study of parent-child talk in families. The researchers recorded one full hour of every word spoken at home between parent and child in 42 families over a three year period, with children from seven months to 36 months of age. Follow-up studies by Hart and Risley of those same children at age nine showed that there was a very tight link between the academic success of a child and the number of words the child's parents spoke to the child to age three. See summary

Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print

Adams, M.J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

This book reconciles the debate that has divided theorists for decades over the "right" way to help children learn to read. Drawing on a rich array of research on the nature and development of reading proficiency, Adams shows educators that they need not remain trapped in the phonics versus teaching-for-meaning dilemma. She proposes that phonics can work together with the whole language approach to teaching reading and provides an integrated treatment of the knowledge and process involved in skillful reading, the issues surrounding their acquisition, and the implications for reading instruction.

Learning to Read and Write: A Longitudinal Study of 54 Children From First Through Fourth Grades

Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 243-255.

In this study, of particular concern were these questions: Do the same children remain poor readers year after year? Do the same children remain poor writers year after year? What skills do the poor readers lack? What skills do the poor writers lack? What factors seem to keep poor readers from improving? What factors seem to keep poor writers from improving? The probability that a child would remain a poor reader at the end of 4th grade if the child was a poor reader at the end of 1st grade was 0.88. Early writing skill did not predict later writing skill as well as early reading ability predicted later reading ability. Children who become poor readers entered 1st grade with little phonemic awareness. By the end of 4th grade, the poor readers had still not achieved the level of decoding skill that the good readers had achieved at the beginning of 2nd grade. Good readers read considerably more than the poor readers both in and out of school, which appeared to contribute to the good readers' growth in some reading and writing skills. Poor readers tended to become poor writers.

Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy

Stanovich, Keith E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 360-407.

The Matthew Effects are not only about the progressive decline of slow starters, but also about the widening gap between slow starters and fast starters. In reading, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This report presents a framework for conceptualizing development of individual differences in reading ability that emphasizes the effects of reading on cognitive development and on "bootstrapping" relationships involving reading. It uses the framework to explain some persisting problems in the literature on reading disability and to conceptualize remediation efforts in reading.

Why Johnny Can't Read: And What You Can Do About It

Flesch, R. (reprint, 1986). Why Johnny Can't Read: And What You Can Do About It. New York: Perennial Currents.

The classic book on phonics – the method of teaching recommended by the U.S. Department of Education. Contains complete materials and instructions on teaching children to read at home.

Ways With Words: Language, Life and Work in Communities and Classrooms

Heath, S.B. (1983). Ways with words: Language, life and work in communities and classrooms. Cambridge University Press.

This book is a classic study of children learning to use language at home and at school in two communities only a few miles apart in the southeastern United States. 'Roadville' is a white working-class community of families steeped for generations in the life of textile mills; 'Trackton' is a black working-class community whose older generations grew up farming the land but whose current members work in the mills. In tracing the children's language development the author shows the deep cultural differences between the two communities, whose ways with words differ as strikingly from each other as either does from the pattern of the townspeople, the mainstream blacks and whites who hold power in the schools and workplaces of the region. Employing the combined skills of ethnographer, social historian, and teacher, the author raises fundamental questions about the nature of language development, the effects of literacy on oral language habits, and the sources of communication problems in schools and workplaces.

Learning to Read: The Great Debate

Chall, J.S. (1967). Learning to read: The great debate. New York: McGraw-Hill.

From Diane Ravitchs' tribute to Jeanne Chall, in the American Educator, Spring 2001:
In 1961, as the debate about how to teach reading continued, the Carnegie Corporation of New York commissioned Jeanne Chall, who was well established as a careful reading researcher, to review the controversy. Chall spent three years visiting hundreds of classrooms, analyzing research studies, and examining textbooks; she interviewed textbook authors, reading specialists, and teachers.
Chall found that studies of beginning readers over the decades clearly supported decoding. Early decoding, she found, not only produced better word recognition and spelling, but also made it easier for the child eventually to read with understanding. The code emphasis method, she wrote, was especially effective for children of lower socioeconomic status, who were not likely to live in homes surrounded with books or with adults who could help them learn to read. For a beginning reader, she found, knowledge of letters and sounds had more influence on reading achievement than the child's tested mental ability or IQ.

"You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." — Paul Sweeney