Category Archives: reading

Father’s Day 2021: A Reminder to Read Aloud to Your Children

An annual Father’s Day post…with updates and additions.


I read aloud to my students from the very first day I taught at an elementary school beginning in January 1976. I had caught the read-aloud bug from the late Lowell Madden, one of my Education School Professors. I had it reinforced by Jim Trelease, whose Read Aloud Handbook is a treasure of information for anyone who is interested in reading aloud to children. [I’ve referenced Jim Trelease quite a few times on this blog.]

I read aloud to all my classes because reading aloud is simply one of the best tools we have to help children learn to read. Reading is, arguably, the single most important skill a child learns in school.

Jim Trelease, in The Read Aloud Handbook reminded us [emphasis added]

In 1985, the commission [on Reading, organized by the National Academy of Education and the National Institute of Education and funded under the U.S. Department of Education] issued its report, Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among its primary findings, two simple declarations rang loud and clear:

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

The commission found conclusive evidence to support reading aloud not only in the home but also in the classroom: “It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

In its wording—“the single most important activity”—the experts were saying reading aloud was more important than worksheets, homework, assessments, book reports, and flashcards. One of the cheapest, simplest, and oldest tools of teaching was being promoted as a better teaching tool than anything else in the home or classroom. What exactly is so powerful about something so simple you don’t even need a high school diploma in order to do it and how exactly does a person get better at reading? It boils down to a simple, two-part formula:

  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
  • The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow.

Reading aloud to children is an activity that entertains…it strengthens personal bonds, it informs and explains…and, according to Trelease, when you read aloud to a child you also:

  • Condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  • Create background knowledge
  • Build vocabulary
  • Provide a reading role model

Reading aloud is more beneficial than standardized tests or worksheets. It is more important than homework or flashcards. It is the single most important thing a parent can do to help their children become better readers. It is the single most important thing teachers can do to help their students become better readers.

My collection of Read-Aloud Handbook editions,
several of which have been signed by the author, Jim Trelease.


In the latest edition of his book (2013), Trelease devotes an entire chapter to fathers and reading aloud. He focuses on fathers reading aloud to sons because fewer fathers than mothers read aloud to their children, and sons are the ones, according to statistics, whose academic achievement could use the read-aloud boost. Obviously, this does not mean that fathers should not read aloud to their daughters. The point is to get fathers to read aloud to their children.

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease: CHAPTER 9: Dad—What’s the score?

In case you’ve been off the planet for the past several decades, let me bring you up-to-date on our boys and their school woes.

  • In a 2008 study of reading tests in forty-five states, the girls exceeded the boys at every grade level.
  • Unlike four decades ago, it is now common for girls to dominate a high school’s highest academic positions (valedictorian), class leadership positions, advanced placement spaces, and school activities. While the girls are assuming responsibilities, the boys are playing sports or video games.
  • For the first time in history, women exceed their male counterparts in most collegiate achievements, from enrollment and graduation to earning advanced degrees, and the gap is widening annually. About the only significant area in which males dominate in college is “dropout,” where they lead by a 3:2 ratio.

(And an excellent pamphlet with important information specifically for dads….Fathers, Sons and Reading)

Boys, Trelease says, need their fathers to read to them. The relationship between fathers and sons has changed over the years, and not necessarily in a good way. Over the last few decades, America’s “male” culture has been dominated by politics, sports, and television, and boys watch their role models carefully. Among those men in important cultural and political positions in America are abusers, racists, and misogynists. It’s more important than ever that fathers exert positive role-model influence over their sons.

The landscape of the American male’s attention span was being dramatically altered and boys were soaking up the changes.

“Is there a connection,” Trelease asks, between the “decline in boys’ interest and achievement in school and the behavior of the male culture?”

Can a father play catch in the backyard after dinner and still read to the child that same evening? Can they go to a game one day and to the library the next? You betcha.

The question is…do they? Do fathers take part in their children’s, and specifically their sons’, intellectual development? Reading aloud to your child is an easy, fun way for fathers to have a positive academic influence on their children.

Dad—what have you done for your son’s head lately?

Make a Father’s Day resolution. Read to all your kids every day.

Need more convincing? Check out the following online resources…


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Filed under Jim Trelease, Parents, read-alouds, reading

Alabama Joins the Third-Grade Punishment Club


Twenty-Eight states have some sort of third-grade retention law according to the outdated (4/16/19) Third-Grade Reading Legislation page on the National Conference of State Legislatures website. The laws state that third-graders must pass a reading test showing that they can read at “grade level” before they will be allowed to move to fourth grade. Most have exceptions for students who are identified as learning disabled, English language learners, or have some other “rational reason” for not being failed by the adults in their school or school system.

Alabama is listed as “pending” on the website but will go into effect in the 2021-22 school year. To warn parents that this is going to happen posted an article (on Monday, June 7) that explains what the new law will mean.

There’s a lot of discussion in the article about how teachers are now going to be giving struggling students extra support in K, 1, 2, and 3 (question: Isn’t this something that should already be happening?) to make sure they can pass the test in Grade 3. This has to be done, because, apparently in Alabama, fourth-grade teachers aren’t qualified to teach reading.

What parents need to know about Alabama’s third grade reading retention law

Teachers in fourth grade and beyond expect children to be able to read subject-level content and aren’t necessarily trained themselves in interventions.

“When they encounter struggling readers,” she said, “they don’t necessarily know how to teach students to read.”

This is followed by ways that “your child” can get around the law by retaking the test if they failed, being learning disabled in reading, an English language learner in the first two years of their language acquisition, or having already been retained at least twice in their primary grades (K-3).

Oh, and the early intervention will help the child so they don’t even know they were struggling.

But when a child’s struggle to read is identified early, as is required now by law, and the child gets the support they need early, the child never knows they ever struggled.

(This last point might actually be helpful for students if they could make it happen…that is until they come up against the third-grade test and have to search around for something to use to get out of taking it.)

And how is it that someone who has already been retained twice in the first four years of their formal schooling hasn’t been referred to special services? Perhaps it’s because the U.S. Congress has never paid what they promised for Special Education.

Surely the new law which requires “individualized reading plans” for struggling students in kindergarten, first, and second grade won’t have children who will need to be retained. Here’s the rub…teachers are now required to use the “state-approved” test on students instead of their own assessments. Alabama is joining the nationwide chorus denying that teachers have expertise in teaching. Accordingly, a teacher’s professional opinion about how a child is doing in their class isn’t as good as the result of the state-approved test.

And there’s this…Shelby County Schools in Memphis, Tennessee wants to one-up the states by retaining kids in second grade before they are retained in third grade because “third grade is too late.”

But I digress…


Common sense tells non-educators (and many educators as well) that, if a child is falling behind we need to give them a chance to “catch up.” Logically, letting a student repeat a year in school should be beneficial.

Unfortunately, education, the human brain, and young children don’t work that way. In studies going back decades, retention in grade has been found to have either no impact or a negative impact on a child’s achievement. Even studies that supposedly show a benefit to retention generally, upon closer inspection, show that without herculean efforts by the student and their teachers the child will still be behind.

The common sense is wrong.

As an example, here’s information from a 2014 study done by the researchers at Notre Dame.

New research suggests repeating elementary school grades — even kindergarten — is harmful

Common sense tells us that early retention is better than late retention. Are younger kids so much more resilient that they don’t really notice if they’re not promoted along with their peers? Most in-grade retentions in the U.S. are done in first or second grade. What did the researcher, Notre Dame’s Megan Andrews, find?

She looked at more than 37,000 children across the United States from two older multi-year surveys (NLSY 1979 and NELS 1988) and found that about 10 percent had been held back at school, most of them during the 1980s. The surveys included details of the family characteristics of the children. That allowed Andrew to create 6,500 matched pairs of students, where the retained and non-retained students had similar backgrounds. Their mothers had attained the same level of education and their families had the same household income. The students had scored the same on a pre-school cognitive test. (In layman’s terms, they started school with similar IQs). The matched students also had similar behavioral problems, as reported on the surveys. Home environment, gender and race were factored in, too. In other words, Andrew matched the held-back students with students who were equally “at risk” for being held back, but weren’t.

Then Andrew looked at whether these matched students eventually graduated from high school. And that’s where she found that the held-back children were 60 percent less likely to have graduated from high school than their matched “partners” who stayed on grade level. Andrew went one further to see if she could reproduce the results in a different way. Using the 1979 data survey, which included sibling information, she compared children who were held back with their siblings who weren’t held back. Again, she found the same result. Even in the same family, held-back kids were 60 percent less likely to graduate high school than their brothers and sisters. Astonishing!

Andrew acknowledges that held-back students often show a short-term boost in their grades and test scores, but she believes this boost “disappears” after just a few years. A sociologist by training, Andrew hypothesizes that being held back is so psychologically scarring that many students fail to regain their confidence in the long-term. In her paper Andrews argues that being held back is a one of the biggest negative events of a child’s life. “In surveys, students rank being retained in grade second only to a parent’s death in seriousness in some cases,” Andrews wrote.

The fact that this research generally backs up what others have found makes it all the more important that we end the practice once and for all. (see here, here, and here for three more examples. See my bibliography on grade retention, here.)


The question then remains, what do we do when students learn too slowly or can’t keep up with their peers.

One thing we can do is use the process described in the article. Introduce intensive intervention as early as possible for students having trouble. A helpful difference would be to 1) continue the process throughout the grades where it’s needed and 2) don’t punish students for not learning. When a student needs more than intervention supplies, increase it. When special services are necessary — and I would suggest that any school that retains children more than once doesn’t know how to identify children for special services — provide it. We have to stop punishing children with the inappropriate and inadequate intervention of retention because we’re not willing to spend the money to help them.

Oh, and every fourth-grade teacher that I ever worked with (during four decades in K-6 schools) knew how to teach reading or knew where to go for help. So did the fifth and sixth-grade teachers. If Alabama’s upper elementary teachers don’t know how to teach reading then there’s something wrong with the teacher training institutions in Alabama. My guess is that the people who claim that only primary teachers know how to teach reading don’t know what they’re talking about.

And who will be the children who are punished? Research into retention suggests that they will be mostly boys and mostly black. What is it about being a black male in America…but again, I digress.

We could, and probably should adopt some of the techniques used in high achieving nations for our own schools. Finland, for example, used research from the United States to improve its school system. We don’t.

Finnish educator Pasi Sahberg, along with Timothy Walker, an American who moved to Finland to teach, have written a new book titled, In Teachers We Trust: The Finnish Way to World-Class Schools. In it they discuss ways to help children who are struggling…they use special education.

Intensified support consists of remedial support by the teacher, coteaching with the special education teacher, and individual or small-group learning with a part-time special education teacher. Special support includes a wide range of special education services, from full-time general education to placement in a special institution. All students in this category are assigned an Individual Learning Plan that takes into account the characteristics of each learner and personalizes learning according to ability.


The Alabama attempt at this, using Individualized Reading Plans without additional support. The classroom teacher is supposed to take care of the whole thing. This is typical of the U.S. — We require more from teachers without providing more support. Our children aren’t a high enough priority for us to spend the money needed to assure their success.

We’re failing our children because we’re too cheap. Then we blame the student for learning at their own rate and punish them with retention. We are shortchanging our own future.


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Filed under reading, retention, Testing

2021 Medley #5 – Vouchers, Testing, and Reading

Vouchers, Testing, and Reading


Scholars show how to challenge voucher discrimination

How many ways can we say it? School choice is not about parents choosing the school for their child. It’s about schools choosing which students to allow through their doors. Private schools get to choose their clients.

The law may state that private and religious schools must not discriminate in order to receive state funds, but the actual real-world actions of schools accepting vouchers shows that private schools can, and often do reject certain students based on various characteristics such as religion or sexual preference (or the sexual preference of their parents). Under other circumstances, this discrimination wouldn’t be a problem. Religious schools should be allowed to require their teachers and students to follow certain theological teachings. However, it becomes a problem when public funds are used to further such discrimination.

The simple fact is that private schools, and religious schools in particular should not be allowed to use public funds because they are not required to accept all students. Public tax dollars should go to public schools which accept all students — gay and straight, faithful and faithless, white or black. Using tax dollars to support religious schools that discriminate is contrary to the intent of the founders. Jefferson wrote,

…to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness…

Using tax dollars to support private and religious schools which discriminate based on religious beliefs is forcing taxpayers to pay for something they might not believe in. It’s “sinful and tyrannical”.

Green, the lead author, said supporters promote vouchers to expand opportunities for students and families. But, as the programs expand, state officials often enable them to deny those benefits to entire groups of students.

“Vouchers were sold as program that all could benefit from, but the anti-LGBT provisions give the lie to that statement,” Green said.

Voucher programs come in a variety of forms, but all provide ways for states to provide full or partial tuition funding to private schools for qualifying students. Indiana’s program, established in 2011, serves over 36,000 students in more than 300 private schools, nearly all of them religious schools, at a cost of $172.8 million. Lawmakers want to expand the program and extend it to upper-income families.

Vouchers Are About Abandoning Public Education, Not Freeing Parents

Public education is a public good, like roads, water systems, and libraries. It benefits everyone.

Vouchers are not about freeing or empowering parents. They are about empowering private interests to chomp away at the giant mountain of education money in this country. They are about dismantling any sort of oversight and accountability; it’s striking how many of these voucher bills/laws very specifically forbid the state to interfere with the vendors in any way, shape or form.

Think of voucher programs this way.

The state announces, “We are dismantling the public education system. You are on your own. You will have to shop for your child’s education, piece by piece, in a marketplace bound by very little oversight and very few guardrails. In this new education ecosystem, you will have to pay your own way. To take some of the sting out of this, we’ll give you a small pocketful of money to help defray expenses. Good luck.”

…Voucherization is also about privatizing the responsibility for educating children, about telling parents that education is their problem, not the community’s.


Lawmakers Backing Standardized Tests Should Practice What They Preach

Forcing students to waste time taking standardized tests this year (and, actually, any year) is absurd. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money — even more than during normal (aka non-pandemic) times.

Educators are scrambling to teach safely and most lawmakers stand aside unsure how to help.

We can’t figure out which students to assist, they say, without first giving them all a batch of standardized tests.

It’s absurd, like paramedics arriving at a car crash, finding one person in a pool of blood and another completely unscathed – but before they know which person needs first aid, they have to take everyone’s blood pressure.

I mean come on! We’re living through a global pandemic.

Nearly every single class has been majorly disrupted by it.

So just about every single student needs help – BUT SOMEHOW WE NEED DATA TO NARROW THAT DOWN!?

Our duly-elected decision-makers seem to be saying they can only make decisions based on a bunch of numbers.

Does Education Secretary Cardona Recognize the Two Huge Problems with High-Stakes Testing?

Following the pattern of previous Democratic and Republican administrations, the Biden administration’s Secretary of Education has determined that the most important thing the Federal Government has to do for public schools throughout the country is force them to take wasteful standardized tests. Arne Duncan would be proud.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona insists that federally mandated standardized testing will go on as usual in this COVID-19 dominated year. While his decision feels particularly impractical, intrusive, complicated and disruptive in the midst of COVID-19, the decision is of much deeper concern for two reasons.

One would like to think that Dr. Cardona is familiar with the huge debate that has consumed education experts and also many parents who have been opting out for years now. But when Dr. Cardona explained why testing must go on as usual, he didn’t even bother to offer a rationale that addresses any of the reasons experts have insisted he should cancel the tests once again this year. Instead he said we need the tests so that the Department of Education can ensure that federal investment goes to the school districts that need it most. That is such a lovely thought, and if tests were designed and used to gauge needed investment in the poorest communities, it would be wonderful.


The Reading Helper

Halfway through my career I moved out of my general education classroom and became, what Russ Walsh calls, a Reading Helper.

In this post, Walsh reminds us that the most important aspect of being a teacher is the relationship between teacher and student, not standardized tests…not state standards…not grades.

I have a teaching certificate that says I am a qualified Teacher of Reading, and Reading Specialist and Supervisor, but from the time I got a certain Valentine’s Day card from a student in 1993 I have thought of myself as a Reading Helper. That card was from a second grade vulnerable reader named Danielle who had been my student since that September. The cover of the hand made card was full of many colored hearts and flowers and said, of course, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” Inside was a message that I will never forget and which has defined my work ever since: “Thank you for hleping me read. Love, Danielle” Yes, exactly, “hleping.” Danielle still had some spelling reversals crop up from time to time. But the message could not have been clearer. I was being thanked for helping and it meant the world to me.

Why Do So Many Children Have Dyslexia? What is it Exactly?

The word “dyslexia” literally means “difficulty with written words”. In my experience — more than forty years as a paraprofessional, teacher, and retiree volunteer — there are as many different types of dyslexia as there are struggling readers — every child is different! Parents define it based on their own child’s (or children’s) struggles. Teachers define it by what they’ve seen in their own isolated classrooms. I’ve watched arguements between parents and teachers exposing the conflict as “that’s dyslexia,” “No, this is dyslexia”. The arguments about reading programs are even worse. There is no one perfect program that works for every single student. There is no panacea.

Nancy Bailey is absolutely correct in this post, that we need to stop worrying so much about the label and find out what works for each individual child. If a parent wants to call their child’s struggles dyslexia, so be it, but we still need to figure out what works for the child.

This post is followed by an interesting discussion in the comments. Many of the comments prove the points that Bailey makes in her article.

It’s important to continue to raise questions about reading problems and to seek school programs that help children learn to read.

But we should also be asking why so many children present such problems when they show up to school.

No matter what causes reading problems in children or what the label, schools, and teachers must continue to provide students with the individual help they need. There is no one perfect reading program for all children. Schools need to provide rich reading environments and extra phonics for students who need it.


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Filed under Article Medleys, Cardona, Discrimination, dyslexia, Jefferson, reading, Testing, vouchers

Beverly Cleary, Age 104


I taught third grade in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time the “teach to the test” trend hadn’t infiltrated America’s public school classrooms. We gave a standardized test, but it didn’t determine who went to fourth grade, didn’t enter into my evaluation, and didn’t have anything to do with how much money the school got. In fact, “teaching to the test” was considered bad pedagogy and limiting to the scope of the everyday classroom experience. We were, therefore, pressured NOT to “teach to the test.”

At that time in my teaching career, I considered my daily read aloud the most important part of my reading instruction.

If we had a fire drill, assembly, tornado drill, or any other interruption to the day, the only thing that I made sure I finished for that day was the daily read-aloud. I would do as much of the rest of the curriculum as I could, of course, but read aloud was sacrosanct. It was the one part of the day that I made a conscious effort never to miss. What are the benefits of reading aloud that make it so important? In his classic, Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease lists these five reasons for reading aloud…

  1. it builds vocabulary
  2. it conditions the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  3. it creates background knowledge
  4. it provides a reading role model
  5. it plants the desire to read

I was convinced then, and I still believe, that children who are read to, feel good about reading. Children who feel good about reading are motivated to read to themselves. Children who are motivated to read grow into readers. Trelease explains it this way

  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
  • The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow.

I would keep track of the books I read to my students and at the end of the year, I would rank the stories based on the students’ favorites. One year I even had the students illustrate a scene from their favorite book in a line drawing. I gathered them all, made copies for everyone, and presented the students with a coloring book of their peers’ drawings from their favorite books of the year.

Without fail, every year three authors would be at the top. They were Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, and of course, Beverly Cleary.


My third-grade students always loved Kindergarten Ramona in Ramona the Pest. They were close enough in age to their own Kindergarten experiences that they remembered their own Ramona-like fears and mistakes. Ramona Quimby took those fears and mistakes and understood. I always imagined my third-graders thinking, “Here is another little person who understands what it is like to be a child.”

After Ramona the Pest, I would often skip right to Ramona Quimby, Age 8 since that was Ramona’s “third-grade” book. Ramona was universal. She faced similar problems, made similar mistakes, felt similar feelings, and, for those students in my class who had older siblings, felt the same way about her older sister.

Ramona was sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but never a parody. The characteristics that made Ramona so appealing to my students were the same characteristics that made her seem real. Even though the stories were made up, they were never outside the possibility of what could happen to them. Every child could relate to feelings of embarrassment when they made a mistake. Every child understands the anger at being patronized. Ramona expressed those feelings and made them acceptable.

Once in a while, one of the little girls in my class would be labeled Ramona by the other students. It was never cruel or teasing. Ramona was their hero. It’s just that sometimes, one of the students had that same combination of energy, frankness, and off-kilter humor that would remind us all of our friend, Ramona. More often, I would watch the students in their daily lives and think — of the boys as well as the girls, “There’s Ramona.”

Cleary was such a popular author that I occasionally included books about Ralph S. Mouse and Henry Huggins in my yearly read-alouds, but Ramona was, without question, the hero to year after year of my third-graders.

BEVERLY CLEARY, APRIL 12, 1916 – MARCH 25, 2021

I wonder if any of my former third-graders, when learning about Beverly Cleary’s passing, thought about Ramona.

My hope is that they did…because they read aloud to their children…who read aloud to their children.


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Filed under Cleary, Jim Trelease, read-alouds, reading

Improve Reading Achievement. Teach More Social Studies


Using the “failing schools” trope has long been a tactic of school “reformers” to claim that privatizing education is necessary. It was called out again in an article in Hechinger Report where we were told that…

Only a third of American students are reading proficiently at grade level, according to national benchmark tests.

(The article continues by suggesting that the failure to teach phonics is the reason for the poor test scores, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

This description of the apparent desperate condition of the nation’s readers comes from the NAEP test, the Nation’s Report Card. Diane Ravitch, a former member of the National Assessment Governing Board, has frequently reminded her readers that “proficient” on the NAEP is equivalent to “a very high level of academic achievement,” like a grade of A, and that a score of “basic” is not terrible.

When I served on NAGB for seven years, the board understood very well that proficient was a high bar, not a pass-fail mark. No member of the board or the staff expected that some day all students would attain “NAEP Proficient.” Yet critics and newspaper consistently use NAEP proficient as an indicator that “all students” should one day reach. This misperception has been magnified by the No Child Left Behind Act, which declared in law that all students should be “proficient” by the year 2014.

…and here, from her 2013 book, Reign of Error

‘Basic,” as defined by the NAGB, is “partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.” In my view, the student who scores “basic” is probably a B or C student.

She also stated that the NAEP test does not represent a grade level test.

NAEP does not report grade levels (grade level describes a midpoint on the grading scale where half are aboce and half are below).

Of course we’d like all students in the US to read at an A level, but that’s not a reasonable expectation, any more than it’s reasonable to expect all major league baseball hitters to bat .300 each year, all NBA basketball players to have a 95% free throw average, or all professional quarterbacks to have a 70% average pass completion percentage.

The truth is that two-thirds to three-fourths of American students were reading at or above basic in 2019. That’s not perfect, but it’s much better than the implication that two-thirds of American children are failing to learn to read!


The Hechinger Report described research that reported that more prior knowledge, specifically, more knowledge of history, geography, and civics, can increase reading achievement.

As proof, the authors referred us to a September 2020 quantitative analysis done by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute which suggests that…

…a focus on academic content—not generalized reading skills and strategies—will equip students with the background knowledge they need to comprehend all sorts of texts and make them truly literate.

The analysis found that…

  • Elementary school students in the U.S. spend much more time on ELA than on any other subject.
  • Increased instructional time in social studies—but not in ELA—is associated with improved reading ability.
  • The students who benefit the most from additional social studies time are girls and those from lower-income and/or non-English-speaking homes.


I’m overjoyed that the Fordham Institute, known for its “edu-reformist” and phonics-first tendencies, is promoting the development of students’ knowledge base as a way to improve reading (specifically reading comprehension), but I learned about activating prior knowledge as a way to increase reading achievement when I was a student in 1974-1975.

I also learned about activating prior knowledge (aka schema) during my Reading Recovery training and experience beginning in the mid 1990s, and I learned the power of background knowledge during my Reading Recovery Teacher years as a teacher of Amish students. I found that I had to teach additional vocabulary to some of my Amish first graders who were unfamiliar with language associated with cities and the wider world. One student in particular, didn’t know what the words “street” or “avenue” meant. He was familiar with words like “road,” “lane,” and “highway,” but he had never heard words associated with cities. Part of this was his age, of course; Reading Recovery targets struggling students who are only six years old and in first grade. As he grew he might have gained wider experience, but in first grade, and coming from a bi-lingual, and exclusively rural culture, he didn’t have a clue what those words were.

It’s nice that the Fordham Institute is catching up with what experienced educators have known for years.

And now we resume your regularly scheduled blog post

The Hechinger Report article indicated that only social studies instruction had a significant instructional impact on students’ reading achievement.

According to the researchers’ calculations, only social studies — among all the subjects — made a positive impact on reading over the long term. Indeed, for every half hour of additional social studies instruction a child received per day, his or her fifth grade reading scores were 0.15 of a standard deviation higher, on average. Standard deviations are statistical units that are hard to translate but this represents a relatively small increase in test scores. Certainly, social studies isn’t a silver bullet to fix reading but the result here suggests that it might help.

The researchers controlled for students’ socio-economic status, race, home language and many other other student and school characteristics. The boost to reading scores from taking more hours of social studies was true even among students of the same race and family income and who started with the same reading scores in kindergarten. The researchers also checked to see if teachers were giving stronger readers more social studies instruction because they didn’t need as much help with reading but they didn’t find any evidence of that.

Counterintuitively, more minutes of reading instruction were not associated with higher reading scores.

One thing to keep in mind is that all this discussion of student reading achievement is based on standardized test scores.

It’s also (or perhaps more) important to help students experience the joy and wonder of reading as well as teaching them the mechanics of decoding. The best way to do this? Read aloud every day to your children and students, and give them the opportunity and time to read for fun.

See also:
Prior Knowledge Improves Reading Comprehension
How Does Students’ Prior Knowledge Affect Their Learning?


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Filed under Comprehension, read-alouds, reading, reading recovery, Teaching Career