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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Ranting about RAN

February 4, 2009

Lots of kids with reading difficulties have trouble on measures of rapid automatized naming (RAN). RAN tasks measure the time taken for a child to name alphabet letters, digits, colors or common objects presented in a random order. Poorer readers consistently perform more slowly on automatized naming tasks.

Carefully controlled experiments help researchers learn more about why poor readers perform slowly on RAN tasks. To avoid getting hopelessly dull in describing what we know about the likely underlying phonological deficits and the double deficit hypothesis, I'll just repeat that poor readers perform poorly on RAN tasks. Their slow rate is likely confounded by (but not completely the result of) underlying phonological deficits.

Why is this post about such a strangely serious topic? It's because I'm worried!

A recent report describes (1) skills and abilities linked to later outcomes in reading, writing and spelling and (2) the impact of various interventions and programs on young children's early literacy skills.

It's a good report, and (I'm sure) the product of many long years of work. But on the list of the skills that predict reading achievement are two RAN tasks: RAN of letters or digits, and RAN of objects or colors.

While I'm not surprised by this scientific finding, I'm worried about it. I'm worried that well intentioned preschool and kindergarten teachers will read the report (or the executive summary or a bulleted list of the six variables) and think, "Hmmm…. I better teach kids to perform well on RAN tasks."

The thing is, slow performance on RAN is indicative of core deficits. I consider it more of a symptom of the reading difficulty than the problem.

So, that said, I'm going to come out and say this: Don't drill kids on RAN tasks. Don't give them pages of letters and digits and ask them to say them quickly. Don't focus your instruction on random strings of colored boxes and common objects. The RAN info is more important for diagnostic purposes than instructional ones.

Rather, help kids develop phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge. Teach them to write their letters and their name. Engage in explicit instruction about letters, letter sounds, and help them fall in love with language.

Okay, rant over.


I know I'm in the minority, but I feel we push these things too much too early already. (One year olds getting toys that "teach" colors and numbers and the alphabet?!) I hope those who read the report, or hear about it think a little deeper and realize what you said. I agree with you and I hope the drilling doesn't happen! (SIGH)!

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