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Establishing an Effective Reading Program

In this webcast, literacy experts G. Reid LyonTimothy Shanahan, and Charlotte Parker talk about research-based reading instruction and discuss how schools and districts can choose the best reading programs.

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Program description

Schools around the country are faced with the challenge of changing their reading programs to fall into compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This webcast focuses how schools and their districts can find the best research-based reading program to meet the needs of their student population.

Note: In December 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (opens in a new window) to replace NCLB.

This webcast was produced by Reading Rockets in partnership with the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), the National Education Association (NEA), the International Reading Association (IRA), and the National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE). Funding for this teleconference was provided by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education.


G. Reid Lyon is the Executive Vice President for Research and Evaluation at Best Associates and Whitney International University

Timothy Shanahan is the Director of the University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Literacy

Charlotte Parker is the Principal of Burbank Elementary in the Houston Independent School District


Delia Pompa is the Vice President of the Center for Community Educational Excellence, at the National Council of La Raza.

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Discussion questions

  • Share something that you learned from the webcast that was new to you. Then, talk about ways you see yourself using that information within your school setting.
  • Describe the professional development opportunities you’ve had that have helped you learn more about the scientific findings about how children learn to read, why some children fail to learn to read, and what instructional methods have a scientific basis.
  • Discuss things your school does to screen students who might be at risk for reading failure. Then, describe the interventions in place for struggling students.
  • Reflect on your curriculum / spelling program. Does it encourage memorization or does it involve students’ learning about spelling patterns? Is the content presented in a logical order? In what ways does the program encourage application to reading and writing?
  • Explain some of the steps your school has taken to get parents involved in the reading program. Do you feel your students’ parents have an understanding of the reading process and why certain strategies are used within the building? Describe how you feel you could increase the parental involvement in the reading program.
  • How does your school or school district support new teachers? What systems are in place to help your newest colleagues?



Delia Pompa: Hello, I’m Delia Pompa. Welcome to this year’s first Reading Rockets teleconference. Schools around the country are struggling with their most basic jobs, teaching kids to read. Nationally, 36% of fourth graders read below the basic level, which means they understand very little of what they read or they can barely read at all. That’s why we’re here. Reading Rockets wants to deliver solid research about teaching reading into the hands of educators and parents who can make a difference. Our expert panelists are here to discuss how you can implement good beginning reading instruction in your school and start children reading.

Dr. G. Reid Lyon heads the child development and behavior branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Dr. Timothy Shanahan is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Director of the U.I.C. Center for Literacy and Dr. Charlotte Parker is the principal of the Burbank Middle School in Houston, Texas, and the 1999 recipient of the National Association of Black Educators Principal of the Year Award.

We are also joined by an audience of teachers, administrators, special education professionals, and parents. Later in the program, we will be taking questions from the audience and opening up the phone lines to viewers around the country. Thank you all for joining us, but first, let’s take a look back.


Narrator: In January 2001, President George W. Bush met with members of the education community and Congress to announce his plan called No Child Left Behind. The education crisis in America, particularly the reading crisis, prompted him to take immediate action his first week in office.

President Bush: We’ve got one thing in mind. An education system that’s responsive to the children. An education system that educates every child. An education system that I’m confident can exist. One that’s based upon sound fundamental curriculum, one that starts teaching children to read early in life, one that focuses on systems that do work, one that heralds our teachers and makes sure they’ve got the necessary tools to teach. The one that says every child can learn. In this great land called America, no child will be left behind.

Narrator: A year later, the President signed the law. Now, No Child Left Behind sets the standard for the way we teach children to read. The law requires that all reading instruction be research-based. Schools must hire highly qualified teachers, assess students regularly, and make adequate yearly progress.


Delia: Reid, a simple question perhaps, but maybe with a complex answer. What is research-based reading instructions?

Dr. Reid Lyon: Delia, in short, research-based instruction is making sure that we provide kids with what works in teaching them how to read. That’s the straightforward way to put it, but for many years, youngsters have been instructed or instruction has been provided driven by philosophy and beliefs, not scientific evidence. People have thought that they had a pretty good idea about how youngsters learn to read and how they should be taught, but there was really no scientific evidence to indicate for which kids, which kinds of teaching approaches were most effective, and what kind of classrooms and so on. And indeed, the figure you mentioned earlier that we’re leaving behind 36% of our kids actually reflects that belief system orientation rather than a scientific research orientation.

Because of that, The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in collaboration with the office of Special Ed program, The National Science Foundation, and others, for the last many years has been studying many, many kids, about, 45,000 youngsters, and we’re asking a set of straight forward questions. How do our kids learn to read? What are the kids and the abilities and the environments and the instructional interaction that help them pull print off the page, relate it to what they know, and enjoy it and learn from it. Number two, given all of the kids we have that are not doing well, what gets in the way. Which of those skills? Which of those environments? Which of those instructions actually may make it difficult for kids to learn how to read? Number three, as many people in the audience know, the folks around the table knows, and as the audience knows, when kids do not learn to read, they don’t make it in life.

And in fact, not learning to read produces enormous, enormous consequences with respect to self-concept and self-esteem. It’s the main thing kids have to do in school, and when they don’t learn to read they feel stupid. So a third question we’ve been asking scientifically is how can we prevent reading failure from ever hitting these kids to begin with because it is so devastating. A fourth question we’ve been working on is because we’re not able to prevent with all of kids’ difficulties learning to read, how can we help them later on in middle school, in high school, and even as adults, learn how to pick up this precious ability, which will allow them to lead a full and fruitful life?

Delia: There’s some components that are important in this process. Can you talk a little bit about them?

Dr. Lyon: Absolutely. What the research over these years has converged upon is this. When we ask what it takes to learn to read, we know that all kids have to understand the sound structure of their language. In the jargon of the profession, this is called phone particular awareness, the beginning to understand the words you hear are made up of smaller sounds, so youngsters have to be able to know about these sounds. They have to know letter names, letter sounds, and concepts of print. That is, how, in fact, you hold a book, do you go from left and right and so forth. This is a non-negotiable set of abilities, but it’s not sufficient. Kids also have to know how to apply the sounds to the text. This is called phonics and the ability to decode. So another component is phonics in decoding, but kids, a lot of our kids that we study have good phonemic awareness, good phonics, but they’re not able to apply these skills fluently and automatically to the text. So text fluency is critical, and automatically is critical otherwise the youngsters are bogged down. It takes them too long to read, they forget what they’ve read. We have a lot of kids who have good phonemic awareness, good fluency, but still don’t comprehend.

Why? Because vocabulary development has been stymied, either from birth, to school entry, they haven’t interacted enough with adults to build vocabulary, but consider, when you’re reading something, if you can’t relate what you’re reading to the words in your mind, what you already have, you won’t understand it.

So vocabulary is critical. Likewise, we have kids that have all of these capabilities, still don’t comprehend. Why? Because they need instruction and good text comprehension strategies, the ability to summarize what they’ve read, to predict from what they’ve read, what might come next and so forth. All of this has to be built, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension strategies are further embellished or supported by good writing instruction, and spelling and handwriting work that helps cement a lot of these concepts. And none of this will be successful in a comprehensive reading program.

Unless our teachers know how to screen our kids as they come into their classrooms, particularly early, but at every grade, so they know who’s at risk. And our teachers also have to be able to monitor our kids’ response to instruction on a very frequent basis, not a beginning of the year test, not an end of the year test, but assessing as the teaching is going on, so modification or adjustment of instruction can be put in place when kids are not getting the concepts.

Delia: What causes reading difficulties in some kids?

Dr. Lyon: Many factors make it tough, no doubt about it. For most children with reading difficulties, the major problem is they come into school without the requisite foundational abilities. This really hits poor kids. Disadvantaged kids are most at risk for reading failure. Why? Because they constantly are growing up without a lot of books present. They’re not read to as much as other more advantaged kids. They don’t play with the language with other adults as much as other kids. They don’t have the opportunities. It’s not that they can’t learn at all. It’s that all of the things that a lot of moms and dads do with kids from birth onward actually build these kinds of things we’re talking about. They help the kids understand the sound structure. Parents, when they’re working with kids, teach the letter names and the letter sounds at 3 and 4 years of age, if not earlier. All of these kinds of foundational skills are absolutely essential for reading.

Delia: Lots of things that can be done in the home.

Dr. Lyon: Yes, ma’am.

Delia: You’re the researcher. Charlotte, you’re a practitioner. What kinds of questions come to mind when you hear Reid talk about all this?

Dr. Charlotte Parker: Well, some of the questions that come to mind is the fact that how can we look at what programs out there are working? What are some of the programs you know that have these programs embedded in them?

Dr. Lyon: We at the N.I.H. have committed very heavily to studying many reading programs in the same way we study pharmaceuticals, that is through randomized clinical trials. What we have learned is this, and hopefully those folks working in schools and parents will see the common sense in this. We just went through what it takes to help kids learn to read. All of the skills they need.

Well, obviously an effective program will incorporate all those skills. So an effective reading program that works has to incorporate all of these kinds of things. It has to be comprehensive. It has to make sure that kids will be instructed in phonemic awareness, sound, vocabulary, and comprehension, as well as writing. It has to be, again, comprehensive, as well, in that it is able to address the needs of all children, just not a subset of children. And it also has to be incorporated with good assessment strategy so teachers know exactly what their instruction is providing and which kids are getting it and which kids aren’t.

Delia: Big task in just one school. What about a whole school district, Tim? What jumps – you had to do this in a whole school district. What kinds of questions?

Dr. Timothy Shanahan: Well, of course, it comes up frequently to me is Reid is calling to this research-based instruction for all kids, but isn’t this research done mainly on learning disabled kids? Isn’t this really just kids who are having reading problems, and a lot of what you’re saying isn’t for everybody else?

Dr. Lyon: Not at all. The research we’ve done over the last 30 years, which you’ve contributed substantially to, looks at least at as many youngsters who come to reading easily as those who have difficulties. In the research, it’s extremely difficult to figure out what it takes to learn to read if you can’t watch good productive expert readers learn to read. So no, these are very comprehensive research programs again involving over 40,000 youngsters, half of whom read extremely well or fairly well.

Dr. Parker: I hear you use the term comprehensive reading, but we’ve heard a lot of the terms, balanced reading program. Are those the same thing?

Dr. Lyon: No, they’re not. And to be blunt about it, when folks are talking about having a balanced reading program, we have found that’s actually possibly a buzzword for continuing to do what you’ve always done. The fact of the matter is, when we’re talking comprehensive, we’re talking about all of these components being included in programs and taught very well by good teachers, and we’re also talking about the fact that there are certain ways that kids have to learn. As I mentioned earlier, Charlotte, a lot of youngsters have been taught over the years on the basis of philosophical ideas.

One, for example, is the kids learn naturally. In order to get kids to learn to read, you need to shower them with good literature, expose them to text. We know that that is absolutely not true. Reading is a skill, just like any complex skill, like piano playing or whatever it may be. And good teaching is paramount. People still, in their balanced literacy ideas, feel that some kids will benefit from just this exposure to good literature, which is not the case.

Delia: Why do you think more schools are implementing all the steps?

Dr. Lyon: Change is tough, Delia. Change is probably one of the most difficult things humans have to go through. The culture of education has grown up for a long time on the back of these belief systems and philosophy. Frankly, it took us until the last couple of years to see that, in fact, we’d been spending $390 billion over the last decade or so with absolutely no improvement and reading. We had to get into the depths of why that was. And even though we have good converging evidence about how kids learn to read, what goes wrong when they don’t and how we can prevent it and remediate it, the gap between what we know and how we get into schools is impeded by a couple of things.

Number one, it’s not money, because all of the new legislation carries tremendous amounts of money with it. It has to do with helping all of our folks in schools who have worked hard for all of these years know that all children can learn, that, in fact, no child should be left behind. And indeed, the research that Tim and I have done over the years shows that when we do these things well, that 36% of kids failing reduces down to 2% to 6%. In other words, we shouldn’t be seeing, even in the most dire disadvantaged schools, kids failing to learn to read other than about 2% to 6%, and that’s still too many. You know, that just shouldn’t be, but the fact of the matter is, what we have are challenges to make sure all of our folks working hard develop the teaching capabilities to understand how to do that.

Dr. Shanahan: Are the states actually helping in this? Or are the states maybe standing against them?

Dr. Lyon: It depends on the state. There are certain states that have rallied around the fact that no child should be left behind. And in fact, they understand the evidence that that’s the case. As I just mentioned, it is very tough, one of the things that we’re doing with Reading First and No Child Left Behind are developing a number of things that will help states help their children. That is, we’re trying to make sure that with the money they’re getting, which is a billion dollars this year, 50 states now are getting in total a billion dollars this year, 20% of which can be used for professional development across all teachers. Now, that money is going to the states, but if they have a tough time making sure all their teachers have the kind of information we’re talking about, there’s a great deal of technical assistance that is being provided. At the same time, we have to hold schools accountable. That has not been in place forever. And not holding school accountable has led, in addition to using faulty instructional practices, to the millions of kids who are failing to learn to read. So the monitoring process is now in place with the legislation, and that the monitoring process will find, I am sure, some states that are resisting or doing what they always did. But it’s not a punitive system. What it will do will help states then get technical assistance to help them move forward productively.

Delia: Reid, so many teachers complain that assessment takes so much out of their day. Why is the element so important? Why is that something that they need to do in teaching good reading?

Dr. Lyon: Well, Delia, when we talk about assessment, there’s a number of different types. There’s the assessment where we look at the beginning of the year, at the end of the year, to see how many big gains the kids made. That’s one type. Another type is screening that we talked about before, making sure that we can identify kids early who are at risk for reading failure. That is critical, as we said, because when kids don’t learn to read, self-concept, self-esteem goes down the tubes quickly. It devastates these kids.

For the teacher, however, that teacher must know whether their instruction is working and must know that quickly. Not at the end of the year because they have to adjust the instruction. The more a youngster tries to learn something and fails, the harder it is going to be to teach that kid down the line. Assessment in no way should be a process looked at in some negative way. There is simply no way to help any of us learn much at all unless we know what’s worked and how we change it if it doesn’t.

Delia: Charlotte Parker, one brief last question from you.

Dr. Parker: Well Reid, I heard you talk a little bit about accountability. Tell us a little bit about those accountability measures that are building into the legislation.

Dr. Lyon: Both no child left behind and reading first, again, carry with it a tremendous amount of technical assistance. Actually, $32 million will be in technical assistance this year for states to help implement no child left behind, title one, and the reading first component. We want schools to succeed. We want them to understand the things that work and how to implement them. If a school tries but is still having difficulty after two years, that school will be identified as a school in need of improvement.

Technical assistance will flow, and youngsters will have the opportunity to go to another school that has performed better. That happens at the end of three years, and actually, the monitoring goes through the fourth and fifth year. By the end of the fifth year, if we have schools that are not improving, not increasing the number of kids reaching proficiency, those schools will have to submit a major plan for restructuring.

Delia: A lot of information and a good blueprint for us to all begin with. Now, let’s look at a school we visited in Charlottesville, Virginia. Administrators at Johnson elementary developed their own research-based reading program, and their students are learning to read.


Narrator: At the Johnson School in Charlottesville, Virginia, we’ve got to run pretty fast to keep up with the instructional coordinator Dr. Sharon Walpole. She directs the school’s program called RISE, Reading Initiative for School Excellence. Every morning kids group across grade levels according to reading achievement.

Announcement: Please dismiss all students to rise.

Narrator: For the daily 90 minutes of reading instruction, teachers can focus their lessons on a narrow range of skills. These kids are about to make discoveries about spelling.

Dr. Sharon Walpole: Our spelling system is regular. It’s not a mystery. It’s a regular system with some exceptions. Miss Gorman’s not going to be giving children the message that spelling’s just hard and you have to memorize it. That’s not what spelling instruction at Johnson School is like, and I don’t think that’s what’s sensible spelling instruction is like anywhere.

Ms. Madeline Gorman: Today we’re going to be talking about what we’ve been talking about all week. We’re talking about action words.

Narrator: Second and third grade teacher Madeleine Gorman guides word study, the explicit and active exploration of word’s features. Rather than memorizing rules, these students are discovering spelling patterns.

Ms. Gorman: We’re going to talk about how we add the i-n-g to the verb so we can use it in the past and in the present and in the –

Students: Future.

Narrator: Miss Gorman covers the i-n-g ending because most of her students are at the stage of spelling multi-syllabic words.

Ms. Gorman: We’re going to look at a couple of examples together. I’m going to get you guys to help me read the words. And what we’ll figure out is if it’s a double drop or nothing. OK? So how about this one? Raise your hand if you can read this. Shaking. Double drop or nothing?

Student: E drop.

Ms. Gorman: Good drop. E drop. OK, how about this one? Kellsee? Knitting. What do we do to knitting before we added the i-n-g?

Student: Put the t.

Ms. Gorman: So is that double drop or nothing?

Student: Double.

Ms. Gorman: Good job.

Dr. Walpole: This is a wonderful time to be restructuring reading programs, because we know so much about how children learn to read. There’s no real guess work in it anymore. There is enormous amount of direction available now to people who are really starting to craft reading programs that work for all children.

Narrator: The RISE program and the focused efforts of Johnson’s staff appear to be working. When Dr. Walpole arrived at the school, only one third of students met the Virginia state reading standard at the end of third grade. Two years later, that figure had risen to one half.

Dr. Walpole: My relationship with the teachers here has grown enormously. So that they know that when I’m reading academic books and trying to cook up new ideas about how to teach our children better, that I will respect their response to those ideas. And as they try them in their classrooms, I’ll watch, talk to them about it, and we’ll make something out of those ideas that worked for our children.


Narrator: Still to come – our experts will answer your questions. The toll-free number is 888-493-9382.

Delia: Welcome back, and thank you for joining us for this reading rockets teleconference. Joining us in the WETA studio in Washington, D.C., are panelists Dr. Reid Lyon, Dr. Timothy Shanahan, and Dr. Charlotte Parker. We are also joined by an audience of teachers, administrators, special education professionals, and parents. Dr. Timothy Shanahan served as director of reading for the Chicago public school district during the 2001-2002 school year. Dr. Shanahan, you know firsthand what it takes to turn schools around. How did you determine the best reading program for a school district so large and so diverse in its needs?

Dr. Shanahan: Chicago has a very strong local control. Each school district has their own board and so and so. I can’t go in and impose a single reading program. What I could do is go in and insist the instruction really be research-based, and that certain components of instruction be there. So from the very beginning, I mandated that, in the name of awareness and phonics, vocabulary, oral reading fluency and comprehension instruction and writing instruction be there and be there in sufficient amounts and qualities that no matter what program the schools might have chosen to use, the kids would actually get what they needed. So I mean, I think the key is really turning to the research.

Delia: How did you get all your teachers trained?

Dr. Shanahan: Chicago is kind of a small district. It only has 26,000 teachers. I don’t think that it’s a job that will get done in a year or 10 years. It takes essentially a career. But essentially, what we started with was a core of reading specialists. We hired teachers who had met the state credentialing requirements and so on, and then brought them in and really gave them substantial amounts of professional development. In fact, we worked with those teachers for two solid weeks, and then one day every two weeks the entire school year so that they had really what would be comparable graduate courses in reading in addition to what they’d already studied prior to coming into this job.

And their job really, we put those in the 100 lowest achieving schools in the district, and their job really was to serve as professional development specialists for their colleagues, and so they were out there teaching other teachers the best ways to teach reading, and doing it really on the job so they could do demonstrations and they could give a teacher feedback on how she was doing and so on. And so that was the sort of core of our effort. Those reading specialists also got involved in Saturday workshops. We had more than 1,000 teachers sign up voluntarily to come to these workshops just to learn some of these components and how to address some of these.

We have a fairly extensive summer school program. We found the money to pay for 1,200 teachers to go through a fairly substantial six-week training program in the summer, have it turn away 3,000 teachers who wanted to be part of that. So, you know, over time, you hope they’ll get to those. We cut deals with local universities to provide course work for our teachers that the district paid for. So not one approach, but what we insisted on is that all of those approaches focused on these research-based methods.

Delia: Well, I know large urban districts have large special education populations. How did you integrate your reading program with the needs of children, some children and special education?

Dr. Shanahan: Folks are always worried about continuity across grade levels, but continuity from program to program, whether you’re talking second language programs or special education programs or any of the diverse set of programs and opportunities we have in the school district, insisting that they all be really on the same reading frame work, that particular kinds of instruction be available for all children, so that was the first thing we did. Special education was as involved in this as all other parts of the district.

We also worked really closely with special education in terms of trying to set up early identification programs so that kids who – early on you could tell they were having trouble, and rather than waiting for those problems to blossom into being very serious problems. Why not start addressing those early on, not by putting those kids in special education, but by giving them everything from after-school tutoring to extra time on computerized instructional programs and other kinds of ways. But the point was, let’s keep kids out of special education, and the reading department and special Ed department work real closely on them.

Delia: Reid, you did research with Dr. Shanahan. You probably also have some questions about how this research got translated in the school district.

Dr. Lyon: I certainly did. I just – I had another question about special education, though. I think Tim was bringing up some very good points about how important it is to try to identify kids early who may have difficulties, and to get to those difficulties before failure ever moves them into special education, and the reason that’s critical is if we’ve looked at this, the biggest category, Tim– and I think it’s the case in Illinois, as well - the biggest category of special education are youngsters identified as learning disabled. In some states, that’s 23%.

In some states less. But still, kids who, if we had gotten too early, would not have ever had these kinds of experiences, very, very good Special Ed experiences, but the problem is Special Education typically doesn’t pick the kids up until later. And as we talked earlier, if we let kids fail, even with the best instruction sometimes, motivation has wane and had so forth and so on. It’s also important, in Illinois and every state that has Reading First money and NCLB fund, that special education students and schools in general have the same accountability to make sure that all kids actually move to levels of proficiency. But the question I have is when you’re looking at implementing all of the research that we know about, that we’ve worked many years on and that has converged now, what kinds of conditions have to be in place at the school level in order to get it into place.

Dr. Shanahan: I think the most important thing to get in place, and again, this doesn’t just happen in a year, it takes a long time. But the principal is the real key in a school. The principal can make a school much better. A principal can make a school much worse. And unfortunately, if you look at certification requirements for principals, they very rarely are expected to know very much about instruction except whatever they happen to know as a teacher. If their teaching duties didn’t require much in the way of teaching and reading, frankly they often don’t know very much about it. And so one of the things that I’m certainly a big proponent of and worked real hard on in Chicago was how do we give this knowledge to principals. The principal has to know how to, say, walk into a classroom and know what’s going on and know whether the teachers are doing the right thing.

They need to not catch teachers making mistakes, but essentially co-author that classroom in some way to make sure that the teacher succeeds with the kids. And so we spend a lot of time teaching principals how to look in the classroom when the teacher is teaching phonics comprehension strategies. What kinds of things do you look for in order to know whether the teacher is actually being successful? Do you notice some kids who maybe are lagging behind and engage the teacher in a conversation about that? In a lot of cases, the teacher will say, yes, you know, I’ve noticed that, and here’s what I’m doing about it, and that’s a wonderful situation. Then the principal can maybe make some resources available, provide some assistance. Sometimes the principal finds out the teacher didn’t even notice it. Classrooms are complex. It’s a hard job.

Delia: Well, our principal, Dr. Parker, has been dying to ask a question.

Dr. Parker: You talk about the role of the principal, but also, you have to have a buy-in by the superintendent and school boards and other Governor’s boards. How do you build that buy-in?

Dr. Shanahan: In our case, it was pretty easy. The whole reason why I was brought in is because that buy-in already existed. If you’re a principal or a curriculum director or a teacher, you really have a selling job to do because quite often, folks, well, let’s be honest. Schools have failed to raise achievement for a long time. This isn’t something that just started recently.

According to the national assessment, reading scores are pretty much where they were in the early 1970’s. So things haven’t gotten better. I think most people and education has sort of gotten used to where they are. They tried a lot of things. People have worked hard, and things haven’t improved. And so I think the first selling job is convincing the powers that be that we can actually do this, that we can be successful, and that it is actually worth moving relatively –it’s large numbers of dollars, but it’s a relatively small percentage of money into these aspects of instruction.

In Chicago, we spent tens of millions of dollars on professional development, which sounds huge until you hear it’s less than half of one percent of the budget. You know, fairly trivial. You know, I think a lot of superintendents and school boards just don’t know what’s possible. I think that’s the place to start.

Delia: We use the word success a lot. What constitutes success in reading at the school level, at the classroom level, and it district level?

Dr. Shanahan: Well, let’s be honest, there are accountability tests out there, and Chicago is a district that for a very long time has had one of the tighter accountability models. Every third through 12th grader is tested in reading every year, and most first and second graders are, as well. And those scores go right into the newspaper every year, and dollars are withheld, schools are closed, all kinds of punishments are out there.

And so honestly, I think we have to look at what constitutes success as far as the teachers and principals are concerned. And what they’re concerned about is, you know, are the scores going up, are they going to be able to stay off of, you know, these various lists and avoid some of these punishments? They also, of course, want to make sure that the kids get everything that is possible to give them. And so, to me, the reading tests that are there are fine, but we have to do better on those without teaching to them, actually teaching kids to read better.

Dr. Lyon: Can I just say, you know, tests have to be in place to let us know the benchmarks and where we’re going. But as moms and dads and teachers are working with kids, they know when a youngster is getting it and when a youngster isn’t. And are what you have to be able to see in kids is, number one, an interest in reading, and that interest won’t be there if they hadn’t learned to read or if they’re struggling. So it’s not – you know, it’s not too hard a job to be able to look at a kid who’s reading accurately and quickly and relating what they’re reading to their own background and past experience, and they keep reading. So when you ask about what success is, it is kids reading. And they like it. And it’s one child at a time.

Delia: It’s one child, Charlotte. How do you think that would translate to a whole school district once you start adding it one child at a time?

Dr. Parker: I think it translates to the whole school district by, we talked about the accountability system and having those things in place, and so whole districts have to look at how they are monitoring and what structures are set up for those districts to hold each campus accountable for success, the teacher accountable for the success of those students. And having a plan, a unified plan with some accountability in place and also some rewards in place, acknowledging those schools that have succeeded, and we spend all the time looking at those negative consequences. Are we rewarding those schools that are doing it? Are we giving as much support to those schools as to the schools that are not doing it?

Delia: Thank you all. That’s a lot of perspective on accountability and on reading. Back to the Johnson School, and let’s find out how they’re working with members of the community to help children read better.


Narrator: The Johnson School has many kindergarteners at risk for reading failure, so they’ve started a community volunteer program called Book Buddies. 6-year-old Trey is one of 20 kids who’ve been assigned a reading tutor, a Book Buddy who will work with him twice a week during his first grade year.

Gail Rubin: One of my rewards is going to the playground to pick him up twice a week and seeing him run towards me with a big grin on his face. It makes my heart sing. That’s my book buddy, Trey. How are you?

Narrator: Trey’s Book Buddy is Gail Rubin, now in her sixth year of volunteering.

Gail: Want to play a rhyming game on the way?

Narrator: New volunteers get a three-hour course in the program and also watch an expert model to tutoring. Like Melville Krebs, the Book Buddy’s coordinator at the Johnson School. She tailors two 45-minute lessons a week for each of the kids in the program.

Melville Krebs: Trey began the year as a total nonreader, and he’s learned just about everything that has been taught to him along the way.

Gail: Hi, Trey. Let’s get started with the familiar book. Which one would you like to read first?

Narrator: A Book Buddy session begins with the child reading a familiar text. Rereading is a great way to build fluency and comprehension.

Gail: That was a tough one.

Trey: A bandage.

Gail: Good for you.

Trey: For his thumb.

Narrator: After a systematic phonics lesson, Trey practices reading words with the sounds he has learned.

Gail: Quit. Wonderful. All right. Would you like to play a game?

Narrator: What looks like a game to Trey is a continuation of the phonics lesson. Trey must identify the pictured objects, and then spell their name.

Gail: OK, truck. Time to choose a book to take home to read to your mom.

Narrator: Book Buddies has put together everything researchers know will help struggling riders. Parental support, systematic phonics, good children’s literature, and lots of individual attention.

Trey: I am as slow as a snail.

Narrator: First graders are selected for Book Buddies because they are far behind their peers. But thanks to community help, by the end of the year, a remarkable 85% of them will be reading at grade level.

Trey: Put it all together, and you’ve got me.


Narrator: Nobody wants to give up on a struggling reader. Now nobody has to. Whether you’re an educator or parent, or someone who just cares about kids, check out, the definitive resource for teaching kids to read. It’s another great production of WETA, Washington, D.C. We’d like to remind you that we will be taking your calls shortly. Our toll-free number is 888-493-9382.

Delia:>> Welcome back, and thank you once again for joining the Reading Rockets teleconference. Dr. Charlotte Parker is principal at Burbank Middle School in Houston, Texas. But that’s not where she got her start. She worked for 10 years as principal of Roosevelt Elementary School, where they experienced dramatic increases in their reading scores after solid reading instruction was put in place. Dr. Parker, how does a struggling school go from being on the bottom to being on the top?

Dr. Parker: With lots of hard work and tenacity. We worked really hard to turn Roosevelt around. It starts with strong leadership and a principal who’s willing to do their homework. I looked at many reading programs, and we’re out there to find the right fit. There are many comprehensive research reading programs, but you have to look at your population, our school we had, and the number of English language learners. I needed a program that would be offered in Spanish for my campus. And so I had to do that first. The next part of it came to retooling the teachers, because what happens when the doors close where the key is, where the rubber meets the road. We can have the research, we can have the school district and governors, but what goes on between teacher and student is what it all comes down to. And so we had to go in and try to train the teachers.

All the teachers on campus were trained and went through five days of training in terms of reading. In addition to that, it can’t be a one-day sitting gig. You go to a series of workshops and you expect miracles. It’s not going to happen. You have to monitor. So we had a reading facilitator on our campus who came in and worked every day with the reading program. And reading was first. And it was first in the day, it was first in terms of everything was evolved around the reading program.

So our reading program was a structured research-based program, 90 minutes per day, the first thing in the morning, and that set the tone. Working, we had benchmarks in place for students who were evaluated, running records and evaluations that occurred every six weeks to track student growth. We also had additional assessments that were at the end of each semester to also look at student improvement and student growth. So all of those elements were in place, and with that we went to the bottom to being one of the highest performances schools in the HISD and Texas schools.

Delia: What was the biggest obstacle that you had to change?

Dr. Parker: One of the big obstacles that we were faced with was the fact that people are used to doing things the way they’ve always done it. And change like Dr. Lyons said, it’s very, very difficult for everybody. And so we had to develop strategies to help gain buy-ins. We took key people within our campus to places to look at schools that were successful. Kids who were just like our kids, the same demographics, because many times people say, well, it can’t be done with our kids, can’t be done with kids who are poor like our kids, kids who have language differences, kids who come from the kind of backgrounds our kids come from, so you can dispel some of the naysayers by showing them schools that look just like you, who are doing it, who are successful.

So I took a group, and we watched those persons. Then from there, I think one of the things that helped us overcome some of the problems is the fact that when they see –they are successful. They see those kids reading. They see the light being turned on, then you gain the kind of buy-in to help you overcome those initial barriers.

Delia: Did you try some strategies that didn’t work?

Dr. Parker: Of course. It is not going to always be easy. It is not going to be a miracle thing that’s going to happen all at once. But I believe that if you are consistent and you continue to work at it, things will turn around.

Delia: Reid, I bet you have some questions from a research point of view.

Dr. Lyon: Well, I do, but also congratulations because the work you’ve done in Texas is a model, and I think what you said about helping others see what works, even when the youngsters are coming to school from conditions that typically don’t support learning. What you’ve done is a good model, and we need to identify more of those. One of the things that we notice in a good deal of the work we do in the research sites, which are in schools, is sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we do have teachers that say, well, I’ve been teaching for 30 years. What I’ve done has always worked.

Now, kind of what’s surprising is they’ll tell you that, even when 20% to 30% of the kids are hitting the wall, but be that as it may, they say, my experience tells me that what you’re trying to ask me to do won’t work, what I’m doing does work. Did you have that experience, and how do you help people get over the hump, if you will, in terms of moving from philosophy and belief and experience to making sure that all kids are learning?

Dr. Parker: We first have to retrain teachers. I think many of those are stuck where they were because they don’t know anything different. And so you have to expose them to other ways of doing things. And you have to provide quality training, and you have to provide an in-house coach who can help them along the way, many times they do that because of the defense mechanism because of their own inabilities. And so having that coach, not an appraiser, not an evaluator, not someone who’s going to write them up, but someone who’s going to be the buddy and coach and support system to help them implement the new process. And then you’re going to – again, the small baby steps of success help to turn them around. And then ultimately, sometimes, even with all those best things, the training, the support system, the material, because many of the teachers complain that in the past they didn’t have the resources and materials to really make it happen, because the comprehensive program to work, you have to have lots of books at different levels.

You have to have decodable, predictable texts. You have to have the things that you worked with. So you have to have classrooms, rich with materials and resources. And so all those things are there, and people are not buying them as a building leader. Sometimes you have to say, if you’re not on this bus, maybe this may not be the best place for you to be.

Dr. Lyon: One of the other – I’m sorry, Tim, but one of the things that we’ve seen in the research that has been critical that we didn’t put as much attention to in the past has been the role of parents. Particularly from schools without a great deal of advantage, many times parents feel totally isolated. And they don’t understand that they have a significant role to play in making sure that they reinforce what’s learned in the classroom at home, but that they also can provide a source of accountability back to the school. They’re putting their trust in our schools. They’re putting their kids in our schools. And have you found that involving parents every step of the way, giving them the same information the teachers and principals get, helping them understand what goes into a reading program has been helpful?

Dr. Parker: Absolutely. Parents are the first teachers. We have to empower our parents to take their full responsibility of helping and supporting them as we implement research-based reading programs. One of the first things we did is called the parents in, and we said, we’re not in a good place and we need to get better, and we need you to be a part of the improvement process. We called them in, we trained them, we gave them the overview. We didn’t – we gave an overview of the reading program, the initiative. We brought them this to do things like come in and listen to their kids read. We had Chips and Chapters, and we had morning coffee with reading, where we had coffee and dropped the kids off, they came in and listened to the kids read.

We involve the parents a lot. They also had the responsibility of listening every night to their kids read for 20 minutes and signing the reading off for the students so they documented they were doing that, and kids were rewarded for bringing those reading laws back. And we gave parents tips. You know, you need to infuse the home with lots of books. We applied for and received a grant so the kids could get free books to self-select and bring books into the home. So we let parents know we could do it, kids could improve in their reading, but we had to work together to make it happen.

Dr. Shanahan: That sounds great, both what you described as the parents and what you described in the classroom. But what about your second language kids? How is that different?

Dr. Parker: Actually, it’s the same thing. The same phrase that works for kids is special education, English language learners are gifted kids. I mean, all of our kids learn using these same strategies. What we did for English language learners, in addition to the other kinds of things, we provided the materials in Spanish. We started with native language instruction because we know that that provided a safety net for our kids, our immigrant kids coming in, and then we started this. So all of the same materials, the same strategies, the parents had the books in Spanish and had the training delivered by Spanish-speaking person, so they were also made a part of this whole process. So exactly the same thing. And a lot of the same kinds of things, the phonics, all of that still is a part behalf we’re doing for those bilingual kids.

Delia: You acknowledge that it wasn’t all easy. What didn’t work?

Dr. Parker: Well, initially, I think that some of the concerns were that we, in doing the research program, some of the things the teachers felt that some of their creativity and some of their economy that they had when they were doing the more literature-based programs were left out, so we talked about how do we compromise, how do we do these research-based programs and provide the safety net. They’re going to give us a structure and then add on those extras, those sprinkles of extra things that can also be woven in. So we did add that.

There’s no reason that you can’t add the literature in. It’s just that we’re not going to take away and not have the other things that we know provide the foundation. The strong foundation is core. And then you bring in other philosophies so he was or other kinds of things you want that make you happy as a teacher and provide you the kind of creativity that you want. Because some kids complain, well, it’s a scripted program, or it’s very rigid. It’s very structured. It didn’t make me feel the way I want to feel, or kids were not learning the other way, as Dr. Lyon said. You know, so we said we could have both. There’s a compromise here so that we can have both and kids can learn and teachers can feel good about what they’re doing.

Dr. Lyon: I think what you’re saying is critically important for folks to understand, both teachers and parents and the leadership in schools. And when we’re feeling that some of the things that we’ve done in the past has taken away our professional creativity and decision making, if that’s the case, what we have to do is look directly at our kids and how well they’re doing and ask the question, has our creativity and the way we’ve done things helped kids to learn to read? I was a teacher at one time, probably pretty creative, and I left an awful lot of kids behind because what I didn’t understand at that time was that reading is a complex skill.

You talked about the foundation that has to be built. No matter how interesting, how rich, how wonderful literature is. If a youngster can’t pull that off the page accurately, fluently, and relate it to what they know, that kid’s going to have problems. So there are many professions – surgery, for example - where creativity sometimes is not what we would like to see in the operating theater. Likewise, with reading, the kids most at risk require as well as a creative teacher, require clarity, require that the concepts are clear, that they can practice them, that they can actually build the foundation to get to this rich literature.

Delia: Sounds like we all know what to do. We’re going to go on to see how we do it as we go through the program. We visited a school in Malden, Massachusetts where teachers found the strategy for students to become more fluent readers.


Narrator: Teacher Cathy McDonald leads a daily after-school class for second and third grade struggling readers at Salem Wood Elementary. Her reading program, called RAVE-O, directly targets the fluency ability to read aloud without false starts and with good inflection that can only come from hesitations and understanding the text. RAVE-O combines lessons that speed up decoding with vocabulary building exercises. These two ingredients are key to fluency, which demands automatic decoding and good comprehension. Dr. Maryanne Wolf created the program.

Dr. Maryanne Wolf: The RAVE-O program was the direct output of our understanding that at least 2/3 of the children, what we would call are dyslexic, were actually not receiving any emphasis at all on fluency, so the RAVE-O program was really specifically designed to have the children not only be able to decode, but decode rapidly and with comprehension.

Ms. McDonald: If I were to go out and I would to see someone, with a bat, where might I see someone use it. Fenway Park, yes.

Narrator: Today, Ms. McDonald is using one of RAVE-O’s tools, called a word web.

Ms. McDonald: A popular team around here?

Student: Red Sox.

Ms. McDonald: Red Sox, Red Sox. What’s the kind of championship do they usually end up in if the baseball did a real good job?

Student: The World Series.

Ms. McDonald: Very good.

Ms. McDonald: Children come here after a full day of school, and you assume that they would be tired of reading and learning, but when they enter the classroom, it’s a whole new experience, and they come in ready to learn and very excited. And the fact that the skills are things that they can accomplish and they look at themselves in a whole new way, they look at themselves as readers.

Narrator: Organized around one core word a week, the web helps students grasp multiple meanings of a single word. Kids get to expand the web by adding words or phrases with related meaning.

Ms. McDonald: Let’s move on now to this kind of bat. Where would you find this?

Student: A fruit tree.

Ms. McDonald: Do you know what they call animals that are asleep during the day and are up at night? Give it a try. Go ahead. You are correct. Nocturnal animals. Excellent.

Narrator: Thanks to these lessons, kids develop a rich knowledge of words.

Ms. McDonald: Now, let’s talk about this one right here. What bat is this? When you bat your eyes.

Narrator: Research shows that the more you know about a word, the faster you are at mentally leaping from its visual form to its meaning.

Student: Why people bat their eyes is because, like, they want to protect their eyes.

Ms. McDonald: They do. You actually wet your eyes a little bit when you close them.

Dr. Wolf: Fluency is one piece of the entire process. The more rapid you are, the more time you can actually allocate to understanding what you’ve read.

Student: When you want someone to notice you a lot, you could, like, bat your eyes while you’re with them or something.

Ms. McDonald: What do you want to do if you wanted to get my attention?

Dr. Lyon: It’s like riding a bike. You watch the little ones beginning to ride a bike, they’re wobbling all over the place. They fall down, they don’t have the process well consolidated. But as we go along as kids and we begin to practice and practice and practice riding a bike, we don’t even think about pedaling anymore until it gets hard. We don’t think about keeping the bike straight and we can ride with no hands.


Narrator: Call in now. The toll-free number is 888-493-9382. Do you have a personal question you’d like to ask an expert about reading? Go to, and click on ask Reading Rockets. Send us your question, as we will respond within a few days with a personal, confidential answer.

Delia: Welcome back. We’re opening up the phone lines to take your calls. But first, we’ll hear from members of our studio audience. And we have a question waiting for us.

Audience Member: What does current reading research say about the long-term effectiveness of reading recovery? Has this program now been modified to include systematic instruction in phonics? Also, what does the research say about what is known as the three cuing system and beginning reading instruction?

Delia: OK, you want to start off?

Dr. Lyon: It’s great you’re asking a question about a program, because it gives us an opportunity to say very clearly, there is no one program that any of us or the federal government recommends. What we have to make sure of with any program is that it includes all of the components that we have talked about thus far and that that program is also presented in a way that’s built up upon the strongest pedagogue. Reading recovery on the positive side was developed by Maury Clay, who had a significant interest early on in early intervention in trying to help kids early who were having a tough time learning to read. As we have studied components of reading recovery, and as other people, as Tim has studied reading recovery in detail, what we find is that, for some children, it is effective. But like any program, it’s not effective for all youngsters. It could be more effective if, in fact, the program included more of the converging evidence about making clear concepts for kids. For example, we do know that learning how to read does require a fundamental understanding of sound structure, of phonemic awareness, to using the jargony term.

In the past, reading recovery has taught that or represented those concepts to kids in less than a direct way. And a lot of the work done both internationally and here in the country find that if the program incorporates a greater clarity and a greater instructional directiveness in teaching sound structure, how it relates to letter patterns, and so forth, that program may, in fact, do better. Your other question, your conceptual question about three cuing systems, we have studied a good deal at the N.I.H. and elsewhere. And this is where principals, teacher, parents have to be very clear at least on the converging evidence. Three cuing systems argue, if I can do this quickly, that when kids come across a word they don’t know, they don’t know how to pronounce, that one way to do it is to use the surrounding context, the word meanings and the sentence structure to predict the word pronunciation. We have not found in many, many studies for that strategy to be effective at all. In fact good readers when they look at words they don’t know actually will decode those words to sound using the, again, sound structure and the letter patterns. They do not use context. They will use context, on the other hand, to keep up with the meaning. But to teach youngsters to use a cuing system that separates it from the letter-sound mechanics is not helpful what so ever. Poor readers will use the surrounding context to pronounce unknown words. This is very critical for people to – particularly or teachers and our college of education folks to understand the nuances of how children actually do learn how to read.

Delia: This is a really complex question. I know you wanted to weigh in on this Dr. Shanahan.

Dr. Shanahan: We did analyses of the research on reading recovery. We found it to be successful with some kids. There are a small number of studies that actually track the kids two or three years down the road. And essentially like in a lot of studies of early intervention, the early benefit seemed to disappear. If you don’t continue to give some kind of support and improved instruction for kids, they tend to fall back. That happens with reading recovery. It’s troublesome with a program like reading recovery because of the share investment, it’s really expensive.

So my fear is if your school has put in all of the eggs in that basket for the kids who don’t succeed or start to trail off, that becomes a real problem. The other question you ask which is actually a bigger question, it’s not just about reading recovery, you were curious about whether the phonics instruction in it has the decoding instruction has become more systematic. And it is clear to me from looking at some of the reading recovery, our materials now, that they are trying to be more explicit about phonics instruction and less indirect than it was described. What we mean by systematic instruction and phonics that there be a plan that the teacher actually have a clear idea of sort of what comes next in phonics instructions so that it not be opportunistic, if the youngster is having trouble at a particular point, teach that. The reading panel looked at phonics study, one of the things they looked at is to see if more systematic approach did better than the opportunistic ones. Phonics instruction in most cases, but was it better to get it one way or the other?

And, in fact, even independent analyses have really found that the fact systematic instruction for whatever reason seems to give kids a better benefit. So I would say that the phonics instruction, reading recovery, is becoming more explicit, which is good. But I’m not sure I’d say it’s systematic yet and what you really want in your system – a systematic phonics instruction by whatever method.

Delia: Thank you so much. Let us go to our first question of the field. We have a question from Houston, Texas.

Caller: What kind of problems are there for reading accuracy for secondary students.

Delia: We have lots of perspectives here. Why don’t we start with Dr. Shanahan?

Dr. Shanahan: I’m not sure I heard the question.

Delia: Could you repeat the question?

Caller: Yeah, I’m sorry. What kind of problems are there for reading accuracy for secondary students.

Dr. Shanahan: The reading accuracy of secondary students?

Delia: What hinders it?

Dr. Shanahan: What hinders it. One of the things you find with secondary students at that stage of development, so many things might have gone wrong that you might find that the youngster needs a more individualized diagnosis. Let me take a general stab at it rather than just sort of pushing this off to some testing or diagnosis of the child. One of the thing that is’ clear to me is our kids don’t get enough oral reading practice and feedback. They don’t get enough opportunities to actually get good at being accurate and fluent.

Typical kind of thing that happens in a lot of the secondary classrooms something that usually is referred to as round robin reading. You call on one person to read a little bit of the text and then somebody else. Nothings wrong with that practice, except there’s some little of it. You know, typical secondary reading instructional period, 45 minutes, 40 minute, 50 minutes. If you allow every child to read a paragraph or two, you’ve used up your time period. And the kids just don’t get good at that. So building in some time for kids to actually read a text repeatedly until they can actually do it well.

Delia: Dr. Parker, you went to a middle school. And you have a perspective on this.

Dr. Parker: Let me weigh in on this question. Coming from an elementary campus and going to middle schools, there’s not a plan for secondary reading. And we’re saying no child left behind but in reality, the kids have already been left behind. So you have kids in sixth and seventh grade reading at a third grade level. Then there’s no plan to make a difference. Many of the teachers in secondary school, they’re using programs like A.R. reading where the kid’s supposed to read silently. That’s reading. The kids are getting a grade. That’s their reading grade for the day. There’s no instructional vocabulary, vocabulary development, there’s no support for, you know, fluency checks and working with kids on developing fluency. There’s not oral reading. We don’t really have a reading program in the secondary level.

The assumption is that the kids in secondary just need reading practice and need to look on comprehension. And just go on, they can already read and that assumption is certainly not the reality of my experience. We need to move the movement from elementary. It needs to continue. So the concern is we need to have a Pre-K through 12 movement. Until all the kids are getting the benefits of systematic instruction in those kinds of thing, then we submit the number of secondary kids all left behind. And at that level, they’re embarrassed by the fact that they can’t read. They’re hostile and many have behavior problems. They over-identify for Special Education. So these problems and problems on that goes with – no up with taught me and I’m not going to sit here. It impacts all other academic areas.

Delia: Reading is important for everybody. That’s your message. Let’s go to another question.

Dr. Parker: I’m a little passionate.

Delia: Good passion there. Let’s go to another question from our studio audience.

Audience Member: Appreciate the question – Someone anticipated what I was going to ask. But I’ll put the question forward anyway. It’s colored by two points of view. One would be an observation made by a friend of mine that no one should be allowed to read Dickinson until they’re 45 years old and the second research done by Paul O’Ferry in Brazil politically and socially sensitive words which I think some of your research alludes to. Looking at the leading edge of learning experience, how - what types of skills and skill sets are available to promote inquiry among young readers. We’ve heard a little bit the fact that you don’t see it. I would like to hear what your thoughts are on that.

Delia: Dr. Lyon?

Dr. Lyon: Great question. It goes to the fact that in reading instruction, historically, we’ve always polarized or dichotomized the purposes of reading. You see it a lot in phonics versus whole language or decoding in phonics versus meaning. That is devastating conceptualization. It has no basis in fact. What we clearly know is that critical thinking needs to be part and parcel of literacy development from day one and, in fact, critical thinking can become a established in basic form from birth to 5. It’s going to be important for all of us to understand the complexity of reading. In order to think critically about a piece of literature, one has to move that into the system extremely quickly. One has to be accurate and fluent in getting the print off of the page.

One has to have the vocabulary to make sure that those concepts are banging up against background knowledge. But then as we tried to point out throughout today, those are all necessary but not sufficient. We have to directly and explicitly teach kids how to ask themselves questions as they move along. How do they think critically? They’ve got to relate the text and the concepts and the ideas to what their perceptions are, what their ideologies are. They need to understand all of these kinds of frameworks in order to make reading the absolute necessity and tool it needs to be.

Delia: We haven’t had a phone call. This one’s from Washington, D.C. Go ahead.

Caller: I was wondering if you could suggest some classroom literacy activities for young children.

Delia: Dr. Parker, Dr. Shanahan? Recently in the classroom?

Dr. Shanahan: Well, there certainly are – obviously with all of the difference ways to teach reading, the last question was about comprehension, so why don’t we just stay there. I would certainly suggest that having even fairly young children involved in – in whether it’s a question and activities like we were just talking about.

I used to teach first grade, having kids read a story not with the purpose of finding the answers to your questions or getting ready to answer your questions, it actually read ago story so they can ask everybody else questions, including you, the teacher. My kids used to just beg for that kind of activity. That’s a terrific one. Certainly the kinds of repeated reading activities that we talked about earlier are having kids paired off, reading to each other, and serving as coaches to each other to build fluency. That’s an important kind of activity.

Dr. Parker: Students doing a lot of organizing in story mapping an things like that. I like the kids doing the paired reading investigation. And also tie in the writing connection. We didn’t talk a lot about writing. And that’s a springboard for reading. Development of vocabulary and they’re enhancing their reading time, to have the kids with the effective writing about the reading and that kind of thing, interactive readers what we like to do. It’s an inquiry. The kids having the reading circle, that sort of thing. So those are all literacy kinds of activities that are very strong.

Delia: Reading goes on throughout the day in good schools. We have a question from our studio audience.

Audience Member: In view of our literary concerns, I want to do everything possible to support and encourage children learning to read. Other than reading to children when ever possible, sending books home to children to read, and parents reading to their children, are there other ideas that we can do to ensure that parents follow through to help effectively conquer this impending epidemic?

Dr. Parker: The idea of bringing parents back to school to train them and not just having meetings, but having training opportunities to show parents, we also took parents to a meeting to do make and take. They made activities, they could take home and use in the home. We had literacy nights where we had – we had Spanish authors who is came over and brought books and we had guest readers who is came in and modeled to the parents how to share a book.

Because parents don’t know not just how to have a book presented, but also how to ask questions. What kind of questions. And they need to be trained on how to do that. And showing the parents on how they can use simple things in the home to help reinforce reading. Words all around in the kitchen. Asking kids what things are used for. Developing vocabulary. Those kinds of strategies. So lots and lots of training of the parents to really empower them. They want to do a more effective job. They want to support, but they don’t really a lot of times know how to do it.

Delia: Charlotte, you talked about Spanish. How did you talk to parents about using native language?

Dr. Parker: Many of the parents have the misconception that because I don’t speak English, I can’t really help my kids. So I’m not a part of the education process. We said to them, if the child learns to read a native language first, then the child will learn to read a second language. If a child becomes fluent in a native language, you can teach your kids vocabulary, syllables, and how to read in the native language and that makes our job easier. They get put at ease and they feel more empowered. Oh, I can be part of the process.

Delia: Another call, thank you, from Arlington, Virginia.

Caller: I would like to ask, what are the advantages and disadvantages of whole group, small group, and one-on-one learning situations?

Delia: Large group, small group, and one-on-one. Reid, you’re jumping at the bit.

Dr. Lyon: Tim can chime in too because he’s done good work on this. The student-teacher ratio issue is in a sense clearly dependent on the needs that the child has. The rule of thumb is common sense. The more difficulty the youngster is having learning how to read across the reading spectrum the more time and intensity that student is going to need to have explained and be taught the concept that is go into learning how to read.

So if you have kids with difficulties and that youngster is embedded in 20 other kids in a classroom and it’s going to be very difficult for that child to see the concepts, practice the concepts clearly. Tim may talk about this in more detail, but as we have studied the pupil-teacher ratios at smaller groups – one-to-one versus one-to-two versus one-to-three or even one-to-four, we’re not finding differences between student achievement between a youngster in a group one-to-three versus a youngster taught one-on-one. That could be because of modeling factors or kids watching other kids.

Dr. Shanahan: Grouping or not grouping is really not the issue because it’s just a tool. It allows the person to reach out to your kids more effectively in some cases and not in others. I guess my rule of thumb is you always try to do the biggest group you can possibly do simply because the teaching resource is so valuable. The amount of time that teacher has – if she’s dividing her time in the classroom means the kids get less of that teacher. The problem is, of course, if you have a group of youngsters let’s say who are reading a year, two years below level that the idea that somehow they’re just going to get pulled along on the big group. You have to have grouping of some type as a tool available to yourself so you can actually work with the piece of material that’s easier.

Give that explanation that’s appropriate to the things that those kids don’t have. And so you end up with some amount of grouping. And, of course, the youngster is farther behind and really started going, you very well might even have to go to the one-on-one or the one-on-three situation that Reid’s talking about. The key is always try to do the best job you can in the largest grouping which means knowing how, for example, in a group of 20 to 25 youngsters, how do you get responses from all of them simultaneously. How do you know which kids are getting it, not just going along with the group? I think teacher education has not done a good enough job to show teachers how to handle the larger groups.

Delia: It takes training to understand what the source is and what the solution is. We have another question from our studio audience.

Audience Member: Hi, new teachers are often overwhelmed and bombarded by the myriad of teaching strategies and reading programs that are available. What are your recommendations for a new teacher struggling to implement a comprehensive literacy program while meeting the needs of her diverse students?

Dr. Parker: I think you have to start with small steps. You have to first have the training to understand what the components are, you have to have the opportunity to just focus on that. We’re just going to have the comprehensive reading program. That’s going to be central to what I’m doing. We have to practice the components and become familiar with the support systems that will help you implement each of the components. You have to practice those components over and over again because you get better the more you do it.

You have to have coaches who will come in and give you feedback and advice on how things are going. And hopefully within your implementation of those strategies, you have some evaluations and assessments to see how kids are improving as you’re implementing the various components. And understand that it’s OK to be new. It’s OK to say I’m overwhelmed. Hopefully you have leadership on that campus that will be patient and supporting and caring and you’ll have mentor teachers who is will also be there to support and to guide you and to help you as you implement and to understand that one of the key things we haven’t talked a lot about is classroom management. Because you could have a great reading program and systematic instruction and then falling down around you and it’s not going to work.

So hopefully also the principle has provided some kind of a model or a structure for behavior management on campus so there’s some program that supports in place for teachers in classroom management and the student wills provide the environment for that instruction to take place. So with all of those conditions are in place, the classroom management, the teacher training is there, the support system in the coaching, the feedback and evaluation, then teachers feel good about it and they can see the progress.

Delia: Reid, I know you had a brief comment on that also.

Dr. Lyon: It’s a great question. It should move us toward the larger picture of what you’re asking about. New teachers are precious resources. But the fact of the matter is, new teachers typically stay only three years in the classroom. The big reason why, and we have to look at this honestly, is that folks going into teaching, wanting do the best by kids, come to schools woefully under-prepared. They have no idea of the complexity Charlotte’s talking about. In many cases they have little idea of what we’ve discussed today.

We have a plea out to the colleges of education in this country to begin to prepare teachers as we prepare attorneys and physicians and engineers because we have a science under-girding what teaching is about. A teacher cannot teach what they haven’t been taught. And when we survey teachers and study them, only 23% at the most indicate in any way they’re well prepared to come into the classroom and address reading issues or individual differences. It is time for us to make sure that these resources, these folks who is want to change human live, come to our classrooms with the knowledge, the tools, and the support once they get there to make sure we’re leaving no kid behind.

Delia: We have teachers from all over the country watching today. We have one on the phone. A question from New York.

Caller: Hi. I have a student in my class who is dyslexic and she’s finally gotten to the point where she can read words and decode words but she has a terrible time reading fluently or understanding what she’s reading. I was wondering if you had any suggestions?

Dr. Shanahan: Research on this suggests that kids who can decode but aren’t fluent, really various kinds of guided, repeated, oral reading is really what’s most helpful. The guidance can be provided by the parent, a teacher, or a volunteer. It can be provided by another child, a peer, a slightly older child. The important part of this is that there be enough repetition that the youngster actually read a portion of text, usually at 50 words, 100 words, we’re really talking a paragraph that they read it, practice it, and then move on to the next paragraph or page and then I think what you’ll find is that with that kind of practice, kids usually make pretty significant gains. One of the interesting things on the research is that it doesn’t just improve the fluency. In fact, all of the studies done on this show a very clear impact on reading comprehension. So I think getting into some kind of guided, repeated oral reading would really be a good idea.

Delia: And we have – brief -

Dr. Lyon: The audience has seen the Reading Rockets film. And WETA and Reading Rockets do an outstanding job of addressing fluency. They show case in this program the RAVE-O fluency building program. There’s good resources that you can look at that put a face on what Tim is saying.

Delia: I have one final question that’s going to need a very brief answer. That’s an e-mail question that was sent in. It reads – while teaching my 4-year-old daughter to read, we both became frustrated with many of the early readers that are currently on the market. I went on-line and purchased many of the old Dick and Jane-type books, my daughter loves them. Why did publishers move away from the books to the books currently marketed by the early readers? Quick answers.

Dr. Shanahan: They did it to try to make the books more interesting and what they did was make the books really hard. What young children are interested in are getting good at something, becoming confident and effective. Save the ones that are really hard to them and teach them to read the ones they really can read and enjoy reading.

Delia: Reid, another perspective

Dr. Lyon: That’s exactly right. Most parents who read and read to their kids have the experience of the kid bringing the same book back to them about 1,000 times in a month and it reinforces what Tim is trying to say. Reading is a big deal to kids. That tells us that when they’re so excited about getting some of it early on, can you imagine the devastation they feel when they get what their age mates and fail very visibly in front of those kids.

Delia: Charlotte?

Dr. Parker: Why do kids love to read green eggs and ham, Sam I am? Because it gives the kids a line of repetition and the kids are successful with that book. Success breeds success. Our kids want to be successful. I believe that’s why it’s so important that we provide the mechanisms to support that success.

Delia: It’s amazing how all of the things that hold true for loving reading and good reading are based in research. I think what you’ve talked about, going back to the books that you feel comfortable reading and you feel good at. It’s something even as adults we do. And it’s something that we need to apply to kids. So we’ve learned a lot today. We have many perspectives on reading.

We’ve learned that it’s not an easy job, but we have the answers and we know that we can move on from here. It’s clear to everyone that dedicated and knowledgeable teachers who is are responsive to students, to individual needs, are at the heart of effective reading instruction. But research should be your guide for developing or choosing comprehensive reading programs.

Now we could use your help. Let us know what you thought about this program. The information you give us may guide the direction of our future teleconferences. Please visit and click on teleconference and please join us February 18 for our teleconference on parent involvement. And thank you, again, all for joining us. At home and here in the studio audience and to our panelists. Thank you very much.