What do we do about students who are having trouble learning to read when they are in early primary school?
How do we help them improve reading skills?
There are a multitude of programs and approaches used in Australian and New Zealand schools, and schools around the world to try to solve this problem. One well known program is Reading Recovery but its effectiveness is doubtful according to various studies.
Other approaches have not been really helpful - we still have way too many students in primary and secondary schools whose deficient reading skills are limiting their capacity to learn, and to achieve in school and beyond.
The evidence from reading research and leading reading experts around the world conclusively points to explicit phonics instruction as the most effective way to teach reading.
But up to 15% or more of children enter primary school with cognitive and or language deficits that make learning to read a challenge, even with the best explicit phonics instruction. Is there a way to prepare these students so expert reading teachers can help them with the reading skills necessary for a successful education in the 21st century?
Technology can target the root causes of reading difficulties
Dr Stephen Miller, a research neuropsychologist, believes technology can help.
In an article in the Education Week magazine, he says, " Technology is one solution. Students need interventions that target the root cause of their language and reading difficulties, rather than more of the same interventions that haven’t helped in the past".
He makes these points:
- Students need to work from the bottom up and build foundational cognitive skills, such as memory, attention, processing, and sequencing, to remediate their underlying difficulties.
- With research-based software programs used in schools and homes, we can create student-driven learning experiences that surpass those of a normal classroom or small-group environment.
- These technology programs deliver individualised instruction to allow children to fill in learning gaps at their own pace.
- This differentiated approach over a short duration can help children become faster learners by specifically addressing weaknesses—and providing opportunities for success.
- With this approach, students can make rapid gains in their reading and language skills.
Kindergarten assessments predict year 3 reading skills
"Research has shown that kindergarten assessments can accurately predict greater than 90% of struggling 3rd grade readers," says Dr Miller
"So what are we doing in the time between kindergarten and 3rd grade?", he asks.
Dr Miller says there are two problems with the fairly widespread approach of giving extra teaching or reading time to young students with reading difficulties. They are firstly, an opportunity cost, because other learning is being missed during the time taken for extra reading help, and secondly, it doesn't increase the rate at which the student acquires new information.
Cognitive & language skills needed to support reading
While the extra reading instruction can help, Miller comments that this alone will not enable the reading challenged child to catch up to his or her classmates.
This is because the competent readers are working with a stronger base of cognitive and language skills that support their reading development, so they develop at a faster pace than those with a weaker base.
He concludes, "With the right technology, struggling students can gain not only more word experiences per unit of time than they can from traditional instruction; they can also gain the rightword experiences to prevent them from falling behind, giving them a real shot at excelling and achieving their potential".
You can read his complete article here.
The technology most widely used to support struggling readers is the Fast ForWord program (over 2,500,000 student users worldwide). Download the research to see results.