Hard Words: Why aren't kids being taught to read?

The following excerpt is from “Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read?” by APM Reports earlier this fall. For the full article and podcast, click here.

…Research shows that children who don’t learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives, and they’re likely to fall behind in other academic areas, too. People who struggle with reading are more likely to drop out of high school, to end up in the criminal justice system, and to live in poverty. But as a nation, we’ve come to accept a high percentage of kids not reading well. More than 60 percent of American fourth-graders are not proficient readers, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and it’s been that way since testing began in the 1990s.

The basic assumption that underlies typical reading instruction in many schools is that learning to read is a natural process, much like learning to talk. But decades of scientific research has revealed that reading doesn’t come naturally. The human brain isn’t wired to read. Kids must be explicitly taught how to connect sounds with letters — phonics.


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Percentage of U.S. students proficient in reading

But this research hasn’t made its way into many elementary school classrooms. The prevailing approaches to reading instruction in American schools are inconsistent with basic things scientists have discovered about how children learn to read. Many educators don’t know the science, and in some cases actively resist it…

What’s also clear in the research is that phonics isn’t enough. Children can learn to decode words without knowing what the words mean. To comprehend what they’re reading, kids need a good vocabulary, too. That’s why reading to kids and surrounding them with quality books is a good idea…

But, according to the research, kids who can’t decode will never be good readers. Some children learn decoding quickly with minimal instruction. Others need a lot more help. But good phonics instruction is beneficial for all kids, even those who learn to decode easily; research shows they become better spellers.

Click here for the full article and podcast.

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