Teaching ReadingIs RocketScienceWhat Expert Teachersof ReadingShould KnowandBe AbleTo Do
The mostfundamentalresponsibilityof schools isteachingstudents toread.
Teaching ReadingIs Rocket ScienceWhat Expert Teachers of ReadingShould Know and Be Able To DoJune 1999
Author note: This paper was prepared for the American Federation of Teachers by Louisa C. Moats, project director,Washington D.C.site of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Early Interventions Project, and clinical associate pro-fessor of pediatrics, University of Texas, Houston, Health Sciences Center. Her work is supported in part by grant HD30995, “EarlyInterventions for Children with Reading Problems,” funded by the NICHD.
Tableof ContentsPreface 5Executive Summary 7Preventing Reading Failure: A Top Priority for Education 9Where We Are: Taking Stock of Teacher Preparation in Reading 11The Difficulty of Teaching Reading Has Been Underestimated / 11Why Have Teachers Been Left Unprepared? / 11The Knowledge Base for Teaching Reading Is Hidden, Extensive,and Complex / 11Meaningful Professional Standards Are Absent / 12Good Information Is Hard To Get / 14Classroom Instructional Programs Are Uninformative / 14Can We Do Better? / 14Toward a Curriculum for Teacher Preparationand Inservice Professional Development 16Knowledge of the Psychology of Reading and Reading Development / 16Basic Facts About Reading / 16The Characteristics of Poor and Novice Readers / 18How Reading and Spelling Develop / 18Language: The Foundation for Reading Instruction / 20Practical Skills of Instruction in a Comprehensive Reading Program / 21Opportunities for Supervised Experience / 21Use of Validated Instructional Practices / 21Assessment of Classroom Reading and Writing Skills / 24Where We Need To Go: 25Changing Teacher Preparation andProfessional Development in ReadingIn Sum 28End Notes 29References 30Appendix A—Knowledge and Skills for Teaching Reading: 33A Core Curriculum for Teacher CandidatesTEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 3
Teachingreading is a jobfor an expert.
Reading is the fundamental skillupon which all formal educationdepends. Research now shows thata child who doesn’t learn the readingbasics early is unlikely to learn them at all.Any child who doesn’t learn to read earlyand well will not easily master other skillsand knowledge, and is unlikely to everflourish in school or in life.Low reading achievement, more thanany other factor, is the root cause ofchronically low-performing schools,which harm students and contribute tothe loss of public confidence in our schoolsystem. When many children don’t learnto read, the public schools cannot and willnot be regarded as successful—and effortsto dismantle them will proceed.Thanks to new scientific research—plusa long-awaited scientific and politicalconsensus around this research—theknowledge exists to teach all but a handfulof severely disabled children to read well.This report discusses the current state ofteacher preparation in reading in relationto that research. It reviews and describesthe knowledge base and essential skillsthat teacher candidates and practicingteachers must master if they are to be suc-cessful in teaching all children to readwell. Finally, the report makes recommen-dations for improving the system ofteacher education and professional devel-opment.In medicine, if research found newways to save lives, health care profession-als would adopt these methods as quicklyas possible, and would change practices,procedures, and systems. Educationalresearch has found new ways to saveyoung minds by helping them to becomeproficient readers; it is up to us to promotethese new methods throughout the edu-cation system. Young lives depend on it.And so does the survival of public educa-tion. The urgent task before us is for uni-versity faculty and the teaching communi-ty to work together to develop programsthat can help assure that all teachers ofreading have access to this knowledge.TEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 5Preface
To understandprintedlanguagewell enoughto teach itexplicitlyrequiresdisciplinedstudy of itssystems andforms, bothspoken andwritten.
The most fundamental responsibilityof schools is teaching students toread. Indeed, the future success ofall students hinges upon their ability tobecome proficient readers. Recent scien-tific studies have allowed us to understandmore than ever before how literacy devel-ops, why some children have difficulty,and what constitutes best instructionalpractice. Scientists now estimate that fully95 percent of all children can be taught toread. Yet, in spite of all our knowledge, sta-tistics reveal an alarming prevalence ofstruggling and poor readers that is notlimited to any one segment of society:s About 20 percent of elementary stu-dents nationwide have significant prob-lems learning to read.s At least 20 percent of elementary stu-dents do not read fluently enough toenjoy or engage in independent reading.s The rate of reading failure for African-American, Hispanic, limited-Englishspeakers and poor children ranges from60 percent to 70 percent.s One-third of poor readers nationwideare from college-educated families.s Twenty-five percent of adults in thiscountry lack the basic literacy skillsrequired in a typical job.Research indicates that, although somechildren will learn to read in spite of inci-dental teaching, others never learn unlessthey are taught in an organized, systemat-ic, efficient way by a knowledgeableteacher using a well-designed instruction-al approach. And, while many studentsfrom high-risk environments come toschool less prepared for literacy than theirmore advantaged peers, their risk of read-ing difficulties could still be prevented andameliorated by literacy instruction thatincludes a range of research-based com-ponents and practices. But, as the statis-tics testify, this type of instruction clearlyhas not made its way into every class-room.Indeed, a chasm exists between class-room instructional practices and theresearch knowledge-base on literacydevelopment. Part of the responsibility forthis divide lies with teacher preparationprograms, many of which, for a variety ofreasons, have failed to adequately preparetheir teacher candidates to teach reading.Fortunately, this situation is being correct-ed, thanks in large part to recent basicresearch on reading that has allowed thecommunity of reading scientists and edu-cators to agree on what needs to be done.This new information about language,reading, and writing is just beginning toshape teacher preparation and instruc-tional programs. This knowledge mustalso form the basis of high-quality profes-sional development for practicing teach-ers.What Does the ResearchSay About EffectiveReading Instruction?Well-designed, controlled comparisonsof instructional approaches have consis-tently supported these components andpractices in reading instruction:s Direct teaching of decoding, compre-hension, and literature appreciation;s Phoneme awareness instruction;s Systematic and explicit instruction inthe code system of written English;s Daily exposure to a variety of texts, aswell as incentives for children to readTEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 7ExecutiveSummary
independently and with others;s Vocabulary instruction that includes avariety of complementary methodsdesigned to explore the relationshipsamong words and the relationshipsamong word structure, origin, andmeaning;s Comprehension strategies that includeprediction of outcomes, summarizing,clarification, questioning, and visualiza-tion; ands Frequent writing of prose to enable adeeper understanding of what is read.Toward a Curriculum forTeacher Preparation andInservice ProfessionalDevelopmentBecause classroom instruction, more thanany other factor, is crucial in preventingreading problems, it is a primary focus foreffecting change. A comprehensive rede-sign of teacher preparation in reading in-struction, founded on a core curriculumthat defines the knowledge and skills nec-essary for effective practice, is vital toimproved classroom instruction.Such a research-based core curriculumwould provide much more extensive, de-manding, and content-driven training toinform classroom practice. Specifically, acore curriculum for teacher preparationmust include components for:s Understanding reading psychology anddevelopment;s Understanding the structure of theEnglish language;s Applying best practices in all aspects ofreading instruction; ands Using validated, reliable, efficientassessments to inform classroomteaching.This core curriculum can also serve asthe basis for inservice professional devel-opment for the vast number of currentteachers who have not been exposed tothe research-based knowledge.Changing TeacherPreparation andProfessionalDevelopment in ReadingIf higher standards and substantive cours-es of preparation are adopted now, the twomillion new teachers projected over thenext decade may be equipped to minimizereading failure in all but a small percent-age of students. To achieve that goal, arange of initiatives needs to be consid-ered:s Research should guide the profession.s Core requirements and standards fornew teachers should be established.s Teacher education programs should bealigned with standards for students andlicensing requirements for teachers.s Professional development institutesshould be created for professors of edu-cation and master teachers.s Developers of textbooks and instruc-tional materials should be encouragedto improve their products.s High-quality professional developmentmust be available for teachers.s An investment in teaching should bemade to attract and retain high-caliberteacher candidates.The fact that teachers need better train-ing to carry out deliberate instruction inreading, spelling, and writing shouldprompt action rather than criticism. Itshould highlight the existing gap betweenwhat teachers need and what they havebeen given. It should underscore the obli-gation of teacher preparation programs toprovide candidates with a rigorous,research-based curriculum and opportu-nities to practice a range of predefinedskills and knowledge, as well as the needfor licensing authorities to assess thatknowledge.The knowledge and skills inherent ineffective reading programs must be part ofevery teacher’s reading instruction reper-toire. Good, research-based teacher prepara-tion programs, coupled with high-qualityprofessional development for classroomteachers, can assure that this is so.8 / AFT TEACHERS
In today’s literate world, academic suc-cess, secure employment, and person-al autonomy depend on reading andwriting proficiency. All children who arecapable of reading must be taught how toread; such is the fundamental responsibil-ity of schooling. Although educators havelong understood the importance of litera-cy, a series of recent studies goes a longway in elucidating the chain of cause andeffect that supports the development ofliteracy. Convergent findings of high-qual-ity research have clarified how childrenlearn to read and what must be done toensure that they do. Beyond doubt, read-ing early links one benefit to another.Enjoyment of reading, exposure to the lan-guage in books, and attainment of knowl-edge about the world all accrue in greatermeasure to those who have learned how toread before the end of first grade.Difficulty with the first steps of reading, incontrast, eventually undermines vocabu-lary growth, knowledge of the world, mas-tery of language, and skill in writing. Oncebehind in reading, few children catch upunless they receive intensive, individual,and expert instruction, a scarce (andexpensive) commodity in most schools.1Far too many children have troublereading and writing. About 20 percent ofelementary students nationwide have sig-nificant problems learning to read; at leastanother 20 percent do not read fluentlyenough to enjoy or engage in independentreading. Thus it should not be surprisingthat, according to the United States Officeof Technology, 25 percent of the adult pop-ulation lacks the basic literacy skillsrequired in a typical job.2Among thosewho do not make it in life—schooldropouts, incarcerated individuals, unem-ployed and underemployed adults—arehigh percentages of people who cannotread.3Such realities have prompted theNational Institutes of Health to regardreading development and reading difficul-ty as a major public health concern.For poor, minority children who attendlow-performing urban schools, the inci-dence of reading failure is astronomicaland completely unacceptable. African-American, Hispanic, limited-Englishspeaking students, and those from impov-erished homes fall behind and stay behindin far greater proportion than their white,middle-class counterparts. The rate ofreading failure in these groups is 60 per-cent to 70 percent according to theNational Assessment of EducationalProgress.4This figure alone explains muchabout the poor academic achievement ofminority students and why they areunder-represented in professions thatdepend on higher education.Environment, however, does notexplain all. Many children from moreadvantaged, literacy-rich environmentshave trouble learning to read, and manychildren from high-risk environments doindeed learn to read.5California recentlyinitiated a series of laws to reform readingeducation after 49 percent of students ofcollege-educated parents scored “belowbasic” on the National Assessment ofEducational Progress. One-third of poorreaders nationwide are from college-edu-cated families who presumably encourageliteracy in the home.The tragedy here is that most readingfailure is unnecessary. We now know thatclassroom teaching itself, when it includesa range of research-based componentsand practices, can prevent and amelioratereading difficulty. Although home factorsdo influence how well and how soon stu-TEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 9Preventing Reading Failure:A Top Priorityfor Education
dents read, informed classroom instruc-tion that targets specific language andreading skills beginning in kindergartenenhances success for all but a few studentswith moderate or severe learning disabili-ties. Scientists now estimate that 95 per-cent of all children can be taught to read ata level constrained only by their reasoningand listening comprehension abilities.6Itis clear that students in high-risk popula-tions need not fail at the rate they do.7When placed into schools with effectiveprincipals and well-prepared and well-supported teachers, African-American,Hispanic, or students who are economi-cally disadvantaged can learn to read aswell as their more advantaged peers.8Further, students who lack the prerequi-site awareness of sounds, symbols, andword meanings can overcome their initialdisadvantage if teachers incorporate criti-cal skills into lessons directly, systemati-cally, and actively.9Thus, while parents,tutors, and the community can contributeto reading success, classroom instructionmust be viewed as the critical factor inpreventing reading problems and must bethe primary focus for change. Ensuringeffective classroom instructional practiceis well within the purview of educationalpolicymakers.10 / AFT TEACHERSLearning to read isnot natural or easyfor most children.Reading is anacquired skill.
The Difficulty of TeachingReading Has BeenUnderestimatedTeaching reading is a job for an expert.Contrary to the popular theory that learn-ing to read is natural and easy, learning toread is a complex linguistic achievement.For many children, it requires effort andincremental skill development. Moreover,teaching reading requires considerableknowledge and skill, acquired over severalyears through focused study and super-vised practice.Consider what the classroom demandsof the teacher. Children’s interest in read-ing must be stimulated through regularexposure to interesting books and throughdiscussions in which students respond tomany kinds of texts. For best results, theteacher must instruct most studentsdirectly, systematically, and explicitly todecipher words in print, all the whilekeeping in mind the ultimate purpose ofreading, which is to learn, enjoy, andunderstand. To accommodate children’svariability, the teacher must assess chil-dren and tailor lessons to individuals. Shemust interpret errors, give corrective feed-back, select examples to illustrate con-cepts, explain new ideas in several ways,and connect linguistic symbols with “real”reading and writing. No one can developsuch expertise by taking one or two col-lege courses, or attending a few one-shotinservice workshops.Although reading is the cornerstone ofacademic success, a single course in read-ing methods is often all that is offeredmost prospective teachers. Even if welltaught, a single course is only the begin-ning. Without deeper knowledge, the spe-cific techniques of lesson delivery cannotbe acquired, let alone knowledge of lan-guage, reading psychology, children’s liter-ature, or the management of a readingprogram based on assessment. Thedemands of competent reading instruc-tion, and the training experiences neces-sary to learn it, have been seriously under-estimated by universities and by thosewho have approved licensing programs.The consequences for teachers and stu-dents alike have been disastrous.Why Have Teachers BeenLeft Unprepared?Why are the stringent demands of teach-ing reading and writing unrecognized inthe design of preparation programs? Inreading, at least, misunderstanding andlack of knowledge may play as big a role asinstitutional politics and budgetary con-straints. What drives the mind of the read-er is neither self-evident nor easy to grasp,and, consequently, many years of scientif-ic inquiry have been necessary to exposethe mechanisms of reading acquisition.Only recently has basic research allowedthe community of reading scientists andeducators to agree on what needs to bedone. This new information about lan-guage, reading, and writing is just begin-ning to shape teacher preparation andinstructional programs. This knowledgemust also form the basis of inservice pro-fessional development for practicingteachers.The Knowledge Base forTeaching Reading Is Hidden,Extensive, and ComplexReading education is a field more vulnera-ble than many to faddish practices thatTEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 11WhereWe Are:Taking Stock ofTeacher Preparation in Reading
later prove to be untenable. Such is therisk whenever a human trait that becomesthe subject of education is poorly under-stood. To appreciate why reading is one ofpsychology’s more mysterious phenome-na, we must consider the nature of the lin-guistic communication that readingrequires. Skilled reading happens too fastand is too automatic to detect its underly-ing processes through simple introspec-tion. We read, but we cannot watch howour minds make sense out of print. Thelinkage of sounds and symbols occurs rap-idly and unconsciously. The linguisticunits that compose words, the singlespeech sounds (phonemes), syllables, andmeaningful parts (morphemes), are auto-matically matched with writing symbolsso that attention is available for compre-hension.10Because our attention is onmeaning, we are not aware of the codetranslation process by which meaning isconveyed. Until we are faced with a classof children who are learning how to readsymbols that represent speech sounds andword parts, we may never have analyzedlanguage at the level required for explain-ing and teaching it. Similarly, we may notknow how a paragraph is organized or howa story is put together until we teach writ-ing to students who do not know how toorganize their thoughts. Thus, to under-stand printed language well enough toteach it explicitly requires disciplinedstudy of its systems and forms, both spo-ken and written.When adults are evaluated on knowl-edge of language, even those who are edu-cated exhibit rudimentary or cursoryfamiliarity with concepts about our writ-ing system that are insufficient for teach-ing children. Surveys measuring experi-enced teachers’ ability to identify speechsounds, spelling patterns, and word struc-tures reveal confusions that are typical ofmost adults.11For example, the conceptthat a letter combination can representone unique speech sound (ch, wh, sh, th,ng)—is unclear to a surprising number ofelementary teachers. Many identify theseunits by rote but are unable to differenti-ate conceptually between these spellingunits (digraphs) and two letters that standfor two distinct sounds (consonant blendssuch as cl, st, pr) or silent letter spellingsthat retain the sound of one consonant(kn-, wr-, -mb). Few adults can explaincommon spelling patterns that corre-spond to pronunciation and word mean-ing, such as why we double the consonantletters in words like misspell, dinner, andaccommodate. A deeper, explicit level ofknowledge may not be necessary to readthe words, but it is necessary to explainpronunciation and spelling, where thewords came from, and how spelling isrelated to meaning.12Some children learn language conceptsand their application very easily in spite ofincidental teaching, but others never learnunless they are taught in an organized,systematic, efficient way by a knowledge-able teacher using a well-designedinstructional approach. Children of aver-age ability might learn enough aboutreading to get by, but may not develop theappreciation for language structure thatsupports learning words from context,organization of the mental dictionary,comparing words, or precise use of lan-guage.13Yet teachers are seldom asked tostudy the language they teach or how itsform carries its message.In addition, teachers are not bornknowing the relationships among thebasic skills of reading and reading com-prehension. They may see that childrenread poorly in the middle and uppergrades, but may not understand that pro-ficiency in basic reading skill must betaught before students will progress.Without instruction and practice, teachersare unlikely to develop the questioningtechniques and discussion strategies thatpromote thoughtful reading by groups ofchildren.14Meaningful ProfessionalStandards Are AbsentOther complex and demanding profes-sions insist on much more stringent train-ing and preparation than that required ofteachers. Pilots, engineers, optometrists,and art therapists, for example, must learnconcepts, facts, and skills to a prescribedlevel, must conduct their practice undersupervision, and must pass rigorous entry12 / AFT TEACHERS
examinations that are standardized acrossthe profession. Continuing education tostay abreast of proven best practices ismandated. The public interest is protectedby professional governing boards thatmonitor the knowledge base and overseethe competence of these licensed pro-fessionals. We, the consumers of theseprofessional services, should be able totrust that any person holding a license hasdemonstrated competence and isaccountable to his or her professionalboard of governance.No such rules or standards assure thatteachers who instruct children in readinghave mastered the relevant knowledgebase and acquired the necessary skills.Even within large universities that preparehundreds of teachers every year, theremay be no curricular specifications orstandards. What a teacher candidatelearns depends on the professor he or sheselects. What the professor teaches isdetermined solely by what the professormay know or believe. Courses in reading,which are typically limited to three creditTEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 13
hours, are often taught by adjunct facultywho are accountable to no one.15Thus,preparation for teaching reading often ismore grounded in ideology than evi-dence.16While the academic freedom thatprofessors often invoke has a place inteacher education, its claim is not as ab-solute as it may be in the humanities.17Professional preparation programs have aresponsibility to teach a defined body ofknowledge, skills, and abilities that arebased on the best research in the field.This is no less important in reading18thanit is in medicine or the law.Good Information Is Hard To GetFew of today’s popular textbooks forteacher preparation in reading containinformation about the known relation-ships between linguistic awareness, wordrecognition ability, and reading compre-hension. Few discuss in any useful detailhow the English writing system representsspeech. Basic concepts such as the differ-ences between speech sounds andspellings, the fact that every syllable inEnglish is organized around a vowelsound, and the existence of meaningfulunits (morphemes) in the Latin layer ofEnglish (about 60 percent of running text)are rarely explained. Few texts containaccurate information about the role ofphonology in reading development, andfew explain with depth, accuracy, or clari-ty why many children have trouble learn-ing to read or what to do about it. Teachersare often given inaccurate and misleadinginformation based on unsupported ideas.For example, in the recent past, one of themost common misconceptions has beenthat knowledge of the phonic system canbe finessed with awareness of sentencestructure and meaning.19Textbooks forteachers must attain a much higher stan-dard of accuracy, currency, depth, clarity,and relevance if teachers are to be well-prepared to teach reading.20Classroom Instructional ProgramsAre UninformativeInadequately prepared novice teachersoften find themselves dependent on theinformation given in teachers’ manuals tolearn about spoken and written languageconcepts and to generate strategies forteaching students to read. Major class-room textbooks in language arts omit sys-tematic teaching about speech sounds,the spelling system, or how to read wordsby sounding them out.21The most popularprograms being used today are appropri-ately strong on literature, illustrations,cross-disciplinary thematic units, andmotivational strategies for children, butvery weak or simply wrong when it comesto the structure of English and how chil-dren actually learn to read the words onthe page.22A recent review of major class-room reading programs shows that theycontinue to lack the content necessary toteach basic reading systematically andexplicitly.23Can We Do Better?Comprehensive redesign of teacherpreparation and inservice professionaldevelopment is possible, but it must beginwith a definition of the knowledge andskills necessary for effective practice anddemonstration of how these are bestlearned. Fortunately, leaders in the field—including the National Research Councilpanel on the Prevention of ReadingDifficulties in Young Children and themember organizations of the LearningFirst Alliance—have reached consensusregarding the agenda for change.24Theyagree that new teachers require muchmore extensive, demanding, and content-driven training if discoveries from thereading sciences are to inform classroompractice.Specifically, teachers must understandthe basic psychological processes in read-ing, how children develop reading skill,how good readers differ from poor read-ers, how the English language is structuredin spoken and written form, and the vali-dated principles of effective readinginstruction. The ability to design anddeliver lessons to academically diverselearners, to select validated instructionalmethods and materials, and use assess-ments to tailor instruction are all centralto effective teaching.14 / AFT TEACHERS
Only recentlyhas basicresearchallowed thecommunity ofreadingscientists andeducators toagree on whatneeds to bedone.
Acore curriculum for teacher prepa-ration and inservice professionaldevelopment can be dividedroughly into the following four areas:s Understanding knowledge of readingpsychology and development;s Understanding knowledge of languagestructure which is the content ofinstruction;s Applying best practices in all aspects ofreading instruction; ands Using validated, reliable, efficient as-sessments to inform classroomteaching.This core will, of course, be supple-mented and honed in time, but its goal isto bring continuity, consistency, and com-prehensiveness to preservice teacher edu-cation and to focus the content of contin-uing education and graduate programs.(For specific details on the curriculumcontent in these four areas see AppendixA.)Knowledge of thePsychology of Readingand ReadingDevelopmentBasic Facts About ReadingIf the findings of research psychologists,educators, and linguists were betterknown, the risk of unfounded and evenharmful teaching practices would bereduced. Learning to read is not natural oreasy for most children. Reading is anacquired skill, unlike spoken language,which is learned with almost any kind ofcontextual exposure. If learning to readwere as natural as acquiring spoken lan-guage, many more societies would havewritten languages; human beings wouldhave invented writing systems many thou-sands of years before we did; and everyonewould learn reading as easily as duckslearn to swim. The prolonged, gradual,and predictable progression of skill inprint translation attests to the differencebetween processing spoken and writtenlanguage. Although surrounding childrenwith books will enhance reading develop-ment, a “literature-rich environment” isnot sufficient for learning to read. Neitherwill exposure to print ordinarily be suffi-cient for learning to spell, unless organ-ized practice is provided. Thus, teachersmust be reflective and knowledgeableabout the content they are teaching, thatis, the symbol system itself and its rela-tionship to meaning.Research has shown that good readersdo not skim and sample the text whenthey scan a line in a book.25They processthe letters of each word in detail, althoughthey do so very rapidly and unconsciously.Those who comprehend well accomplishletter-wise text scanning with relative easeand fluency. When word identification isfast and accurate, a reader has amplemental energy to think over the meaningof the text. Knowledge of sound-symbolmapping is crucial in developing wordrecognition: the ability to sound out andrecognize words accounts for about 80percent of the variance in first-grade read-ing comprehension and continues to be amajor (albeit diminishing) factor in textcomprehension as students progressthrough the grades.26The ability to sound out words is, infact, a major underpinning that allowsrapid recognition of words “by sight.”16 / AFT TEACHERSToward a Curriculumfor Teacher Preparationand Inservice Professional Development
Languageknowledge andlanguageproficiencydifferentiategood and poorreaders.
Before children can easily sound out ordecode words, they must have at least animplicit awareness of the speech soundsthat are represented by symbolic units(letters and their combinations). Childrenwho learn to read well are sensitive to lin-guistic structure; recognize redundantpatterns; and connect letter patterns withsounds, syllables, and meaningful wordparts quickly, accurately, and uncon-sciously.27Effective teaching of readingentails these concepts, presented in anorder in which children can learn them.The Characteristics of Poor andNovice ReadersExperts agree that reading and writing callprimarily on deep linguistic processing,not on more peripheral auditory or visualperceptual skills. Language knowledgeand language proficiency differentiategood and poor readers. As they begin tolearn, poor readers are not less intelligentor less motivated; they are, however, lessskilled with language, especially at thelevel of elemental linguistic units smallerthan whole words. For this reason, theybenefit from instruction that developsawareness of sounds, syllables, meaning-ful word parts, relationships among wordmeanings, and the structures of writtentext.The language skills that most reliablydistinguish good and poor readers arespecific to the phonological or speech-sound processing system. Those skillsinclude awareness of linguistic units thatlie within a word (consonants, vowels, syl-lables, grammatical endings, meaningfulparts, and the spelling units that representthem) and fluency in recognition andrecall of letters and spelling patterns thatmake up words. Thus, skilled reading pres-ents a paradox: Those who can most easi-ly make sense of text are also those whocan most easily read nonsense. For exam-ple, children who comprehend well whenthey read also do better at tasks such asreading words taken out of context,sounding out novel words, and spellingnonsense words.28Intelligence and verbalreasoning ability do not predict readingsuccess in the beginning stages as well asthese specific linguistic skills.Although the purpose of reading is tocomprehend text, teachers should alsoappreciate the relationships among read-ing components in order to teach all com-ponents well—in connection to oneanother and with the emphasis needed ateach stage of development.29A child can-not understand what he cannot decode,but what he decodes is meaninglessunless he can understand it. If this rela-tionship is realized, a teacher will teachlinguistic awareness and phonics deliber-ately, while linking skills to context asmuch as possible.30When appropriate, theemphasis will shift to increasing readingvolume and teaching the interpretivestrategies central to comprehension: sum-marizing, questioning, predicting out-comes, and monitoring one’s own under-standing. But a focus on comprehensionskills can—and should—begin long beforechildren can decode. Teachers and otheradults should read to children and, there-by, begin to develop their appreciation forthe written word and their comprehen-sion skills.How Reading and Spelling DevelopLongitudinal studies of reading andspelling development have shown thatstudents who read well in high school18 / AFT TEACHERS
learned early to sound words out and readnew words with ease.31That is, they gainedthe insight that letters in our writing sys-tem more or less represent segments ofspeech (phonemes) and used this knowl-edge to increase their reading vocabular-ies. Moreover, emergent reading follows apredictable course regardless of the speedof reading acquisition.32The learner pro-gresses from global to analytic processing,from approximate to specific linking ofsound with symbols, and from context-drivento print-driven reading as proficiency isacquired.Awarenessoflettersequences,speechsounds, and meanings of words develop in areciprocal fashion as soon as basic phono-logical awareness and letter knowledgeare gained. Effective teachers will recog-nize where their students are in readingand writing development and will tailorinstruction accordingly.The signs of each stage are readilyapparent to a teacher who is a trainedobserver. Beginning students do notunderstand that letters represent thesounds in words, although they do knowthat print represents spoken messages.Next, they use their knowledge of lettersand rudimentary awareness of speechsounds to attempt spelling and reading bysounding out parts of words, often theprominent consonants of a word (as in KRfor car and HP for happy). Skill at sound-ing out words and at spelling them pho-netically unfolds gradually as the childbecomes aware of all the speech sounds ina word to which letters need to bematched. With appropriate instruction,children learn quickly how print patternsrepresent speech. For example, they knowthat -ck is used at the ends of words, thatletters can be doubled at the ends of wordsbut not at the beginnings, and that wordstypically contain a vowel sound. Theylearn in phases that -ed spells the pasttense but is pronounced three differentways: /t/ as in raked, /d/ as in played and/ed/ as in painted. More advanced stu-dents will decipher words such as synchro-nous by larger chunks, reading by analogyto known words with the prefix syn-, theroot -chron, and the suffix -ous.Effective teaching, matched to the stu-dents’ developmental levels, requiresknowledge of word structure so that printconventions can be explained, identified,classified, and used for the higher purpos-es of efficient word recognition andvocabulary development. The methods ofany lesson will be chosen according to thelearner’s level of skill development.Teaching children about sounds is appro-priate at the very early stages; emphasiz-ing morphemes is appropriate later on. Atevery level, teachers need to connect theteaching of these skills with the joy ofreading and writing, using read-aloudsand the motivating activities popularizedby the whole-language movement. Expertteachers will have the knowledge, strate-gies, and materials to judge what to dowith particular children, not on the basisof ideology, but on the basis of observa-tion, logic, knowledge of child develop-ment, knowledge of content, and evidencefor what works.TEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 19Teachers who understand the psychologyof reading and reading developmentcan answer questions like these:Why is it useful to know if a student can read nonsensewords such as flep, tridding, and pertollic?The ability to read nonsense words depends on rapid and accurateassociation of sounds with symbols. Good readers do this easily sothey can decipher new words and attend to the meaning of the pas-sage. Poor readers usually are slower and make more mistakes insounding out words. Their comprehension suffers as a consequence.Poor readers improve if they are taught in an organized, systematicmanner how to decipher the spelling code and sound words out.What does it mean if a 5-year-old child writes “pez tak meyet u?” (Please take me with you.)This is early phonetic or letter name spelling, showing fairly welldeveloped awareness of speech sounds (phonological awareness) butlittle knowledge of standard spelling. Over the next year, the childneeds to be taught how to read and spell single consonants, shortvowels, and regular word patterns with those elements, as well as afew high-frequency sight words at a time. Practice with decodabletext is appropriate at this stage.Which words do good readers skip as they read alongat a good pace?Almost none. Good readers process every letter of almost every wordwhen they read.
Language:TheFoundation for ReadingInstructionExpert teaching of reading requires knowl-edge of language structure at all levels.Without such knowledge, teachers are notable to respond insightfully to studenterrors, choose examples for concepts,explain and contrast words and theirparts, or judge what focus is needed in alesson. Suppose that the teacher wants thestudents to read and spell words such aspin and pen, will and well, miss and messwithout confusing them? Lecturing orsinging about short vowels is unlikely toprevent the errors children often make.Knowing that these vowels are similar inarticulation might help the teacheremphasize how the vowels feel in themouth when they are spoken. Anticipatingthe difficulty of these vowels, a teacherwould provide frequent, short opportuni-ties for students to contrast similar wordsand to read and spell words with /i˘/ and /e˘/in the context of sentences and stories.What if, in the middle grades, the worddeceive is to be read, spelled, or under-stood? To help children who may not knowthe word or who may misread or misspellit, the teacher could draw upon the follow-ing information:s deceive has two meaningful parts (mor-phemes), a prefix de- and a root ceive-;s the word is a verb related to the nounsdeceit and deception;s the same root and derivational patterncan be found with receive, conceive, andperceive;s the vowel spelling follows the “i before eexcept after c” spelling rule;s the word ends with an e because noword in English ends in a plain v spellingfor the /v/ sound;s the /s/ phoneme is spelled with a c fol-lowed by e; ands the accent of such Latin-based words isalmost always on the root morpheme.Armed with such information, accumu-lated over many lessons, the teacher candeepen students’ word knowledge by call-ing their attention to any of these featuresin a lesson. The nature of exploration mayvary from a “word a day” discussion, tofinding -ceive words in a literature selec-tion, to using several of the -ceive words ina written composition in their variousforms (receiving, reception, receptivity).Few teachers, however, are sufficientlywell prepared to carry out such instruc-tion—not through any fault of their own—but because their preparation programs,instructional materials, and teachingenvironments have not asked them tounderstand language with any depth orspecificity. The language content that caninform instruction in reading and spellingis outlined in Part II of the core curriculum(see Appendix A). Chart 1, Knowledge ofLanguage Structure and Application ToTeaching illustrates the knowledge teach-ers must have and how that knowledgemay be applied in teaching reading.20 / AFT TEACHERSTeachers who understand the practicalteaching skills in a comprehensive readingprogram can answer questions like these:Can the words shoe, do, flew, and you be usedfor rhyming practice?By all means. Rhyming should involve comparison and identificationof spoken words that share a final vowel and consonant soundsequence. They do not have to be spelled the same way.How fast should a second- or third-graderbe able to read?A minimum goal for oral reading fluency can be established by takingthe child’s age and multiplying by 10. A 7-year-old second-gradershould be reading around 70 words per minute. By the end of thirdgrade, children should read 100 words per minute in material at theirindependent reading level (at least 95 percent of words known).When in the instructional sequence shoulda teacher ask a child to think about the meaningof the passage (context) to decipher a new word?After the word has been decoded or pronounced, then contextbecomes useful in assigning meaning to the word or checking if theword was read correctly. Guessing the word from context before tryingto decode it is not advised.
Practical Skills ofInstructionin a ComprehensiveReading ProgramOpportunities for SupervisedExperienceKnowing what should be done in theclassroom is necessary but not sufficientfor developing practical teaching skills.Translating knowledge into practicerequires experience with a range of stu-dents. New teachers seldom have theexperience of watching various experts atwork or receiving on-site supervision on aregular basis.33However, the repertoire ofpractical implementation skills to belearned is extensive, and the time neededto hone those skills is substantial.Internship programs should be designedto allow new teachers to collaborate withpeers and with mentor teachers, and tosupport the development of skills newteachers need to manage the range ofreading levels and instructional chal-lenges they will encounter in their class-rooms.Use of Validated InstructionalPracticesChildren are routinely subjected to teach-ing practices that have not been testedand proven effective for children likethemselves. Much more research must beundertaken to substantiate the value of awide range of instructional approachesused in classrooms. Meanwhile, there is anincreasing body of evidence that supportsthe effectiveness of several existing read-ing programs.34Experts agree that childrenwho initially are at risk for failure aresaved, in most cases, by instruction thatteaches directly the specific languageskills on which proficient reading de-pends. Effective teachers of reading raiseawareness and proficiency with everylevel of language organization includingsounds, syllables, meaningful parts (mor-phemes), phrases, sentences, paragraphs,and various genres of text. Teaching strate-gies are active, exploratory, and engaging.They also balance language skill instruc-tion with its application to purposefuldaily writing and reading, no matter whatthe skill level of the learner. Middle- andupper-grade children who are poor read-ers can be brought up to grade level withappropriate instruction although the timeand effort involved is considerably greaterthan that required to teach younger chil-dren.35Well-designed, controlled comparisonsof instructional approaches have consis-tently supported these components andpractices in reading instruction:36TEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 21Teachers who understand the knowledgeof language structure and its applicationcan answer questions like these:What sounds will children confuse with /p/ and what can theteacher do to help children avoid confusion?Sounds that are articulated similarly are most likely to be confused.The /b/ is articulated exactly like the /p/, except that it is voiced—thevocal cords get involved right away with /b/. Sometimes children con-fuse /p/, /b/, and /m/, again because they are all produced with the lipstogether. A teacher can point this out to children and then have thempractice identifying, saying, reading, and spelling these sounds in con-trasting words such as bike, Mike, and pike.Why do children spell dress with a j or gin the beginning?Because we pucker before the /r/ and make a sound more like/j/ or soft g than the /d/ in desk. Children can be asked to thinkabout this and watch what their mouths do before practicingthe recognition and spelling of tr (and dr) words.Are love, dove, and give “exception” words in English?No, they are completely predictable. English doesn’t permit itswritten words to end in one v letter alone. The e is necessary tokeep it company and prevent the word from ending in a v.These words can be taught as a group that does follow a pat-tern.How many meaningful parts (morphemes) are there in theword contracted?Three. The prefix com, meaning with, that was changed to conso that it would match up with the t for easier pronunciation;the root tract meaning to pull, and the past tense ed. Contractshould be grouped with retract, intractable, traction, and otherwords that share its root.
Chart 1Knowledge of Language Structure and Application To TeachingLANGUAGE Domain of Teacher Knowledge Teacher Skill or Ability:STRUCTURE Examples of Application in PracticePhonetics Speech sounds are not letters. Recognize phoneme substitutions in students’speech, reading, and spelling.Consonant and vowel phoneme classeshave special properties. Produce speech sounds accurately during reading,vocabulary, and spelling instruction.Phonemes can be described by place andmanner of articulation. Identify, match, and select appropriate examples ofwords containing specific phonemes.Phoneme classes are determined by thearticulatory features of the sounds. Select contrasting pairs of words that differ only inone phoneme, for the purpose of teachingThere is a finite inventory of consonant speech sound awareness.phonemes (25) and vowel phonemes (15)in English that can becompared withphoneme inventories in other languages.Phonology Naturally produced speech sounds are Recognize and describe phonological errorssometimes difficult to classify. in children’s speaking, reading, and writing.Speech sounds are folded into one another during Evaluate the complexity of any syllable (whethernormal speaking (co-articulation). it contains clusters before and/or after a vowel).Speech sounds are produced in various forms Choose examples of words for specificbecause of phonological rules and onset-rime units and phonemes.dialectical variation.Phonology encompasses all aspects of speech Give feedback to students with referenceprocessing and production including stress to articulation.placement and memory for new words.Plan and teach implicit and explicit activitiesThe English alphabetic writing system designed to enhance phoneme awareness,represents phonemes indirectly and with syllable awareness, and memory for pronunciation.considerable variation.Understand and follow a developmental continuumin phonological skills during instruction.Link phonological skill development to reading,writing, and meaningful use of language.Morphology Over half the running words in text are Latin Recognize morphemes in words.and Greek derived. These words are made upof roots, prefixes, and suffixes. Choose morphologically related words to teachreading, vocabulary, and spelling.Morphemes are the smallest meaningful units.Select and/or design word study for intermediateMorphemes and syllables differ. and high school students organized aroundcommon morphological roots and derivedMorpheme structure can be transparent or obscure. word forms.Our spelling system preserves morphology.Derivational and inflectional morphemes differin function, form, and effect.22 / AFT TEACHERS
LANGUAGE Domain of Teacher Knowledge Teacher Skill or Ability:STRUCTURE Examples of Application in PracticeOrthography The English alphabet is a recent development. Choose examples of spelling correspondences,patterns, rules, and exceptions.Letters represent sounds but are not thesame as sounds. Recognize and sort predictable and unpredictablewords.English orthography is variable and complexbut predictable. Adopt and learn a systematic plan for teachingdecoding and spelling.Certain frequent spellings are used foreach of the consonant and vowel Link decoding and spelling instruction.phonemes of English.Evaluate the design of instructional materials.Words can be grouped by their spellingunits (digraphs, blends, silent lettercombinations, teams, diphthongs, andsix common syllable types).Spelling includes patterns and rules.Semantics Word meanings are learned in relation to other Identify antonyms, synonyms, analogies, associativeword meanings. linkages; classes, properties, and examples ofconcepts; connotative and denotative meanings.Word knowledge may be superficial or deep.Teach words in relation to other words andWords have semantic features. concepts.Meaning-making is personal. Select words that are central forunderstanding a text.New words are learned through repeatedexposure in context and moreformal study.How new words are acquired.Syntax and Texts have structures that can be represented Use a visual coding strategy to portray the sructureText graphically and three-dimensionally (e.g., of simple sentences and their elaboration.Structure narrative structure, exposition such ascompare/contrast structure; argumentation Analyze and construct common paragraph forms.and description).Map and outline the logical flow of text of variousSentences have an underlying structure that kinds.can be manipulated.Recognize a well written (“reader friendly”) text.Cohesive devices include reference, parallelsentence structure, organization of paragraphs.TEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 23
s Direct teaching of decoding, compre-hension, and literature appreciation isnecessary from the beginning; as stu-dents develop, the emphasis, content,pacing, and complexity of lessons willchange.s Phoneme awareness instruction, whenlinked to systematic decoding andspelling, is a key to preventing readingfailure in children who come to schoolwithout these prerequisite skills.s It is better to teach the code system ofwritten English systematically andexplicitly than it is to teach it randomly,indirectly, or incidentally?37The units forinstruction (sound, syllable, morpheme,word) should vary according to students’reading and spelling skills.s The most effective programs includedaily exposure to a variety of texts as wellas incentives for children to read inde-pendently and with others. Practicesthat build reading fluency includerepeated readings of text, alternate read-ing with a partner, and simultaneousoral reading in easy material.s Vocabulary is best taught with a varietyof complementary methods designed toexplore the relationships among wordsand the relationships among word struc-ture, origin, and meaning.s Key comprehension strategies includeprediction of outcomes, summarizing,clarification, questioning, and visualiza-tion; these should be modeled explicitlyby the teacher and practiced overtly ifstudents are not comprehending well orif they approach reading comprehen-sion passively.s Effective teachers encourage frequentwriting of prose to enable deeper under-standing of what is read.Part III (Appendix A) of the core curricu-lum outline includes the practical teach-ing skills that are necessary for each of themajor components of effective classroominstruction.Assessment of ClassroomReading and Writing SkillsTeachers also receive inadequate prepara-tion in the selection and use of assess-ments to inform their practice. Ratherthan teaching teachers to use unreliableassessments of questionable validity,training should be focused on the use ofmeasures and observation tools that havedemonstrated usefulness for specific pur-poses. Assessments employed routinely byteachers should have been studied todetermine their reliability and validity forprediction, grouping, comparison, orinstruction that improves children’s read-ing or writing. Part IV (Appendix A) of thecore curriculum addresses teachers’knowledge and use of assessment.24 / AFT TEACHERSTeachers who understand the assessment ofclassroom reading and writing skills cananswer questions like these:What specific skills present at the end of first grade best pre-dict later reading achievement ?The ability to give the sounds that letters represent, to name letters,and to complete simple phoneme awareness tasks such as initial con-sonant matching, sound blending, and sound segmentation.Are running records or oral reading tests reliableor valid indicators of reading ability?The reliability of oral reading tests and running records is lower thanthe reliability of more structured, specific measures of componentreading skills. Teacher judgment of the cause of specific oral readingerrors (e.g., miscue analysis) tends to be much less reliable.When are children typically expected to spell these words?Trapped, offered, plate, illustrate, preparingPlate: end of first grade when the most common long vowel spelling islearned.Trapped: end of second grade when the basic doubling rule forendings beginning with vowels is learned.Preparing: end of fourth grade when students expand their knowledgeto Latin-based words with prefixes, roots, and suffixes.Illustrate: end of fifth grade when more complex words with prefix,root, and suffixes are learned.Offered: end of sixth grade when patterns involve prefixes, roots andsuffixes, and more complex spelling changes.Why is it important to test comprehensionwith material the student has not read before?Because if students have been previously exposed to a passage, theycan answer questions without being able to truly read the passage.
In the next 10 years, about two millionnew teachers will be hired. If higherstandards and substantive courses ofpreparation are adopted now, Americaneducators will be equipped to minimizereading failure in all but a small percent-age of students. To achieve that goal, arange of initiatives needs to be consid-ered.1. Research Should Guide the Pro-fession. Teacher educators must be con-versant with the new research findingsand incorporate them into their course-work in teacher preparation. Schools ofeducation must collaborate with the liber-al arts faculty to assure that the necessaryknowledge about language and learningare accessible to teacher candidates.Teachers must be educated to identify,read, respect, and apply the findings ofscientific research to their practice.Although teachers typically mistrust theclassroom practicability of much educa-tional research and seldom have access toresearch reports,38their courses and inser-vice workshops should be liberallyinformed by exemplary studies. Practicumexperiences should focus on methodsshown to work with well-defined groups oflearners. Teachers are often not in a posi-tion to make decisions regarding districtreading curricula and/or reading texts.Nevertheless, teachers who understandthe foundations of their discipline are bet-ter prepared to argue against the whole-sale district adoption of irresponsible fadsand market-driven changes in teachingphilosophy.If research guides their profession,teachers will be in a better position tocountermand the proliferation of appeal-ing but unsupported ideas that have beenharmful influences for more than adecade.39Examples of popular misconcep-tions include:s reading instruction is only needed untilthird grade;s competent teachers do not use pub-lished reading programs;s avoiding published reading programsempowers teachers and enhances theprofessional status of teaching;s teaching phonics, word attack, andspelling skills directly to children isharmful;s those who favor good code instructionare opposed to literature and compre-hension instruction;s reading a lot is the best way to overcomea reading problem;s children should be taught to guesswords on the basis of meaning and syn-tax;40ands skills must always be taught in the con-text of literature.With no accountability system to checktheir dissemination, unsupported ideassuch as these fill the void left by weak pre-service and inservice programs. PerhapsTEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 25WhereWe Need To Go:Changing Teacher Preparationand Professional Developmentin Reading
the dubious quality of past educationalresearch has justified the prevalent cyni-cism among educators, who are often toldthat research exists to support any point ofview.41However, reading is actually one ofthe most studied aspects of human behav-ior, and a large body of work based onsound principles of objective inquiryexists that could be informing the field.42Indeed, our best reading studies test com-peting hypotheses with well-definedgroups of children, employ designs thatallow the studies to be replicated, andyield results obtained with methodologi-cal sophistication.43Independent peerreview is part of the scientific process thatattempts to control for the biases of inves-tigators. Even our best studies will beflawed, however, and no single study willhave all the answers we seek, so converg-ing findings from multiple studies shoulddrive the profession.2. Establish Core Standards, Cur-riculum and Entry Level Assessmentsfor New Teachers. Following the exam-ple of several states,44the knowledge andabilities important for competent deliveryof balanced, comprehensive readinginstruction must be defined. Such stan-dards should form the basis of the readingcurriculum for teacher candidates andshould inform the assessments used forlicensing. California’s requirements,established by the Commission on Teach-er Credentialing, are exemplary forpreparing teachers because they focus onknowledge of language structure, theimportance of aligning instruction withstudent characteristics, and the impor-tance of skilled teaching behavior indomains validated by research. They formthe basis for a Reading Instruction Com-petency Assessment now given to aspiringteachers.45It is significant to note thatthese requirements were developed by theprofession, not mandated in state law.Some states have chosen to mandate spe-cific coursework for teachers; othersdelineate competencies and allow schoolsof education to redesign programs to meetthem. A core curriculum for preparingteachers of reading is needed to guide theassemblage of learning experiencesoffered to teachers across preparationprograms. The core curriculum will, ofcourse, change over time in response tonew research and needs, but it shouldremain a stable center around which theprofession evolves.Although a sufficient body of researchon reading instruction exists to guidepractice, many more studies of prepara-tion for teaching reading are needed. Itwould be useful to know both how muchand what kind of practice helps a noviceteacher become comfortable teaching themajor components of a reading lesson. Isit best to start with a script from which themore seasoned teacher can depart? Is itbest to begin with practical experienceand then move to theory and research? Isthe teacher’s knowledge of language ameasurable influence on student achieve-ment? Should teachers begin by instruct-ing only one student? What kind of obser-vation is most helpful to a new teacher? Isthere a sequence of coursework and expe-rience that is most efficient and produc-tive for learning what to do? Such ques-tions merit systematic investigation if weare to dramatically improve teacherpreparation in the long run.3. Align Teacher Education Cur-ricula, Standards for Students, andLicensing Requirements for Teach-ers. Teacher education schools should beaccountable for the quality and effective-ness of their programs. For too long, uni-versities have underinvested in income-producing programs, such as teacher edu-cation, without concern for the prepared-ness of their graduates. States, under pres-sure to bring more adults into the teachingprofession, have been reluctant to imposestringent criteria for preparedness. Theexpectations for teacher candidates areoften low within schools of educationwhere clear standards derived from objec-tive measurement have not been upheld.Professors in education programs, whoare usually paid less than other academicsin higher education, have a heavy teach-ing load and few incentives for spendingtime with teachers in schools. Collab-orative partnerships between schools anduniversities are weak or nonexistent, sothat there is often no alignment betweenwhat teachers learn in school and what26 / AFT TEACHERS
they must teach once they are in the class-room. Consistency among university corecurricula for teachers, state standards andcurriculum frameworks for school chil-dren, and teacher licensing standardscould eliminate the confusing and contra-dictory learning experiences that teachersnow encounter.4. Create Professional Develop-ment Institutes for Professors andMaster Teachers. Are professors of edu-cation currently able to provide instruc-tion in the core curriculum suggested inthis paper? A recent survey of the readingeducator faculty in California indicatesthat they are not. Indeed, a review of read-ing course syllabi by California’s Commis-sion on Teacher Credentialing notedimportant gaps in substance.46The reviewsuggests that deep, substantive changesare needed in course content and design.Individual professors often do commend-able work under adverse circumstances,but many are not familiar with the basicdisciplines that might inform reading edu-cation and are insulated from scientificprogress in fields that have an impact ontheir own. Professors and staff developersdeserve opportunities and incentives toattend professional development insti-tutes to keep abreast of advances in fieldssuch as linguistics, neuropsychology,developmental psychology, cognitiveexperimental psychology, and multidisci-plinary intervention research.475. Press the Developers of Text-books and Instructional Materials ToImprove Their Products. Textbooksmust eventually be held to a standard ofcomprehensiveness, accuracy, logic,research validation, and manageabilitybefore being allowed onto state or schooldistrict adoption lists. Just as the public isprotected from untested drugs, unsafemanufactured goods, and unhealthy envi-ronmental pollutants, so should schoolchildren and teachers be protected fromthe widespread implementation of untest-ed or ineffective programs and materials.Enormous amounts of money are spentyearly by schools on vendors’ products,most of which are totally lacking indemonstrated efficacy. Districts andteachers should analyze texts against whatis known about reading instruction. Onlyreading programs that incorporate prac-tices and materials validated by researchshould be adopted for general use.6. Promote High-Quality Profes-sional Development for Teachers.Every teacher who currently teaches read-ing would benefit from high-quality edu-cation about reading development, lan-guage structure, and recent research find-ings. Validated instructional programsshould be accessible to every teacher,along with consultation and demonstra-tion of their effective use. Teachers needongoing professional development thathas topical continuity, practical applica-tion, and opportunities for collaborationwith peers. These professional develop-ment experiences should be linked to con-tinuous in-class coaching. State boardscan target the use of state monies to sup-port those professional development pro-grams that meet criteria for quality, cur-rency, effectiveness, and alignment withachievement standards. The federal gov-ernment can offer grants to stimulateworking partnerships among researchinstitutions, public schools, and teacherpreparation programs. Time is too valu-able to waste on the discontinuous, inef-fective inservice programs still popular inour schools.7. Invest in Teaching. Strong teachercandidates will enter and stay with theprofession if their working conditionsimprove. First and foremost, candidatesmust be equipped to do the task at handbefore they are put into classrooms tomanage on their own. Amenities thatmany of us take for granted, such as accessto telephones and copy machines, time toeat lunch or plan with colleagues, freedomfrom menial chores, assistance within theclassroom, and access to validatedinstructional materials should be avail-able to all teachers. Teachers who knowthey can achieve results because their pro-grams and training have prepared themare likely to stay in the profession, experi-ence a high degree of job satisfaction, andrebuild respect for public education.TEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 27
The fact that teachers need bettertraining to carry out deliberateinstruction in reading, spelling, andwriting should prompt action rather thancriticism. It should highlight the chronicgap between what teachers need and whatthey have been given. It should under-score the obligation of licensing programsto combine coursework with practice on arange of predefined skills and knowledge.The deficiencies in teacher preparationrepresent both a misunderstanding ofwhat reading instruction demands and amistaken notion that any literate personshould be able to teach children to read.We do not expect that anyone who appre-ciates music can teach music apprecia-tion, or that anyone who can balance acheckbook can teach math.Just about all children can be taught toread and deserve no less from their teach-ers. Teachers, in turn, deserve no less thanthe knowledge, skills, and supported prac-tice that will enable their teaching to suc-ceed. There is no more important chal-lenge for education to undertake.28 / AFT TEACHERSIn Sum
1Sources for these statistics include Cunninghamand Stanovich, 1998; Fletcher et al., 1994; Fletcherand Lyon, 1998; Juel, 1988; Shaywitz et al., 1992;and estimates by the U.S. Office of SpecialEducation Programs of referral rates for readingproblems.2United States Office of Technology Assessment,1993.3Cramer & Ellis, 1996.41992 and 1994 data for fourth-graders readingbelow the basic level of proficiency required to dograde level work, National Assessment ofEducational Progress.5Scarborough & Dobrich, 1994.6Fletcher & Lyon, 1998, summarize interventionstudies that have been successful in reducing read-ing failure to this level.7Nicholson, 1997.8Ibid.9Adams et al., 1998; Brady et al., 1994; Tangel &Blachman, 1995; Scanlon & Vellutino, 1997.10A. Liberman (1997). In April 1998, Dr. Libermanreceived the Distinguished Lifetime AchievementAward from the Society for the Scientific Study ofReading for his work explicating the nature ofphonological processing and its relationship toreading.11Moats, 1995; Moats & Lyon, 1996; Scarborough etal., 1998.12Shankweiler et al., 1996.13Ibid.14Beck et al., 1998; Pressley, 1998.15Corroborated by the California Commission onTeacher Credentialing survey of reading courses instate universities in 1996.16Stanovich, 1994.17Report on the California State UniversityAcademic Senate’s condemnation of the state leg-islature’s reading initiative: “Some ProfessorsResist State’s Reform Formula” by Duke Helfand.Los Angeles Times, Oct. 25, 1998.18Summaries such as those by Adams, 1990;Pressley, 1998; Osborn & Lehr, 1998.19M. Adams, 1998.20Textbooks would need to be aligned with curricu-lum and content standards for teachers andresearch standards established by major consen-sus documents.21In 1996, the California Department of Educationsurveyed major instructional programs on itsadoption list before determining that special fund-ing was necessary to support districts’ purchase ofsupplementary instructional materials in thesedomains. (See note 46.)22Stein, 1993.23Stein, M., Johnson/Gutlon, unpublished manu-script.24Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Learning FirstAlliance, 1998.25Share & Stanovich, 1995; Adams, Treiman &Pressley, 1998.26Foorman, et al., 1997.27Adams, 1990; Adams, Treiman & Pressley, 1998;Share & Stanovich, 1995; Pressley, 1998.28Fletcher & Lyon, 1998.29Ibid.30The appropriate context for beginning readinggives children ample practice with decodable text,books designed so that children can read manyexamples of words representing a phonic orspelling pattern (see Stein, 1993) and Stein,Johnson & Gutlon, 1998.31This early achievement in reading is often referredto as mastering the alphabetic principle.32Ehri, 1994; Pressley, 1998.33Lyon, Vaasen, & Toomey, 1989.34American Federation of Teachers, Seven PromisingReading and English Arts Programs, 1998.35Torgesen, 1998.36Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998.37Tunmer & Hoover, 1993.38Commeyras & DeGroff, 1998.39Pressley, M. 1998, pp. 275-278, describes these andother “myths” in reading education.40The idea of “three cueing systems” has encouragedteachers to teach children to guess at words fromcontext as an alternative to sounding them out.The concept has little grounding in psychologicalscience (Adams, 1998).41Acknowledged in a resolution of Congress inwhich the Department of Education was instruct-ed to improve its research standards and bringthem in line with those of the National Institutesof Health.42The National Reading Panel is charged with for-malizing the criteria by which reading researchshould be judged and by which policy and prac-tice should be informed.43Lyon & Moats, 1997.44The Reading Instruction Competency Assessment(RICA), under design since 1996, will be given toall credential candidates.45Guidelines to the Reading Instruction CompetencyAssessment can be obtained from the CaliforniaCommission on Teacher Credentialing.46Resource Document Seven, An Analysis of ReadingCourses and Reading-Related Courses inElementary Teacher Education Programs, a reportbased on a survey by the Commission on TeacherCredentialing, California Department ofEducation, conducted in May 1996, and distrib-uted in October 1996.47Advanced institutes for instructional leadership inreading education might be established in ourmost prestigious universities and modeled afterHarvard’s summer institutes for school principals.TEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 29End Notes
Adams, M. (1998). The three-cueing systems.In J. Osborn and F. Lehr (eds.), Literacy forall: Issues in teaching and learning (pp. 73-99). New York: Guilford Press.Adams, M.J. (1990). Beginning to read:Thinking and learning about print.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Adams, M.J., Foorman, B.R., Lundberg, I., &Beeler, T. (Spring/Summer 1998). The elu-sive phoneme. American Educator, 22, 18-29.Adams, M.J., Treiman, R., & Pressley, M.(1998). Reading, writing, and literacy. In I.E.Sigel and K.A. Renninger (eds.), Handbookof Child Psychology, Fifth Edition,Volume 4,Child Psychology in Practice (pp. 275-355).New York: Wiley.American Federation of Teachers (1998). SevenPromising English and Language ArtsPrograms. Washington, D.C.Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., Hamilton, R.L., &Kucan, L. (Spring/Summer 1998). Getting atthe meaning: How to help students unpackdifficult text. American Educator, 22, 66-71,85.Blachman, B. (ed.) (1997). Foundations ofReading Acquisition and Dyslexia:Implications for Early Intervention.Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Brady, S., Fowler, A., Stone, B., & Winbury, N.(1994). Training phonological awareness: Astudy with inner-city kindergarten chil-dren. Annals of Dyslexia, 44, 26-102.Brown, I.S. & Felton, R.H. (1990). Effects ofinstruction on beginning reading skills inchildren at risk for reading disability.Reading and Writing: An InterdisciplinaryJournal, 2, 223-241.Commeyras, M. & DeGroff, L. (1998). Literacyprofessionals’ perspectives on professionaldevelopment and pedagogy: A UnitedStates survey. Reading Research Quarterly,33, 434-472.Cramer, S. & Ellis, W. (eds.) (1996). Learningdisabilities: Life-long issues. Baltimore: PaulS. Brookes.Cunningham, A.E. & Stanovich, K.(Spring/Summer 1998). What Reading Doesfor the Mind, American Educator, 22, 8-15.Ehri, L. (1994). Development of the ability toread words: Update. In R. Ruddell, M.Ruddell, & H. Singer (eds.). Theoreticalmodels and processes of reading (pp. 323-358). Newark, DE: International ReadingAssociation.Evers, W.M. (1998). What’s gone wrong inAmerica’s classrooms. Stanford, CA: HooverInstitution Press.Fletcher, J.M. & Lyon, G.R. (1998). Reading: Aresearch-based approach. In W. Evers (ed.),What’s Gone Wrong in America’sClassrooms? Stanford CA: HooverInstitution Press.Fletcher, J.M., Shaywitz, S.E., Shankweiler,D.P., Katz, L., Liberman, I.Y., Stuebing, K.K.,Francis, D.J., Fowler, A.E., & Shaywitz, B.A.(1994). Cognitive profiles of reading disabil-ity: A longitudinal, individual growthcurves analysis. Journal of EducationalPsychology, 88, 3-17.Foorman, B.R., Francis, D.J., Fletcher, J.M.,Schatschneider, C., & Mehta, P. (1998). Therole of instruction in learning to read:Preventing reading failure in at-risk chil-dren. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90,1-15.Foorman, B.R., Francis, D.J., Shaywitz, S.E.,Shaywitz, B.A., & Fletcher, J.M. (1997). Thecase for early reading intervention. In B.Blachman (ed.), Foundations of ReadingAcquisition and Dyslexia (pp. 243-264).Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Francis, D.J., Shaywitz, S.E., Stuebing, K.K.,Shaywitz, B.A., & Fletcher, J.M. (1996).Developmental lag versus deficit models ofreading disability: A longitudinal, individ-ual growth curves analysis. Journal ofEducational Psychology, 88, 3-17.Gaskins, I.W., Ehri, L.C., Cress, C., O’Hara, C.,& Donnelly, K. (1996). Procedures for wordlearning: Making discoveries about words.The Reading Teacher, 50, 312-327.Invernizzi, M., Rosemary, C., Juel, C., &Richards, H.C. (1997). At-risk readers andcommunity volunteers: A 3-year perspec-tive. Scientific Studies of Reading, 1, 277-300.Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: Alongitudinal study of 54 children from first30 / AFT TEACHERSReferences
At every level,teachers needto connect theteaching ofskills with thejoy of readingand writing,using read-alouds and themotivatingactivitiespopularized bythe whole-languagemovement.
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Part I.The Psychology ofReading and ReadingDevelopmentA. Cognitive Characteristics ofProficient Reading1. Language proficiencies of goodreaders.2. Eye movements and text scanning.3. Active construction of meaning.4. Flexibility and self-monitoring.B. Cognitive Characteristics of PoorReading1. Variable language difficulties of poorreaders.2. Phonological processing, readingspeed, and comprehension—their manifestations andinterrelationships.3. Non-linguistic factors in readingdifficulty.4. Alternative hypotheses aboutreading difficulty, supported andunsupported.C. Environmental and PhysiologicalFactors in Reading Development1. Socioeconomic and environmentalfactors in reading.2. Neurological studies of good andpoor reading.3. Familial factors in dyslexia.D.The Development of Reading,Writing, and Spelling1. Emergent literacy.2. Early alphabetic reading and writing.3. Later alphabetic reading and writing.4. Orthographic knowledge at the with-in-word level.5. Orthographic knowledge at thesyllable juncture level.6. Orthographic knowledge at themorphemic, derivational level.7. The role of fluency in readingdevelopment.8. The relationships betweenphonology, decoding, fluency,and comprehension.Part II. Knowledge ofLanguage Structure andIts ApplicationA. Phonetics1. Classes of consonant and vowelspeech sounds (phonemes) and theinventory of the phonemes inEnglish.2. Similarities and differences amonggroups of phonemes, by place andmanner of articulation.3. Differences between the inventory ofspeech sounds (40-44) and theinventory of letters (26); how lettersare used to represent speech sounds.4. The basis for speech soundconfusions that affect reading andspelling.B. Phonology1. Components of phonologicalprocessing (articulation, pronun-ciation, phoneme awareness, wordmemory, and word retrieval).2. Phoneme awareness:a. Why it is difficult.b. How it supports learning analphabetic writing system.TEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 33Appendix AKnowledge and Skills for Teaching Reading:A Core Curriculum for Teacher Candidates
c. How it develops.3. Dialect and other languagedifferences.C. Morphology1. Definition and identification ofmorphemes (the smallest units ofmeaning).2. Grammatical endings (inflections)and prefixes, suffixes, and roots(derivational morphemes).3. How English spelling representsmorphemes.4. The network of word relationships.D. Orthography1. Predictability and pattern in Englishspelling.2. Historical roots and layers oforthographic representation.3. Major spellings for each of theconsonant and vowel phonemesof English.4. Spelling conventions for syllabletypes.5. Sequence of orthographicknowledge development.E. Semantics1. Depth, breadth, and specificity inknowledge of meaning.2. Definition, connotation, denotation,semantic overlap.3. Idiomatic and figurative language.4. How new words are created.5. Ways of knowing a word: antonyms,synonyms, analogies, associativelinkages, classes, properties, andexamples of concepts.F. Syntax and Text Structure1. Basic phrase structure.2. Four types of sentences.3. Sentence manipulations: expansion,rearrangement, paraphrase,negation, formation of interrogativeand imperative.4. Visual and diagrammatic ways torepresent sentence structure.5. Genres and their distinguishingfeatures.6. Reference and cohesive devicesin text.7. Graphic and three-dimensional rep-resentation of paragraph and textstructure.Part III. Practical Skillsof Instructionin a ComprehensiveReading ProgramA. Consensus Findings of Research1. Recognize and implementcomponents of successful, validearly intervention programs.2. Cite and support components ofvalidated remedial and tutorialprograms.3. Refer to validated components ofmiddle school reading programs indesigning instruction.4. Employ proven principles of teach-ing reading in the content areas.B. Concepts of Print, LetterRecognition, Phoneme Awareness1. Select programs and lessonsappropriate for students’instructional levels.2. Give corrective feedback and designlessons based on students’ needs,including their phonological andorthographic development.3. Teach phonological and letter identi-fication skills explicitly, sequentially,and systematically.4. Link phonological skill developmentto reading, writing, and meaningfuluse of language.C. Decoding,Word Attack1. Use active, constructive approachesto teach word concepts.2. Select programs and lessonsappropriate for students’instructional levels.3. Give corrective feedback and designlessons based on students’ needs,including their phonological andorthographic development.4. Teach decoding skills explicitly,sequentially, and systematically:sound-symbol association; sound-by-sound blending; reading onsets,rimes, syllables, morphemes; sightword recognition.5. Select and use decodable text forreading practice in the early stages.6. Link practice in word attack toreading, writing, and meaningful useof language.34 / AFT TEACHERS
D. Spelling1. Match spelling instruction tostudents’ developmental levels ofword knowledge.2. Follow a scope and sequence basedon language organization and howstudents learn it.3. Use multisensory techniques forsight word learning.4. Teach active discovery ofgeneralizations, rules, and patterns.5. Practice spelling in writing andproofreading.E. Fluency1. Use repeated readings, alternateand choral reading, and self-timingstrategies to provide practice.2. Identify reading materials for stu-dents’ independent reading levels.3. Promote daily reading of varied text,in school and outside of school.F.Vocabulary Development1. Teach words together that arerelated in structure and/or meaning.2. Select and/or design word study forintermediate and high schoolstudents organized around commonmorphological roots and derivedword forms.3. Teach word meanings before,during, and after reading.4. Use context clues, semanticmapping and comparison,analogies, synonyms, antonyms,visual imagery, and otherassociations to teach meaning.G. Reading Comprehension1. Model “think aloud” strategiesduring reading.2. Vary questions and ask open-endedquestions that promote discussion.3. Emphasize key strategies includingquestioning, predicting, summariz-ing, clarifying, and associating theunknown with what is known.4. Use graphic or three-dimensionalmodeling of text structure.5. Model and encourage flexible use ofstrategies, including self-monitoring.H. Composition1. Create a community of authors inthe classroom.2. Create frequent opportunities forwriting meaningful assignmentsbeyond journal writing.3. Directly teach handwriting, spelling,punctuation, and grammar insystematic increments to promoteautomatic transcription skills.4. Directly teach compositionstrategies through modeling andshared authorship.5. Guide children through the stages ofthe writing process; publish anddisplay children’s completed work.Part IV.Assessment ofClassroom Reading andWriting Skills1. Understand validity, reliability, andnormative comparisons in testdesign and selection.2. Identify varied purposes and formsof assessment (e.g., group compari-son, measurement of progress,program evaluation, informingclassroom instruction, individualdiagnostic assessment).3. Interpret grade equivalents,percentile ranks, normal curveequivalents, and standard scores.4. Administer several kinds of validinstruments:a. graded word lists for wordrecognition;b. phoneme awareness and phonicword attack inventories;c. a qualitative spelling inventory;d. measures of fluency and accuracyof oral and silent reading;e. a structured writing sample; andf. inventories of graded paragraphsfor comprehension.5. Interpret student responses incomparison to benchmark cognitiveand linguistic skills appropriate forage and grade.6. Use information for instructionalplanning and classroom grouping.Use several kinds of assessment tomeasure change over time.TEACHING READING IS ROCKET SCIENCE / 35