Foundation for Selecting Reading Content
“Research consistently has identified the critical skills that young students need in order to become good readers. Teachers across states and districts have demonstrated that scientifically based reading instruction can and does work with most children. The key to helping children learn is to helping teachers benefit from the relevant research. That can be accomplished by providing professional development for teachers on the use of scientifically based reading programs; by the use of instructional materials and programs that are also based on sound scientific research; and by ensuring accountability through ongoing assessments.” (U.S. Department of Education, www.ed.gov/nclb/methods/reading/reading.html)
The “The National Reading Panel issued a report in 2000 that responded to a Congressional mandate to help parents, teachers, and policymakers identify key skills and methods central to reading achievement. This report offered reviews based on scientific evidence that identified effective practice in order for educators to make decisions about the content and structure of reading instruction programs.
Reviews for K-3, Reading First Studies were reviewed as a part of the Reading First initiative that focuses on grades K-3. These reviews include research conducted in the areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, areas identified by the National Reading Panel as critical elements of a comprehensive reading program. All but two of these studies rated a Level 5 in Research Design. Two of the studies had not randomly assigned subjects to treatment conditions because of the special population of students being studied.
The studies evaluated from each of the National Reading Panel strands include research from the following areas:
To assist educators in developing a comprehensive reading program, the National Reading Panel has identified areas that are instrumental in the acquisition of beginning reading skills. The five key areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension comprised the bulk of their study. Although the study represents these five primary areas, they also recognized that these are not the only topics of importance in learning to read. These areas were selected because they reflect the central issues in reading instruction and reading achievement. (2000, Report of the National Reading Panel).
As is true at the primary level, the most successful reading programs at the intermediate and secondary levels are multidimensional in form. While there is broad agreement that intermediate and secondary reading programs must contain multiple instructional components, there is not always agreement on what those components should be.
For example, a review of reading literature by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL), Building Reading Proficiency at the Secondary Level (www.sedl.org/pubs/reading16/buildingreading.pdf), identified four areas to emphasize with struggling secondary readers: 1) the motivation to read, 2) the ability to decode print, 3) the ability to comprehend language, and 4) the ability to transact with text (to actively seek information and make personal responses.
A review conducted at Johns Hopkins University and focusing on the needs of struggling ninth grade readers, on the other hand, noted that by ninth grade, the great majority of students no longer require decoding and simple comprehension instruction but rather the development of intermediate skills normally developed at the middle school level (advanced vocabulary and comprehension strategies, fluency and reading practice.) (Balfanz, McPartland and Shaw, 2002, Reconceptualizing Extra Help for High School Students in a High Standards Era).
While researchers sometimes investigate the effects of a single instructional strategy on a specific student ability (e.g., the acquisition of complex vocabulary, the impact of a graphic organizer on recall of information), it is understood that any given strategy will be embedded in a program designed to develop multiple skills and competencies. If we had to generate a list of essential elements for secondary reading programs from the research reviewed to date (similar to the list generated for K-3 reading), that list would probably include: complex vocabulary development, higher-order comprehension strategies, fluency instruction and practice, extensive independent reading/practice, and advanced thinking and reasoning skills.
Ultimately, each district and school staff will need to study carefully the needs of their students as they search for professional development content that will address those needs. Then, as teachers learn and implement the new learning acquired through their professional development efforts, those new skills will need to be integrated with existing instructional programs in a way that preserves the multidimensional character of reading instruction.
Reviews for Grades 4-12 The studies reviewed here focus on grades 4-12 and are rated for quality of research developed to indicate a level of confidence in the findings (5=high, 1=low)
The strongest findings from the 4-12 studies determined there is evidence that student performance is positively affected through the use of instructional strategies:
Areas in which the Reading Content Network recognizes a need to conduct further reviews are:
The Reading Content Network also plans reviews on reading instruction with:
Findings As with all studies reviewed by each of the content network teams, the reviews are meant to help school districts identify content to match their staff development needs.