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Early Reading


(links to source documents are in the postings below)

1. New! The Problem with Literacy Programs - EdWeek 
2. New! Findings From the Fifth-Grade Round of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - ECLS
3. New!  10 Ways to Combat Middle School Reading Failure - Smart Brief
4. New!  Why We're Teaching Reading Comprehension in a Way That Doesn't Work        n                  Natalie Wexler, Forbes 
5. New!  An Open Letter to All Who Care About Making Sure Every Child in America Learns to        Read - National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) 
6. New! Why Millions of Kids Can't Read and What Better Teaching Can Do About It - NPR/APM
7. New! The Hechinger Report Commentary on Effectiveness of Educational Innovation
8. ​Components of Literacy 
9. Patterns of Literacy Among U.S. Students - NCBI 
10. Developing Early Literacy - National Early Literacy Panel (NELP)
11. Effective Literacy Programs - What Works Clearinghouse 
12. Phonological Awareness and Reading - Every Child Ready to Read
13. Why Phonological Awareness is Important for Reading and Spelling - Reading Rockets
14. What Works Clearinghouse Assessment of Programs Promoting "Reading Achievement"
15. Shared Book Reading - What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) 
16. Dialogic Reading - What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) ​
17. Book Distribution and Summer Reading - National Center for Summer Learning
18. Seven Paths to Improved Reading Comprehension - Timothy Shanahan
19. ​​Raising A Reader: Family Engagement and Early Literacy - Child Trends
20. ​​Two Pre-School Literacy Screening Tools: "Get Ready to Read - Revised" and "Individual                Growth and Development Indicators (IGDI)" - Education Research
21. Preparation of Preschool Teachers - National Council on Teacher Quality 
22. New America Commentary on Pre-K Teacher Prep
23. What is Disciplinary Literacy? - Reading Rockets
24. Delaware's Early Literacy Assessment Plan 
25. What Education Schools Aren't Teaching About Reading - National Council on Teacher                Quality (NCTQ) 
26.  Reading and Language in the Early Grades - The Future of Children
27, Analysis of State K-3 Reading Standards and Assessments
Post #1

The Problem with Literacy Programs - EdWeek








commentary by Mike Schmoker


February 20, 2019 

"We must reckon with the fact that even popular, highly praised commercial programs often lack a robust evidence base."

"A cautionary tale: Not long ago, I was assisting a school district that had adopted a prominently endorsed literacy program. Our work began with a review of the program, which had an unassailable conceptual base. Yet as several of us examined it, we noticed some profound shortcomings: The program abounded in minutiae, low-level worksheets and excessive skills instruction, leaving little time for reading, discussion, and writing. Moreover, its highly scripted lessons were patently misconceived—the content and assessments were misaligned with the unfocused, haphazardly assembled array of (so-called) “learning objectives.” In other words, the lessons lacked the most obvious elements of good teaching. For all this, the program’s visiting consultants had recently doubled down on their insistence that it had to be followed to the letter."

Here’s where it gets interesting. Our concerns led to conversations with the program’s highest-ranking official and one of its prominent endorsers. Point by point, they conceded that our perceptions were accurate, that the exigencies of program development had led to significant gaps between the program’s initial conception and its actual teaching materials. To their credit, they urged us—contrary to the company’s on-site consultants—to replace large portions of the program with those elements it lacked. On our own, they said, we should include more purposeful reading, high-quality books, discussion, and explicit writing instruction.

"We must reckon with the fact that even popular, highly praised commercial programs often lack a robust evidence base."

This wasn’t my first such experience. Over the years, my colleagues and I have made similarly damning discoveries about other nationally prominent literacy and curricular products. When pressed, many of their creators would admit to the inadequacies. One highly respected expert told me that not one of these literacy programs meets the criteria most essential to English/language arts and literacy curricula (which I describe below).

See the full commentary here

Problem with Literacy Programs Commentar

Findings From the Fifth-Grade Round of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study

Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011)

February 2019 

Low-Income Student Reading Skills Start Behind and Stay Behind

The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011) is the third in a series of longitudinal studies of young children conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), within the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The ECLS-K:2011 collected information about the early educational experiences of a nationally representative sample of children who were in kindergarten or who were of kindergarten age in ungraded classrooms or schools in the 2010–11 school year.

The ECLS-K:2011 provides information on students’ status at school entry, on their transition into school, and on their progression through the elementary grades. The data collection began in the 2010–11 school year, when the children in the sample were in kindergarten, and continued through the spring of 2016, when most of the children in the sample were in fifth grade. The longitudinal nature of the ECLS-K:2011 data enables researchers to study how a wide range of family, school, community, and individual factors are associated with educational, socioemotional, and physical development over time. Information was collected from the students, their parents and guardians, their teachers, and their school administrators. Information was also collected from their before- and after-school care providers in the kindergarten year.

This brief report focuses on information from the data collection conducted in the spring of 2016, when the majority of the ECLS-K:2011 students were in fifth grade. It is intended to provide a snapshot of the children in the ECLS-K:2011 cohort who were in kindergarten for the first time in the 2010–11 school year and in fifth grade 5 years later during the spring of 2016.

ECLS 2010 2011 Reading Scores in 5th Gra
Post #2

10 Ways to Combat Middle-School Reading Failure


February 22, 2019

"Despite generations of well-intentioned interventions, two-thirds of middle school students in the United States are not proficient in reading, and approximately half of those students do not have the basic skills they were expected to learn in elementary school. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Those who don’t learn to become proficient readers are less likely to graduate high school, more likely to live in poverty and less prepared to compete in the 21st century workplace."

Although educators are typically more focused on third grade reading proficiency, reading failure in middle school is arguably even more urgent. When struggling students enter middle school, they often bring with them a history of failed reading interventions, a negative view of themselves as learners, and poor reading and study habits. Moreover, they must shoulder the burden of their reading failure just as they are confronted with the challenges associated with adolescence.

Educators must be equipped to triage these students so they can accurately and efficiently identify their specific skill deficits and implement effective and differentiated intervention without delay. Unfortunately, multiple factors prevent both the accurate diagnosis and the effective implementation of effective reading intervention in middle schools. Common barriers include the following:

  • Teacher Skills:  When district-level testing reveals that students cannot read for comprehension on grade-level text, middle school teachers often do not have the tools, the knowledge or the experience to administer assessments that diagnose specific reading skill deficiencies. As a result, these struggling students frequently receive no targeted intervention to close these foundational gaps that impede development of fluency and grade level reading comprehension in Tier 1 instructional settings.

  • Need for Detailed Information on Student Reading Deficits:  Current assessments typically identify whether basic word-level problems are present, but do not differentiate between decoding knowledge and automatic use of that knowledge. Without detailed and specific information about students deficits, it is difficult to identify the most appropriate interventions.

  • Middle School Schedules:  The daily schedule of middle school is not amenable to systematic, daily intervention. Students move between multiple teachers across the day and often there is less awareness and communication about the needs of the whole student, which means they can often slip through the cracks.

  • Misapplied Interventions:  Lacking the tools and the structure to target specific needs, intervention can become a catch-all category that supplants rather than enhances regular ELA instruction. Misapplied interventions can even impede the progress of students lacking basic skills by limiting their acquisition of knowledge and intellectual growth.

  • Teacher Skills for Foundational Reading Instruction:  While ELA teachers are prepared to help students develop content knowledge, higher-level learning, and written expression, they are typically not trained to deliver foundational reading instruction. Moreover, professional development that focuses on the efficient development of basic reading skills is not routinely available at the middle school level.

  • Adolescents often opt out of engaging in interventions because they don’t want their peers to know they struggle with reading. They are frequently absent or choose not to fully participate in the practice that is vitally important to improvement.

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Post #3

Why We're Teaching Reading Comprehension

in a Way That Doesn't Work 

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January 23, 2019


There’s been little discussion of the even more widespread problems with training in comprehension instruction. True, compared to phonics, teacher-education programs are more likely to say they cover reading comprehension. But what prospective teachers learn about comprehension in those courses is dangerously inaccurate.

One reason is the influential 2001 report of the National Reading Panel. The report endorsed five “pillars” of reading instruction, including phonics, phonemic awarenessfluency, and vocabulary. The fifth pillar was instruction in strategies designed to boost comprehension, such as learning to summarize or make a graphic representation of a text.

While many educators challenged the report’s findings on phonics, they embraced its endorsement of comprehension strategies. In 2006, only 15% of teacher-training programs taught comprehension. Ten years later that figure had risen to 75%. In contrast, only 62% said they covered phonics, and only 37%appear to cover all five "pillars."

In a typical comprehension lesson, a teacher focuses on a supposed skill or strategy, like making inferences or determining an author’s purpose. But most of the things teachers spend hours on every week were never endorsed by the National Reading Panel and have little or no data behind them. As reading expert Tim Shanahan has observed, teaching such “skills” is like pushing the elevator button twice: it might make you feel better, but it won’t make the elevator come any faster.

Ideally, prospective teachers will start getting accurate information about reading comprehension during their training. But that may not happen anytime soon. Education schools have historically been disconnected from scientific research on the learning process; their lack of interest in or familiarity with phonics is only one example. The good news is that even once they’re on the job, teachers can learn how to provide students not only with the skills they need to decode words but also with the knowledge that can unlock their meaning.


January 17, 2019

As our nation embarks upon a new year, we must acknowledge a sobering reality: that so many more children could read if only teachers knew how to teach reading. The continued struggle for our children's literacy is both frightening and urgent, but the good news is that we know how to fix it—if only we had the will.

Five decades of research directed by the National Institutes of Health, interpreting America's high rate of reading failure as a public health crisis, has led to a seismic increase in our understanding of how we learn to read—accomplishing the educational equivalent of putting a person on the moon.

With the advent of brain imaging in the 1990s, the work made its greatest leap forward, allowing scientists to interpret the signals sent out by a brain that can read. That's also when the research coalesced into practical guidance schools could apply, beginning with the relatively new insight that children need to be able to decipher the sounds used in speaking before they are even capable of translating letters to sounds. Over a couple of decades, schools have been able to reduce the rate of utter reading failure, from 4 in 10 children down to 3 in 10.

However, if the right methods were genuinely embraced, that failure rate could be fewer than 1 in 10. That's a lot of children to give up on.

Since 2006, the National Council on Teacher Quality has been studying the preparation provided to elementary teachers in reading instruction, reviewing some 4,500 courses required by over 1,100 universities or colleges. In spite of the fact that institutions are awash in reading courses—requiring three or four on average—most dedicate little time to how best to teach reading. See how the teacher preparation programs in your state are doing and pledge to rattle the cage.

Reading courses are most apt to focus on developing teachers' personal philosophies. Rather than studying the research or guidance of experts, they engage in self-reflection. They ask candidates to write about how they learned how to read as children. Then the novice teacher, usually 22 years old, must not only build the plane while flying it, but is told to do so proudly, confident that her professional judgment has not been challenged. More likely she is devastated at her lack of success.

What ideology could possibly trump good reading instruction? It is a fierce ideological obsession that cuts across all facets of teachers' preparation: the belief that every student is so unique that the best teaching practices cannot be applied. As one education professor put it to me, "Even if I knew some practice would be effective 80 percent of the time, I don't include it in my course. I don't want it to color the choices my teachers should be able to make using their own judgment."

That's why we continue to send many more children than necessary into adulthood incapable of not only enjoying a good book, but also engaging as an informed citizen. The original worry of a public health crisis now seems almost trivial in today's dark climate. It may not be necessary to look any further than decades of children not being taught how to read for an explanation for the sorry shape of our democracy.

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Post #5
Why Millions of Kids Can't Read, and
What Better Teaching Can Do About It  -- NPR/APM
Post #6
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January 2, 2019

Jack Silva didn't know anything about how children learn to read. What he did know is that a lot of students in his district were struggling.

Silva is the chief academic officer for Bethlehem, Pa., public schools. In 2015, only 56 percent of third-graders were scoring proficient on the state reading test. That year, he set out to do something about that.

"It was really looking yourself in the mirror and saying, 'Which 4 in 10 students don't deserve to learn to read?' " he recalls.

Bethlehem is not an outlier. Across the country, millions of kids are struggling. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 32 percent of fourth-graders and 24 percent of eighth-graders aren't reading at a basic level. Fewer than 40 percent are proficient or advanced.

See full article here

The Hechinger Report Commentary on
Effectiveness of Educational Innovation 
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December 17, 2018

            “…when education reforms were put to rigorous scientific tests

             with control groups and random assignment, 90 percent of them

             failed to find positive effects.”   

 “As part of the federal recovery effort to boost the economy after the 2008 recession, the U.S. Education Department suddenly had a big pot of money to give away to “innovations” in education. Since then, more than $1.5 billion has been spent on almost 200 ideas because Congress continued to appropriate funds even after the recession ended.”

“Only 12 of the 67 innovations, or 18 percent, were found to have any positive impact on student achievement, according to a report published earlier in 2018. Some of these positive impacts were very tiny but as long as the students who received the “innovative treatment” posted larger test score gains than a comparison group of students who were taught as usual, it counted.”

“That’s the dirty secret of all of education research,” Goodson added. “It is really hard to change student achievement. We have rarely been able to do it. It’s harder than anybody thinks.” She cited a prior 2013 study that also found when education reforms were put to rigorous scientific tests with control groups and random assignment, 90 percent of them failed to find positive effects.” 

To Goodson, who has specialized in early childhood education research for 40 years, the problem is that learning is ultimately about changing human behavior and that is always difficult for adults and children. And so many other things — like nutrition, sleep, safety and relationships at home — affect learning. “We’ve known for the longest time that economic background characteristics swamp any education intervention,” she said. “We’re starting out with only being able to make a small difference in how people do. The lever of education is only operating on a small slice of the pie.”

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Post #8

Patterns of Literacy among U.S. Students 


“The authors show that almost all U.S. students can “read” by third grade, if reading is defined as proficiency in basic procedural word-reading skills. But reading for comprehension—integrating background knowledge and contextual information to make sense of a text—requires a set of knowledge-based competencies in addition to word-reading skills. By the standards used in various large-scale literacy assessments, only about a third of U.S. students in middle school possess the knowledge-based competencies to “read” in this more comprehensive sense.”

“This variation is patterned in part by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background. Black and Hispanic students enter high school with average literacy skills three years behind those of white and Asian students; students from low-income families enter high school with average literacy skills five years behind those of high-income students. These are gaps that no amount of remedial instruction in high school is likely to eliminate.”

Given the importance of literacy skills, how well do U.S. students read? The answer to this question is not simple, for a number of reasons. The first concerns the kind of “reading” being assessed: sounding out the words in a picture book, reading the instructions on a homework assignment, reading a novel, or evaluating the arguments in an expository text. Each is an example of reading, but each draws on a very different set of skills and competencies.

The second reason concerns the benchmark used in the assessment. A comparison of U.S. students’ literacy skills with those of earlier cohorts may show improvement even if actual literacy proficiency rates remain low. A comparison with students in other countries likewise yields information on relative rather than absolute levels of literacy. A comparison of student performance relative to standards of proficiency determined by literacy experts, and taking into account the types of skills needed for success in the modern economy and for thoughtful participation in democratic processes, may yield yet a different set of answers.

A third reason concerns differences among student subgroups. Literacy skills, and trends in literacy skills, may vary by age, by gender, by race and ethnicity, and by socioeconomic background. A full answer to the question of how well U.S. students read must address this variation.

Dimensions of Literacy

Literacy encompasses a complex set of skills. At its simplest, it is a combination of word reading skills and knowledge-based literacy competencies. Word-reading skills, such as decoding and letter-sound awareness, are more procedural in nature and are necessary for reading written text. Knowledge-based literacy competencies include vocabulary knowledge, background knowledge related to the words included in the text, and the ability to integrate these two features with contextual information to make sense of a given text.

Knowledge-based competencies also draw on comprehension skills, which enable the reader to draw inferences and conclusions from complex texts, to compare and evaluate the effectiveness of texts, and to interpret and integrate ideas and information, particularly information from discrepant sources background knowledge in parallel with the development of complex comprehension skills. Nonetheless, the distinction between word-reading literacy skills and knowledge based literacy competencies is useful because it elucidates the differences in the types of skills and competencies that various literacy tests assess.

The distinction between these two sets of competencies is not sharp, and their development does not proceed in simple sequential order: children develop vocabulary and background knowledge even before they learn to decode, for example, and continue to build their background knowledge in parallel with the development of complex comprehension skills. Nonetheless, the distinction between word-reading literacy skills and knowledge based literacy competencies is useful because it elucidates the differences in the types of skills and competencies that various literacy tests assess.

Figure 1, derived from published ECLS-K reports, illustrates the estimated patterns of development of these ten competencies from kindergarten through eighth grade. As the figure shows, most children learn word reading skills in the first two years of school. A majority of children enter kindergarten with basic letter-recognition skills, but only a third can identify the beginning sounds of words, and fewer than 20 percent can identify ending sounds. By the spring of first grade, however, more than 90 percent of children are proficient in these areas, and three-quarters can recognize words by sight, a skill that fewer than 5 percent have mastered at the start of kindergarten. Indeed, by third grade virtually all students can “read” in the procedural sense—they can sound out words and recognize simple words in context.

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Post #9
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Developing Early Literacy

National Early Reading Panel (NELP) - 2008


Conventional reading and writing skills that are developed in the years from birth to age 5 have a clear and consistently strong relationship with later conventional literacy skills. Additionally, six variables representing early literacy skills or precursor literacy skills had medium to large predictive relationships with later measures of literacy development. These six variables not only correlated with later literacy as shown by data drawn from multiple studies with large numbers of children but also maintained their predictive power even when the role of other variables, such as IQ or socioeconomic status (SES), were accounted for.

These six variables include

• alphabet knowledge (AK): knowledge of the names and sounds associated with printed letters

• phonological awareness (PA): the ability to detect, manipulate, or analyze the auditory aspects of spoken language (including the ability to distinguish or segment words, syllables, or phonemes), independent of meaning

• rapid automatic naming (RAN) of letters or digits: the ability to rapidly name a sequence of random letters or digits

• RAN of objects or colors: the ability to rapidly name a sequence of repeating random sets of pictures of objects (e.g., “car,” “tree,” “house,” “man”) or colors

• writing or writing name: the ability to write letters in isolation on request or to write one’s own name

• phonological memory: the ability to remember spoken information for a short period of time.

An additional five early literacy skills were also moderately correlated with at least one measure of later literacy achievement but either did not maintain this predictive power when other important contextual variables were accounted for or have not yet been evaluated by researchers in this way. These additionally potentially important variables include:

• concepts about print: knowledge of print conventions (e.g., left–right, front–back) and concepts (book cover, author, text)

• print knowledge: a combination of elements of AK, concepts about print, and early decoding

• reading readiness: usually a combination of AK, concepts of print, vocabulary, memory, and PA

• oral language: the ability to produce or comprehend spoken language, including vocabulary and grammar

• visual processing: the ability to match or discriminate visually presented symbols.

These 11 variables consistently predicted later literacy achievement for both preschoolers and kindergartners. Not surprisingly, these measures were usually more predictive of literacy achievement at the end of kindergarten or beginning of first grade than of later literacy growth. The report provides an analysis of the particular relations among these variables. For instance, oral language was found to play a bigger role in later literacy achievement when it was measured using more complex measures that included grammar, the ability to define words, and listening comprehension than when measured using only simple vocabulary knowledge. Also, children’s early PA—that is, their ability to distinguish among sounds within auditory language—was found to be an important predictor of later literacy achievement, expanding on earlier NRP findings.

Post #10

What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) – Literacy

WWC has included the following five domains to frame childhood literacy development from pre-kindergarten and extending throughout the K-12 populations.  Each domain includes a subset of intervention objectives.  WWC's assessment of the programs can be found here.

The five domains include:

1.  Early Childhood Education

2.  Beginning Reading

3.  Adolescent Literacy

4.  Children Identified With, Or at Risk For, An Emotional Disturbance

5.  Teacher Training, Evaluation, and Compensation

  • (Additional domains include Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners - which are not included here.) 


1.  Early Childhood Education

  • Cognition

  • Early reading/writing

  • Reading achievement

  • Math achievement

  • Oral Language

  • Phonological processing

  • Print knowledge  

  • Social-Emotional development

2.  Beginning Reading

  • Alphabetics

  • Comprehension

  • Reading achievement

  • Reading fluency


3.   Adolescent Literacy

  • Alphabetics

  • Comprehension

  • Literacy achievement

  • Reading fluency


4.  Children Identified With, Or at Risk For, An Emotional Disturbance

  • Emotional/internal behavior

  • External behavior

  • Reading achievement

  • Social outcomes


5. “Teacher Training, Evaluation, and Compensation”

  • English Language Arts (ELA) achievement

  • Math achievement

  • Science achievement

  • Social Studies achievement

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Post #12
What is Phonological Awareness and Why Is It Important? 
Hint:  Phonological Awareness is Not Phonics 
Every Child Ready to Read Lit Review 201

To become a skilled reader, children need a rich language and conceptual knowledge base, a broad and deep vocabulary, and verbal reasoning abilities to understand messages that are conveyed through print. Children also must develop code-related skills, an understanding that spoken words are composed of smaller elements of speech (phonological awareness); the idea that letters represent these sounds (the alphabetic principle), the many systematic correspondences between sounds and spellings, and a repertoire of highly familiar words that can be easily and automatically recognized (McCardle & Chhabra, 2004; McCardle, Scarborough, & Catts, 2001).

Phonological awareness. Based on a massive body of research (Burgess, 2006; Lonigan, 2006), phonological awareness is a critical precursor, correlate, and predictor of children’s reading achievement. Discriminating units of language (i.e., words, segments, phonemes) is strongly linked to successful reading (National Reading Panel Report, 2000). It is, however, as described above, both a cause and a consequence of vocabulary development and learning to read (Ehri & Roberts, 2006). Typically developing children begin first to discriminate among units of language (i.e., phonological awareness), then within these units (i.e., phonemic awareness). Phonological awareness refers to the general ability to attend to the sounds of language as distinct from its meaning. Phonemic awareness is the insight that every spoken word can be conceived as units of sounds that are represented by the letter of an alphabet (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).

Phonological awareness should not be confused with phonics. The term phonics, or decoding, assumes that children understand the phonemic composition of words, and the phoneme-grapheme (sound/letter) relationship. Studies that have attempted to accelerate learning through early phonics training have shown no effects (Snow et al., 1998); in fact, evidence suggests that such training, without a firm understanding of phonemic awareness, may be detrimental to remembering words and learning to spell.”

Recent reviews and analyses (Dickinson et al., 2003; Scarborough, 2001) have placed phonological awareness as a critical part of a complex braid of language abilities which include strands of phonology, semantics, syntax, pragmatics, and discourse. Its tie to children’s ability to decode has been clearly established. At the same time, quality indicators would do well to recognize that phonological awareness skills are integrally connected to other important language skills which need to be strongly bolstered in these early education and care programs.

Letter knowledge: Knowledge of the alphabet letters is a strong predictor of short- and long-term reading success (Bond & Dykstra, 1967; Chall, 1990). However, its influence on later reading is not about knowing the letter names, per se. Rather, the learning of letter names mediates the ability to remember the sounds associated with the letters (Ehri, 1979). Once again, there is a reciprocal relationship between skills: Letter knowledge plays an influential role in the development of phonological awareness, and higher levels of letter knowledge are associated with children’s abilities to detect and manipulate phonemes.

Why Phonological Awareness Is Important

for Reading and Spelling

Phoneme awareness is necessary for learning and using the alphabetic code:  English uses an alphabetic writing system in which the letters, singly and in combination, represent single speech sounds. People who can take apart words into sounds, recognize their identity, and put them together again have the foundation skill for using the alphabetic principle.  Without phoneme awareness, students may be mystified by the print system and how it represents the spoken word.

Phoneme awareness predicts later outcomes in reading and spelling:  Phoneme awareness facilitates growth in printed word recognition. Even before a student learns to read, we can predict with a high level of accuracy whether that student will be a good reader or a poor reader by the end of third grade and beyond. Prediction is possible with simple tests that measure awareness of speech sounds in words, knowledge of letter names, knowledge of sound-symbol correspondence, and vocabulary.


The majority of poor readers have relative difficulty with phoneme awareness and other phonological skills:  Research cited in Module 1 has repeatedly shown that poor readers as a group do relatively less well on phoneme awareness tasks than on other cognitive tasks. In addition, at least 80 percent of all poor readers are estimated to demonstrate a weakness in phonological awareness and/or phonological memory. Readers with phonological processing weaknesses also tend to be the poorest spellers.

Phonological awareness interacts with and facilitates the development of vocabulary and word consciousness: This argument is made much less commonly than the first four points. Phonological awareness and memory are involved in these activities of word learning:

  • Attending to unfamiliar words and comparing them with known words

  • Repeating and pronouncing words correctly

  • Remembering (encoding) words accurately so that they can be retrieved and used

  • Differentiating words that sound similar so their meanings can be contrasted

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What Works Clearinghouse -

Foundational Reading Skills Kindergarten to 3rd Grade

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IMPORTANT WWC Reading Instruction K-3.JP
Four Key Recommendations Supporting K-3 Reading

Recommendation 1: Teach students academic language skills, including the use of inferential and narrative language, and vocabulary knowledge. Academic language is a critical component of oral language. Academic language skills include the following abilities

• articulating ideas beyond the immediate context (inferential language)

• clearly relating a series of events, both fictional and nonfictional (narrative language)

• comprehending and using a wide range of academic vocabulary and grammatical structures, such as pronoun references

Recommendation 2:  Develop awareness of the segments of sound in speech and how they link to letters. The National Reading Panel (NRP) report found that teaching students to recognize and manipulate the segments of sound in words (also referred to as phonological awareness) and to link those sounds to letters is necessary to prepare them to read words and comprehend text. Recent evidence reviewed for this guide supports the NRP’s conclusion. The ability to isolate sounds and then link those sounds to letters will help students read about 70 percent of regular monosyllabic words, such as fish, sun, and eat. The system for linking sounds to letters is referred to as the alphabetic principle. To effectively decode (convert from print to speech) and encode (convert from speech to print) words, students must be able to

• identify the individual sounds, or phonemes, that make up the words they hear in speech

• name the letters of the alphabet as they appear in print

• identify each letter’s corresponding sound(s)

Recommendation 3:  Teach students to decode words, analyze word parts, and write and recognize words. Once students know a few consonants and vowels, they can begin to apply their letter– sound knowledge to decode and read words in isolation or in connected text. Students also need to learn how to break down and read complex words by segmenting the words into pronounceable word parts. To do this, students must understand morphology, or the knowledge of the meaningful word parts in the language. Learning to recognize letter patterns and word parts, and understanding that sounds relate to letters in predictable and unpredictable ways, will help students decode and read increasingly complex words. It will also help them to read with greater fluency, accuracy, and comprehension.

Recommendation 4Ensure that each student reads connected text every day to support reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. Reading connected text (multiple related sentences) poses different challenges than reading isolated words or phrases. Reading connected text accurately, fluently, and with appropriate phrasing and comprehension requires students to identify words quickly, integrate ideas in the text with their background knowledge, self-monitor their understanding, and apply strategies to support comprehension and repair misunderstandings. The National Reading Panel (NRP) found compelling evidence that instruction to increase reading fluency is critical to both reading comprehension and future reading success and ease. The new research examined for this guide confirms those earlier conclusions

Shared Book Reading - What Works Clearinghouse
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Effectiveness: Shared book reading was found to have mixed effects on comprehension and language development and no discernible effects on alphabetics and general reading achievement for preschool children.

Program Description

Shared book reading (also known as interactive shared book reading) encompasses practices that adults can use when reading with children, which are intended to enhance young children’s language and literacy skills. During shared book reading, an adult reads a book to an individual child or a group of children and uses one or more planned or structured interactive techniques to actively engage the children in the text. The adult may direct the children’s attention to illustrations, print, or word meanings. The adult may engage children in discussions focused on understanding the meaning or sequence of events in a story or on understanding an expository passage.

Adults may ask children questions, give explanations and draw connections between events in the text and those in the children’s own lives as a way of expanding on the text and scaffolding children’s learning experiences to support language development, emergent reading, and comprehension. Importantly, the adult engages in one or more interactive techniques to draw attention to aspects of the text being read.

One specific type of shared book reading, dialogic reading, is addressed in a separate What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) intervention report. During dialogic reading, the adult uses a specific approach to prompting children’s participation and functions as an active listener and questioner, enabling the adult and the child to switch roles so that the child learns to become the storyteller.

Effectiveness: Shared book reading was found to have mixed effects on comprehension and language development and no discernible effects on alphabetics and general reading achievement for preschool children.

The WWC review of Shared Book Reading for the Early Childhood Education topic area includes outcomes in eight domains:

  • comprehension,

  • language development,

  • alphabetics,

  • general reading achievement,

  • cognition,

  • fluency,

  • mathematics, and

  • social-emotional development

The eight studies of Shared Book Reading that meet WWC group design standards reported findings in four of the eight domains:

(a) comprehension,

(b) language development,

(c) alphabetics, and

(d) general reading achievement.

Shared Book Reading 030519.JPG

Dialogic Reading - What Works Clearinghouse






Effectiveness: Based on the five studies included in the overall rating of effectiveness, the WWC found positive effects for oral language and no discernible effects for phonological processing. Findings from one study suggest that level of implementation of Dialogic Reading influences the impact of the practice on children’s oral language skills. Based on the study that included a Dialogic Reading plus Sound Foundations intervention, the WWC found no discernible effects on oral language, potentially positive effects on print knowledge, no discernible effects on phonological processing, and potentially positive effects on early reading/writing. The evidence presented in this report may change as new research emerges.


Dialogic Reading is an interactive shared picture book reading practice designed to enhance young children’s language and literacy skills. During the shared reading practice, the adult and the child switch roles so that the child learns to become the storyteller with the assistance of the adult who functions as an active listener and questioner. Two related practices are reviewed in the WWC intervention reports on Interactive Shared Book Reading and Shared Book Reading

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Book Distribution and Summer Reading
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Providing books with no guidance may not help much at all. But when children get help choosing skill-appropriate books and read those books over the summer break, both independently and with guidance from family members, reading achievement scores can improve significantly.

We’ve learned that if you’re trying to improve children’s reading abilities, you have to provide books that match the child’s reading level and interest and you have to know how to monitor comprehension.

Access to reading materials is crucial, of course, but according to our research, that’s not enough, especially in the early elementary school years.

Many people are aware that children lose reading skills over the summer and that low-income children fall behind, compared to their more advantaged classmates. We also know that kids who read a lot over the summertime sustain reading comprehension and vocabulary. Consequently, some people conclude that, in order to increase reading skills, we need to increase access to books—but the research indicates it’s not that simple.

In fact, in one study, when we gave books to kids but did nothing else, they did no better than the kids who did nothing over the summer. There was no difference.

James Kim, assistant professor of education at Harvard University, looked at different approaches to summer reading and found that voluntary summer reading programs can work—but they work best when adults and teachers get involved by helping students to choose appropriate books and employ simple techniques to improve skill and understanding.

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Excerpts from Timothy Shanahan's
7 Paths to Improved Reading Comprehension 
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Prior Knowledge and Reading Skills Shana
Raising a Reader
Family Engagement and Early Literacy 
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By the end of third grade, reading proficiently is critical since children rely on those reading skills in later grades to learn and to integrate information across content areas. This is the stage when children move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Unfortunately, two- thirds of all children, 80% of low-income children, more than 80% of black and Latino children, and 93% of English language learners are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade.


Parents Play a Central Role in Their Children's Early Language Development

One of the ways to significantly increase the likelihood that children will be proficient readers by the end of third grade is to equip parents with the skills and materials they need to help their children develop the language and literacy essential for reading acquisition. Research finds positive effects when children are read to at least three times per week, and a large

body of existing research finds that home-based literacy practices, such as shared reading routines and direct teaching of reading and writing skills, contribute to children’s developing literacy and other positive academic and social-emotional outcomes. Further, a growing body of research evaluations point to the success of programs that teach parenting skills, including the establishment of home literacy habits, to promote their children’s literacy development.

Family Engagement—The Evidence: A recent review of research conducted over the past 10 years confirms that family engagement in home-based literacy activities, such as interactive book sharing, positively affects children’s literacy skills. The studies show links between parental engagement in children’s literacy, and improved vocabulary, listening comprehension, and decoding skills, as well as more advanced reading ability, spelling, and comprehension. Home-based literacy practices are also positively associated with social-emotional skills, such as increased motivation to learn, and attention to, and persistence with, difficult tasks. The specific practices that support these skills include reading aloud to the child, engaging the child in a conversation about the story, asking the child to connect stories to pictures and to predict events, and calling attention to the words on the page. The link between parent engagement and child outcomes related to a developing skill reflects a basic tenet of child development: the parent-child relationship and the family context are critically important  for children’s developmental outcomes.


Family Engagement Programs—The Evidence: Family engagement intervention programs have responded to the strong research supporting the importance of early literacy and the key role that parent-child book sharing routines play in developing reading skills. Results from four systematic reviews of multiple research studies found that parent engagement programs designed to increase the quantity and quality of home-based shared reading practices can improve children’s literacy skills. The interventions reviewed were typically intensive, for example, offering parents training sessions for as many as 25 intervention sessions over the course of one year. Although the literature on less intensive programs is only now emerging, researchers are finding that lower dose, and more affordable programs may also impact literacy outcomes.

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Pre-School Literacy Screening Tools: "Get Ready to Read - Revised"
and "Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDI)"
Pre-School Literacy Screenings GRTR and
Two screening tools for measuring emergent literacy skills in preschoolers, Revised Get Ready to Read! (GRTR-R) and the Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDIs), are useful for broadly flagging children’s risk status, says a new study in the Journal of Learning Disabilities. Neither tool was “particularly good” at specifying the skills where the child was demonstrating a lack of progress, the researchers write. 
The 3 emergent literacy skills that are most predictive of reading ability are phonological awareness, print knowledge and oral language, according to the study.
“Overall, these findings indicate that it is possible to effectively screen preschool children with less-well-developed emergent literacy skills, who are at higher risk of later reading problems than children with more-well-developed emergent literacy skills,” the researchers write. “In general, the results indicated that use of the GRTR-R yielded more accurate classification of children into at-risk or not-at-risk groups with regard to their overall emergent literacy skills than did the IGDIs.”
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National Council for Teacher Quality 
Preparation Needed for Pre-School Teachers
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New America's Commentary on
NCTQ Study on Pre-K Teacher Prep
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Note:  This assessment and commentary is from New America

report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) reinforces this concern, finding that pre-K teachers earning a bachelor’s degree arrive in the classroom poorly equipped to educate young children. For the study, NCTQ examined 100 teacher prep programs in 29 states that certify pre-K teachers, mostly programs offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In order to understand exactly what sort of training teacher candidates receive in each program NCTQ examined course requirements and descriptions, course syllabi, student teaching observation and evaluation forms, and other course materials.

The report finds that:

  • About 40% of training programs don’t require candidates to take a course that addresses the importance of using specific strategies to help foster young children’s language development.

  • Only 16% of programs evaluate prospective teachers on how well they model language for young children,

  • Only 56% of programs evaluate candidates on their skill in developing young children’s critical thinking skills.

  • Only 20% of programs teach strategies for engaging in a successful read aloud with students.

  • Only 35% of programs require even a single course on child development that is focused on birth to age eight development.

  • Only 19% of programs evaluate prospective teachers on their ability to address disruptive behavior.

What is disciplinary literacy?

Disciplinary literacy refers to the idea that we should teach the specialized ways of reading, understanding, and thinking used in each academic discipline, such as science, history, or literature. Each field has its own ways of using text to create and communicate meaning. Accordingly, as children advance through school, literacy instruction should shift from general literacy strategies to the more specific or specialized ones from each discipline.

That makes sense for several reasons. Disciplines are cultures of practice, and each has its own norms for how knowledge should be created, shared, and evaluated. Take, for example, the differences separating history, science, and literature.

Disciplinary literacy matters because general reading skills can only take students so far. Students can learn to use general reading strategies (i.e., summarization, questioning, visualization) and those can improve their comprehension of content texts, but not to the same extent that more disciplinary approaches would (e.g., De La Paz, 2005; Reisman, 2012). Although most of the research has been conducted in grades 6–12, there is some research that seems to have implications for the elementary grades (VanSledright, 2002; Cervetti, Barber, Dorph, Pearson, & Goldschmidt, 2012).

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Delaware's Early Literacy Assessment Plan

Goals of Assessment:

1.  To implement, on an ongoing basis, a system to continuously monitor children’s development which would include a focus on language and early literacy development.


2.  To establish a valid and reliable screening framework that identifies children early that may be potentially at-risk for language and early literacy challenges. 

3.  To create an assessment process that uses the information from screening, progress monitoring and other data sources to make instructional decisions.

The assessment process aligns with the comprehensive curriculum.

Components of Assessment:

  • Screening – a valid and reliable assessment process used to identify children who are at risk for successfully meeting reading standards. Based on scientifically based reading research, screening should address the critical reading skills (phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency) predictive of successful reading growth. The process should be brief and include the use of a general assessment that is administered individually to all children. This framework will include a valid screening tool that identifies critical skills and has a plan for using that data to support a child’s literacy development.


  • Progress Monitoring – a process used systematically, a minimum of 3 times a year, to determine if children are making adequate progress toward grade-level reading expectations. It is generally administered individually and provides continuous, ongoing, formative information. This information may be used to evaluate and modify instructional plans and provide direction for future professional development so as to meet children' individual needs. Children that demonstrate some risk with the reading process should be monitored at least monthly. Children identified as at-risk should be monitored more frequently, as often as weekly or biweekly. The ongoing monitoring of children' progress can and should include the application of multiple measures to monitor children's progress. This monitoring should include valid and reliable measures. Progress monitoring should also include the use of curriculum-embedded assessments, formative assessments, such as those used with core curriculum or teacher-made measures. 


  • Data Utilization – “The major prevention strategy [to prevent reading failure is to receive] excellent instruction” National Research Council, 1998. The use of screening, diagnostic assessment, ongoing monitoring of children’s progress and outcome data is intended to drive instructional design and support children’s reading development.  There is a delicate balance between assessment measures designed to determine if children are making progress and are achieving grade-level performance and measures that also provide sufficient information to assist educators in designing targeted instructional activities to support children’s reading development. Educators need guidance, information, and support to help them effectively utilize the assessment data. Assisting educators in understanding how to take assessment results and link that information with instruction requires knowledge and support. This process requires strategic planning on the part of the district and a commitment from educators to be flexible and creative in instructional planning. Systematic and explicit instruction based upon useful and valid data will likely result in interventions. 

  • Program Evaluation – an established process, including schedule and method, for examining formative data to guide the design of instruction for all children including the formation of instructional groups. Data should be used to describe the “State of the Program.” Meetings for the purpose of examining data and its implications should be scheduled after each assessment window and involve all staff who teach reading. Follow-up meetings with grade level teams and individual educators should be held to discuss results of the assessments and to develop plans of action for instruction. Action plans should be monitored to determine effectiveness and educators should be supported in their efforts. 

Delaware Early Literacy Assessment Plan.
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What Education Schools Aren’t Teaching About Reading
National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)
Education Colleges not teaching reading

The persistent reading struggles and failure of nearly 40 percent of all American children, little improved over time, has led to aggressive government-funded efforts in school districts to train veteran teachers in the science of reading. The accumulated scientific findings of nearly 60 years of research gained the nation’s attention with the release of a number of significant reviews and compendia of the research beginning in 1990, but most notably the National Reading Panel report in 2000. The findings call for explicit, systematic teaching of phonemic awareness and phonics, guided oral reading to improve fluency, direct and indirect vocabulary building, and exposure to a variety of reading comprehension strategies.

All this attention on veteran teachers begs the question: How are future teachers being prepared to teach reading? In this study, the National Council on Teacher Quality makes a unique effort to learn what aspiring teachers are taught about reading instruction. From a randomly selected, representative sample of 72 education schools, NCTQ reviewed 223 required reading courses, including evaluations of syllabi as well as 227 required reading texts. Schools were scored on how well their courses presented the core components of the science of reading.

The findings are alarming. Only 15 percent of the education schools provide future teachers with minimal exposure to the science. Moreover, course syllabi reveal a tendency to dismiss the scientific research in reading, continuing to espouse approaches to reading that will not serve up to 40 percent of all children. Course texts were equally disappointing.

Only four of the 227 texts were rated as “acceptable” for use as a general, comprehensive textbook. This distressing trend in teacher training demands attention from federal and state governments, professional organizations dedicated to improving and supporting education schools, textbook publishers, and educations schools themselves. The report closes with recommendations to ameliorate this serious failure in adequately preparing teachers in the best practices of reading instruction.

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Fundamental literacy skills can be grouped into two categories, Snow and Matthews write. The first category is constrained skills, which are readily teachable because they’re finite: for example, the 26 letters of the alphabet, or a set of 20 to 30 common spelling rules. These skills have a ceiling; young children can and do achieve perfect performance.

As they grow older, though, children need to understand words rarely encountered in spoken language and to integrate new information they encounter with relevant background information. Vocabulary and background knowledge are examples of unconstrained skills— large domains of knowledge acquired gradually through experience.

Unconstrained skills are particularly important for children’s long-term literacy success (that is, success in outcomes measured after third grade). Compared to constrained skills, they’re also more strongly predicted by children’s social class or their parents’ education, and more difficult to teach in the classroom. And because of their open-ended nature, unconstrained skills are also much harder to test for. Snow and Matthews write that a drop in literacy scores we see as US children move from elementary to middle school suggests that our schools may be focusing too much on constrained skills—and too little on unconstrained ones—in the early grades.

See at

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Analysis of State K-3 Reading Standards and Assessments









Note:  This document is from 2005.  It is included here to help frame and assess progress, or the lack thereof, in the past decade.  

Five Essential Elements of Reading Instruction included in this assessment

1.Reading Comprehension



4.Phonemic Awareness


Key Findings:

Comprehension and, to a lesser extent, vocabulary are better represented by sampled states K-3 reading standards than are the other three essential elements of reading instruction.

• Reading comprehension is the most represented of the essential elements in state K-3 reading content standards with an average of 57 standards per state, followed by vocabulary (19), phonics (16), fluency (6), and phonemic awareness (6).

• Most standards representing each essential element were judged to be placed at the appropriate grade by most of the states. A few states were found to have placed standards representing phonemic awareness and phonics at too high of a grade level.

• Most states have standards that adequately cover comprehension and phonics, while just over half of the states provide adequate coverage for vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and fluency. Comprehension standards were judged to cover most or all of the appropriate content in 90% of the states, followed by phonics (80%), vocabulary (60%), phonemic awareness (60%), and fluency (55%).

• Most states (75%) provide an appropriate level of detail for comprehension standards, followed by vocabulary (70%), phonics (60%), phonemic awareness (50%), and fluency (35%). In most cases, when standards were judged as not having an appropriate level of detail, it was because they were too broad.

• All of the 20 sampled states make comprehension clearly visible in their organization of reading standards. Almost all (18) make some of the other elements visible. Half make all five elements visible and they tend to do so at relatively high levels within their organizational hierarchy.

States K3 Reading Standards 2005 NCLB.PN
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