We now know that helping all children learn to read by the end of third grade is complex, and that family members, caregivers, and preschool teachers can play significant roles in developing reading readiness.
But clearly schools play the major role in teaching reading. Schools can help us win the war on illiteracy by turning all children who are ready to read into independent readers and giving those children who arent ready the education they need to succeed.
While older children, teenagers, and even adults can be taught to read with intensive and often costly remediation, the easiest time to learn is during the early elementary years. The primary grades (kindergarten through third) present the best opportunity for each child to become a competent reader.
The Challenge of the Primary Years
Roughly half the nations children learn to read easily regardless of the method of instruction (Lyon, 1997). But as many as two in 10 children are considered significantly reading impaired. These children will need intensive instruction to master the complex process of reading (Shaywitz et al., 1990).
But with prevention and early intervention, experts have found, reading failure in the primary grades can be reduced to less than one in 10 children (Vellutino et al., 1996; Torgeson et al., 1997; Foorman et al., 1998). Even first- graders who have the greatest reading challenges can reach grade-level reading by the end of second grade with intensive, targeted intervention (Vellutino et al., 1996). This means that more than nine out of 10 children can become average readers or better.
But many of our children are failing to reach their reading potential. The NAEP 1998 Reading Report Card found that nearly four in 10 American fourth- graders are failing to read at the Basic achievement level, having little or no mastery of the reading skills needed for grade-level work. In our highest-poverty schools, nearly seven in 10 fourth- graders fail to read at the Basic achievement level.
The Perils of Waiting Too Long
One reason for the disparity between childrens capacity to learn and their rates of reading failure is that too few students receive effective aid. Most children dont get special reading help until age 9 or later (Lyon, 1997). This too little, too late approach condemns three-quarters of these 9-year-olds to poor reading achievement throughout high school (Shaywitz et al., 1997).
As parents and teachers know, the more often young children fail in reading, the less motivated they are to continue struggling (National Research Council, 1998). This surrender can happen as early as the middle of first grade (Lyon, 1998).
Reading failure can be devastating to a childs self-image. Almost 90 percent of children who have difficulty reading at the end of first grade display similar difficulties in fourth grade (Juel, 1988).
Out of embarrassment, these discouraged readers may try to hide their deficiency, avoid reading aloud, and pass up chances to practice reading at home. As the average student needs to see a word between four and 14 times before recognizing it automatically, this limited exposure to words is costly (Lyon, 1997). Without extra practice and intervention, the young student slips further and further behind.
What Teachers Need to Know
The majority of teachers and parents agree that reading is the most important subject for students to learn (Hart, 1994). Disagreements have raged primarily over a different question: How should reading be taught?
The National Research Council made clear in its landmark 1998 report, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, that we need not choose between one or another method of instruction favored by publishers or politicians. Like the commission that prepared 1983s A Nation at Risk, the National Research Council panel found that a comprehensive approach by well-prepared teachers is far more successful.
To successfully teach reading, the panel found, elementary school teachers must fully understand the structure of the English language, and the similarities and differences between written and spoken language. Teachers need a strong knowledge of child development, including psychology, language, and emergent literacy development. They must keep abreast of the most up-to-date research on reading and be able to use a variety of research-based teaching methods in the classroom.
Teachers need sophisticated training in how to teach young children that spoken language is made up of words, which contain sounds that are represented by letters and groups of letters. They must understand the ways that language conveys meaning, in various social and cultural contexts. Good teachers must be able to diagnose reading problems and respond to them with appropriate interventions. They need to gain feedback from colleagues and to work in an environment that emphasizes literacy (National Research Council, 1998).
Gaps in the Classroom
While not exhaustive, this list of pre- requisite skills and knowledge reveals how successful reading instruction requires complex teacher preparation. Teaching reading today is truly a job for an expert (Orton Dyslexia Society, 1997). But researchers at the National Institutes of Health have found that only a tiny fraction of teachers are able to teach reading effectively to children who do not grasp it easily (New York Times, 1997).
Some teachers may lack an adequate understanding of the structure of written and spoken English, of the spelling system, or of how these relate to teaching reading (McCutchen et al., 1998). Experienced teachers may still be misinformed about the differences between speech and print (Moats, 1995). Others may need to grasp the fundamental importance of a childs understanding of how units of sound, or phonemes, are represented by letters of the alphabet (National Research Council, 1998).
Gaps may exist in the teachers training in phonological awareness, or how spoken language has a structure distinct from its meaning. Others may be unaware or misinformed about semantics and what a student must know to comprehend what he or she reads. Few teachers are familiar enough with successful, research-based techniques. Many teachers express frustration with their limitations in helping increasingly diverse students reach their reading potential (Moats, 1995).
Inadequacies in Teacher Education
One major cause for the lack of preparation to teach reading is the inadequacy of teacher education. Novice teachers receive little formal education in reading instruction before entering the classroom; most have taken only one course in the subject as undergraduates (Goodlad, 1997). In some teacher colleges, reading is but a part of a single course in English language arts (National Research Council, 1998).
The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education reports that virtually all states require at least some coursework in reading methods. But few require knowledge of the structure of the English language, the psychology of reading development, or other subjects needed to teach children with reading difficulties. This overview approach is inadequate to prepare novice teachers to assist the 50 percent of all students who do not learn reading easily (Moats & Lyon, 1996).
Surveys of college students in teacher education courses have found that the professors often do not demonstrate the most effective instructional techniques, and that the course content is generally more theoretical than practical. These students rarely get the supervised practice time they need to develop effectively as reading teachers (Lyon, 1989).
Sporadic Professional Development
Professional development offerings for teachers already in the classroom are often sporadic and do not compensate for the teachers lack of preparation in college (National Research Council, 1998). Licensing is often linked to seat time, or the hours a teacher spends in any course, regardless of its utility. One-shot workshops with little relevance to the classroom are most typical.
Instead, licensing should encourage high-quality, ongoing training in research-based principles, with adequate time for teachers to work in teams and practice new teaching techniques (Darling-Hammond, 1996). The National Research Council panel has created a list of what teachers need to know to successfully teach reading. This list should be the basis of elementary school teacher preparation and professional development across the nation.
Teacher trainingwhether preservice or inserviceshould be based on developing and demonstrating competency. Rigorous and practical preparation should be linked in some way to licensure and credential renewal. Some experts advocate a medical school model for teacher preparation that includes a full year of residency in a real school before taking charge of a classroom (Archibold, 1998).
Others stress the advantages of the business school model, using extensive case studies and technology such as videodiscs to view actual classrooms (Risko & Kinzer, 1997). The latter approach connects a college student with the classroom experience, which studies show can improve the student teachers problem-solving ability and other skills (Risko et al., 1996).
A National, State, and Local Challenge
There is a growing national consensus that standards should be raised for the entire teaching profession. The National Research Councils call for better teacher education and training in reading complements this broader teacher quality agenda.
For example, Education Secretary Rileys call for colleges of education to create more clinical experiences for their students is highly relevant to improving the teaching of reading. As state and national leaders explore better ways to educate and train teachers, the urgent needs of preschool teachers and kindergarten through third-grade reading instructors should be top priorities.
Some states have already strengthened their teacher education programs. Texas requires 70 percent of a teacher colleges graduates to pass a certification exam for the institution to maintain its accreditation. Pennsylvania requires prospective teachers to keep a B average in both liberal arts courses and in the subject they seek to teach.
On the local level, most districts are not making up for inadequacies in their teachers readiness to teach reading. On average, less than .5 percent of school district resources are invested in professional development (Darling-Hammond, 1996).
Opportunities for Improvement
This push for better reading teachers comes at an opportune moment in American education. A surge in student enrollmentthe baby boom echoand the retirement of a substantial percentage of older teachers will require the nation to hire 2.2 million teachers over the next 10 years (U.S. Department of Education, 1998a). That is equal to hiring every doctor in the United States two and one-half times.
This tectonic shift presents the nation with an unprecedented opportunity to raise the professional standards for teachers. In addition, a recent national poll by Recruiting New Teachers found overwhelming public support for raising teacher standards and providing teachers with more time to keep up with developments in their field (Recruiting New Teachers, 1998).
In fact, time is a precious commodity for both primary school teachers and pupils. To improve reading instruction, teachers must take time to teach children letters and sounds and how to read for meaning. They must give children more time to practice reading and writing, using many types of books and reading materials. They also must take time to maintain childrens motivation to read. And teachers need time to give more intensive and systematic individual instruction to those who need it.
Starting School Early
Even highly qualified teachers cannot reach students who are not yet in their classrooms. In nearly half the states, children are not required to attend school until age 7. While 38 states require school districts to offer kindergarten, only 14 states require students to actually attend kindergarten.
Children who have had high-quality preschool and kindergarten experiences have much less difficulty learning to read than children who have not been exposed to early education (National Research Council, 1998).
When all children are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs before entering elementary school, our rates of reading failure surely will go down.
A Whole-School Approach
Principals in Pajamas
Kissing pigs, shaving mustaches, wearing pajamas to schoolthese are creative ways in which principals at San Diegos Benchley-Weinberger Elementary School have motivated their students to read. Principal Steven Hill believes reading should be fun and challenges the schools 500 students to read a million pages a year. When they meet that goal, they get something special. Hill once shaved off a mustache hed had for 20 yearson television.
Benchley-Weinberger is an Achievement through Communications magnet school. The schools teachers receive specialized training in reading, writing, listening, and observing. The school also utilizes creative community, nonprofit, and private partnerships.
Benchley-Weinberger scores on reading tests are in the top 10 percent in San Diego, and the gap between Blacks, Hispanics, and other students has been reduced.
Beyond offering kindergarten, many schools that raise reading achievement develop a schoolwide focus on literacy (National Research Council, 1998). Educators work together to develop comprehensive plans for professional development, assessment, use of technology, and new ways of using instructional time to teach reading and writing skills. Often, they bring literacy experts directly into the planning process. Architects of the most successful schoolwide efforts view research-based classroom instruction as just the foundation.
What else is helpful, besides a well-trained teacher? As stated, research supports devoting more class time to reading and writing (Education Trust, 1998). Students also benefit from one-on-one attention and expert tutoring integrated with classroom instruction (Slavin et al., 1989). Project-based learning that links reading and writing activities is also advantageous (National Research Council, 1998). Many schools measure and monitor students reading skills to provide immediate, appropriate interventions (Education Trust, 1998). Also, reading and writing are an important part of every subject their students study.
In these successful schools, parents are involved in improving reading in the school and at home. Extra practice time is available through trained, volunteer tutors recruited from colleges, businesses, and retired citizens groups. Community members are viewed as stakeholders in the schools success.
Students with Special Needs
Principles for Success
The Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIERA) identifies research-based principles for improving student reading achievement.
At successful schools:
Source: CIERA 10 Principles,
As states and schools work to improve the teaching of reading, special attention must be paid to those children who are likely to require the most helpthose who are poor, those who have learning and other types of disabilities, and those with limited English proficiency.
A major insight of the National Research Councils report is that most children with disabilities or disadvantages learn to read in much the same way as other children. They may require much more time and intensive assistance, and benefit from certain environments, materials, and strategies. But what matters most is excellent instruction by qualified teachers who call upon a flexible menu of choices to suit the special needs of each learner.
Good teaching means the ability to address a variety of learning strengths and needs in the same classroom. It means starting with what students already know about reading in any language or format (e.g., Braille or Spanish) and building on and linking that knowledge to an English literacy context. Research-based strategies that are proven in many different populations are helpful in improving instruction for students with special needs. Teachers should always consider whether the research describes effective teaching strategies for students who are similar to their own.
Delays in language development are not unusual among children with disabilities. Children with speech difficulties, such as those with cerebral palsy, may have trouble communicating orally. Children with hearing loss may use seemingly immature language that belies their actual intellectual development. Some mentally disabled children may struggle to express themselves, to understand what is said to them, and to comprehend language in general (Dodge & Colker, 1996).
When teaching children with special needs, teachers should capitalize on each childs individual strengths. If a child has trouble paying attention, the teacher may choose not to finish reading a book. Instead, the teacher might engage the child in conversation, asking questions about the story that require more than a yes or no response. The child may be able to draw a picture or make up a song about the books characters (Arnold, 1997) to enhance comprehension and maintain motivation.
While not all disabilities and disadvantages are addressed here, many children who experience reading difficulties have the following risk factors: living in poverty, having a learning disability, having limited proficiency in English, or having a hearing impairment.
High-Poverty Schools: A Staggering Challenge
Because poverty is a very high risk factor for illiteracy (National Research Council, 1998), poor childrens rates of reading failure are staggering. The Promising Results report (U.S. Department of Education, 1999) found that 68 percent of fourth-graders in our poorest urban schools failed to read at the Basic level needed for academic success, compared with 38 percent nationwide. Only one in 10 fourth-graders at these schools can read at the Proficient level. More than half of all fourth-graders receiving a free or reduced-price lunch (a measure of poverty) read below the Basic achievement level in 1998 (NAEP 1998 Reading Report Card).
Signs of Progress
Despite huge achievement gaps between poor and more affluent students, positive trends are emerging. The 1996 national reading scores of students in high-poverty schools, while still unacceptably low, have improved significantly since 1992 (1996 NAEP Trend Report). For example, in 1996, 9-year olds attending such schools read nearly a full grade-level better than their counterparts had four years before.
Gains made by the lowest achievers were mainly responsible for the small increase in the nations average reading score between 1994 and 1998. These students improved about half a grade-level in four years. About 80 percent of these low achievers attend Title I high-poverty schools (U.S. Department of Education, Promising Results, 1999).
A study of three-year achievement trends in 13 large urban school districts with high concentrations of poverty found signs of progress. The number of elementary school students who met district standards for reading proficiency increased in seven districts: Houston, Jefferson County (Louisville), Miami-Dade, New York City, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and San Francisco. The gap between students in the highest- and lowest-poverty schools decreased in four districts: Houston, Miami-Dade, New York City, and San Antonio (U.S. Department of Education, Promising Results, 1999).
Of six states able to provide three-year trend data on students in high-poverty schools, five reported improvements in reading performance: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, and Texas (U.S. Department of Education, Promising Results, 1999). In Texas, 82 percent of fourth-grade students in the highest-poverty schools scored at or above the proficient level in the 1998 Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, a 15 percent gain from 1996.
These victories offer solid hope that reading achievement can be raised for all students.
Schools That Beat the Odds
What can schools do to help poor children become better readers? Surveys were taken at schools receiving funds through Title I, the federal program that aims to raise poor students achievement, especially in reading and math. The surveys reveal certain strategies that are common in high-poverty, high-performing schools.
First, they use standards to design the curriculum, assess student work, and evaluate teachers. Second, they lengthen instructional time in reading. Third, they spend more on professional development. Fourth, they engage parents in their childrens education. Fifth, they monitor student progress and get extra help for those who need it. Finally, school staff often are held accountable for their success by the state or district (Education Trust, 1998).
What can teachers do to help poor children become better readers?
Students scored better on reading tests when their teachers felt able to use a variety of assessment tools and to teach diverse groups (U.S. Department of Education, LESCP, 1998). Fourth-graders made better progress in reading when teachers gave them more total exposure to reading and opportunities to talk in small groups about what they read (U.S. Department of Education, LESCP, 1998).
The poorest readers in fourth grade gained in both vocabulary and comprehension skills when teachers gave them reading material of one paragraph or more; reading materials in core subject areas; and opportunities to work on computers, workbooks, and skill sheets. More able readers seemed to benefit from reading aloud (U.S. Department of Education, LESCP, 1998).
More Title I school teachers are applying these lessons, with increasing numbers allowing low achievers to select their own books, read aloud, and talk in small groups about their reading every day (U.S. Department of Education, LESCP, 1998). These teaching strategies are well supported by research chronicled by the National Research Council.
In Massachusetts, a dozen high-poverty, urban elementary schools that apply research-based principles are outperforming other schools in their districts. These schools seek a balance of instructional methods, including literature-based and phonics approaches. Students spend extended time on reading and writing, and teachers work in small groups to focus on pupils individual needs (Dwyer et al., 1998).
The Summer Reading Drop-Off
Successful students have fun during the summer, but they dont take a vacation from reading. Too many students, however, dont exercise their reading muscles during the summer months.
For decades, studies have shown that this summer reading drop-off has predictable, negative consequences for student achievement, particularly for disadvantaged children (Hayes & Grether, 1969; Murnane, 1975; Heyns, 1987; Karweit et al., 1994). A Baltimore study found that large differences in achievement between high- and low-income elementary school children were due almost entirely to gains made when school was not in session (Alexander & Entwisle, 1996).
It has long been known that, in high-poverty schools, gains made by poor children during the school year are eroded or erased during the summer, leaving them once again behind their better-off peers in the fall (Pelavin & David, 1977). Students in high-poverty schools make faster progress in reading achievement during first grade than their more affluent peers. Sadly, however, this reading growth slows more than that of their peers the following summer (Rock, 1993). Students in high-poverty schools do not return to the higher rate of growth that they showed in first grade. Instead, they progress at a reduced rate of growth throughout the second grade (Karweit et al., 1994).
Disadvantaged students who dont spend their summers reading and learning are at the greatest risk of skill erosion (Alexander & Entwisle, 1996). Energetic summer reading programs, including tutoring and mentoring by adults, can help disadvantaged students improve their academic skills (Reisner et al., 1989; Olsen, 1979). Tutoring can also boost students motivation and attitudes toward reading (Cohen et al., 1982), an advantage for those who find reading difficult (National Research Council, 1998).
The U.S. Department of Education promotes summer reading for all children through the Read*Write*Now! program. The program offers creative tools and materials for adults to help children practice and enjoy reading outside the classroom.
Read*Write*Now! is but one of many summer reading promotions taking place across the country, from baseball parks to book camps to Story-Mobiles. When more children spend the summer honing their reading skills rather than losing them, teachers will not have to play catch-up each fall. More students will read at grade-level from the first bell.
Approximately 5 percent of all children in public schools are identified as having a learning disability (Lyon, 1996), and the vast majority of learning-disabled childrenas many as 80 percentexperience their primary difficulties in learning to read (National Research Council, 1998).
But some children with learning disabilities are not recognized by their school system. Experts believe the actual prevalence of learning disabilities is between 5 and 10 percent (Interagency Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1987.)
While schools are four times more likely to identify a reading disability in boys, research shows the disability is equally common among girls (Shaywitz et al., 1990). In some studies, a reading disability has been documented in about 20 percent of school-age children (Shaywitz et al., 1996).
Early, Intensive Intervention
Most children who are identified with significant reading disabilities in the third grade are still reading below grade-level in high school (Shaywitz et al., 1997). For interventions to succeed, all children at risk for reading failure should be identified and helped before age 9 (Lyon, 1996).
As many as two-thirds of reading-disabled children can become average or above-average readers if they are identified early and taught appropriately (Vellutino et al., 1996; Fletcher & Lyon, 1998).
Those with the most challenging reading disabilities need even more help. From 2 to 6 percent of children may not learn to read well, even with early reading interventions (Vellutino et al., 1996; Torgeson et al., 1997; Foorman et al., 1998). These children should be carefully evaluated to determine the nature of their disability and the impact the disability has on their learning. They may require more highly specialized reading programs, which include special education and related services (Council for Exceptional Children, 1997).
Disability or Difficulty?
A child with a reading disability and one with reading difficulty can be hard to tell apart, though their problems have different roots.
A reading disability seems to result primarily from the brains struggle to process the sounds of speech as distinct from their meanings (Liberman & Shankweiler, 1991; Rack et al., 1992). This ability, called phonological awareness, is critical to understanding that words are made up of sounds that are represented by letters of the alphabet. The segments of speech sounds, called phonemes, are the building blocks of syllables and words. Cracking this code helps would-be readers recognize words on the page (National Research Council, 1998).
Due to a limited exposure to books, children with a reading disability must overcome both an inadequate vocabulary and insufficient background knowledge to understand the meaning of what is read (National Research Council, 1998).
Children with a reading difficulty due to limited language exposure, poor instruction or other causes may also lack the vocabulary and background knowledge needed to read for meaning, as well as word recognition skills such as phonological and phonemic awareness.
Both kinds of poor readers can suffer from low motivation associated with early reading failure (National Research Council, 1998).
Early remediation of all children who are at risk for reading failure could significantly reduce the number of children mislabeled as learning disabled. This, in turn, could reduce the need of some children for ongoing intervention and permit greater focus of resources on the children who are acutely disabled (Fletcher & Lyon, 1998).
With national assessments showing 25 to 40 percent of American school children unable to read well enough to succeed in school, strategic interventions for all poor readers are a national imperative.
Limited English Proficiency
Children with limited English proficiency are those who speak a language other than English at home. For that reason, they may not speak, understand, read, or write English at the same level as their peers who have English as a first language. The limited-English- proficient population in this country has grown and changed dramatically. There are currently more than 3.4 million English language learners enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12 in this country (Macias, 1998), speaking more than 200 languages other than English (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). Close to 75 percent of all students acquiring English speak Spanish as their first language (Fleischman & Hopstock, 1993).
Most limited-English-proficient students are in the elementary grades, and approximately 40 percent of these students were born in the United States (Fleischman & Hopstock, 1993). Many are poor, and more than one-third of Hispanic students attend high-poverty schools (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). English language learners in the primary grades are twice as likely to be poor compared with their English-speaking peers (Moss & Puma, 1995). Three out of four students with limited English at all grade levels qualify for free or reduced-price lunches by living near or below the poverty line (Fleischman & Hopstock, 1993).
But students acquiring English are diverse in many other ways. Not only do they speak many different languages, but they also come from a large variety of cultures. These students also have different educational experiences: some students have a strong academic foundation and schooling in their native language, while others have received little or no schooling. The lack of any strong literacy or academic background, in addition to the challenge of learning to read in a second language, puts many English language learners, particularly those in high poverty, at risk for developing reading difficulties.
These students reading difficulties may be manifested in one or more ways. They may have difficulty connecting the sounds of language to their written representation. They may have trouble comprehending what they read. Also, they may not be motivated to read.
The Role of Parents
We know that foundations of early literacy development begin in infancy, with positive interactions between caregivers and babies. These include conversa- tions around books, storytelling, songs, rhymes, word games, and other family activities. This kind of language and literacy development engages babies and young children in communication that provides the basis for later reading success.
Parents of young children with limited English proficiency may need extra encouragement to engage in some of these activities. Their own English language skills may be limited, or they may hesitate to use their native language at home, assuming that it will not help their children succeed in school. Some parents whose culture emphasizes speaking to children in a directive style may benefit from coaching to try a more conversational style. This practice gives parents another way to nurture their childs language skills and vocabulary development (Espinosa & Lesar, 1994).
Some parents who dont speak English are less likely to expose their children to early literacy experiences than English-speaking parents (Liontos, 1992). In general, mothers whose first language is not English are less likely to read to their children regularly (U.S. Department of Education, 1994). Some of these parents may hold back out of respect for the role of schools and teachers in educating their child (Espinosa, 1995).
Many low-income parents face additional, logistical barriers that make time scarce for book reading, library visits, and early language development. This combination of factors can cause many children from homes with limited English to enter kindergarten behind their peers in language and literacy skills (Espinosa, 1995).
Aiding Literacy Development
We know that a strong base in any language provides the foundation for reading success (Cummins, 1979; 1989). And surveys show that most parents who speak languages other than English, such as Hispanics, place a high value on education (De La Rosa & Maw, 1990). Thus, parents should be encouraged to talk with and read to their children in their native language. Hearing stories read aloud in their first language exposes children to the sounds of written words in a familiar context (Nathenson-Mejia, 1994). Books also can be read aloud by grandparents, older siblings, and other family members.
Parents as Teachers
Parents with little experience reading to their children may be more comfortable starting out with storytelling and writing activities (Landerholm et al., 1994). Traditions of oral storytelling can ease a parent into language and literacy-building activities. Children and parents can create homemade books that transcribe family stories and cultural legends in their home language (Nathenson-Mejia, 1994). Illustrated by the child, these books can be re-read often to strengthen family bonds as well as reading skills.
When low-income, language-minority parents see themselves as teachers, their children benefit. Researchers have found that when parents whose English is limited engage their children in reading, storytelling, problem-solving, and varied learning activities, the children enjoyed above-average academic success (Ebener et al., 1997). Also, when non-English-speaking parents were coached in communicating and reading to their children, practicing in class as well as at home, their children scored significantly higher on reading attitude tests (Cervantes et al., 1979).
Librarians can help non-English- speaking parents select native language books for children and even order new titles based on families interests. Culturally appropriate community outreach will be required to increase the motivation of these families to use the library regularly.
Studies that show the advantages of quality preschool programs in preparing children for school success have significance for children whose home language is not English, such as Hispanics. However, only 39 percent of Hispanic 3- to 5-year olds, compared with 65 percent of Blacks and 57 percent of Whites, enroll in early childhood programs (U.S. Department of Education, 1996).
Many Hispanic families cannot afford private preschools (Schwartz, 1996). Yet even when income is not a barrier, Hispanic parents have historically preferred family care for their youngest children. Nearly half of Hispanic mothers stay home to raise their children, and many who work choose relatives over center-based care (Fuller et al., 1994). In the home, Hispanic parents are more likely than White parents to regularly teach their children letters, numbers, words, songs, and music. They are less likely, however, to read or tell stories regularly, or visit the library (U.S. Department of Education, 1994).
Many non-English-speaking families also live in poverty. For most low-income children, high-quality preschools build up the social, emotional, physical, or cognitive skills that may have been underdeveloped in the home (Schwartz, 1996). For youngsters with little or no English spoken at home, preschool also offers valuable exposure to English (Kagan, 1995).
Some communities are identifying these benefits to non-English-speaking parents and building bridges between families and preschools (Lewis, 1993; Blakes-Greenway, 1994). Early childhood professionals can form partnerships with parents, to build on home and community strengths and link the home language with that of the school (U.S. Department of Education, 1998).
But many early childhood professionals need additional training to address the needs of young second-language learners (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Bilingual and Minority Language Affairs, 1998). Training should be provided in early literacy development, second language acquisition, family and community involvement, and diverse linguistic and cultural settings. This base of skills and knowledge can enable early childhood teachers to provide for childrens special needs while building on their strengths.
English Language Learners in School
The National Research Councils panel found that school-age children with limited English should learn to understand and speak English before learning to read in English. Therefore, initial reading instruction is most effective in a students first language. If feasible, teachers should speak and use books and other materials in the students first language (National Research Council, 1998).
Children who can read in any language are readers. There is no need to repeat the entire process of reading instruction if a child simply needs to learn English. Therefore, a teacher must assess the students reading skills and abilities in the primary language, and help him or her transfer those abilities to reading in English.
This is more easily accomplished if the teacher speaks the childs language. However, a skilled teacher who does not understand the childs primary language can still learn much about the childs reading abilities by observing him or her reading text in that language and by connecting with community resources.
Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children
Hearing loss occurs in three of every 1,000 births (Utah State University, 1999). Even a slight impairment can hurt language development and academic achievement. This issue is of growing concern, as deaf and hard-of-hearing babies and toddlers are not consistently identified early in life and provided access to language and communication (Padden & Ramsey, 1998). Children with hearing loss in just one ear are 10 times as likely as children with normal hearing to be held back a grade in school (Utah State University, 1999).
The average age of identification of hearing loss in the United States is 2½ years, with milder losses at times not detected until a child enters school (Commission on Education of the Deaf, 1988).
The implications are especially significant, since language acquisition begins at birth and progresses very rapidly during the first three years of life. Deprived of critical language learning opportunities, many children with unidentified hearing loss experience disruptions in social, emotional, cognitive, and academic growth.
Research has shown that identification of hearing loss and appropriate intervention before a baby is 6 months old can significantly improve language and cognitive development (University of Colorado, Boulder, 1999). Children who are identified with hearing loss this young can enter first grade as much as one to two years ahead in language, cognitive, and social skills, compared with children identified at a later age (Utah State University, 1999).
The issue is not the ability to learndeaf and hard-of-hearing children have as much capacity to read and write as their non-deaf peers. Recent research has found that one factor contributing specifically to reading success is, not surprisingly, earlier detection of deafness. Early detection leads to earlier placement in educational programs that offer the best reading instruction for deaf and hard-of-hearing children (Padden & Ramsey, 1998).
A major obstacle faced by children with hearing loss is the lack of the speech foundation on which reading usually rests (McInerney et al., 1998).
The U.S. Department of Education has noted in its Deaf Policy Guidance letter (1992), [T]he communication nature of the disability is inherently isolating, with considerable effect on the interaction with peers and teachers that make up the educational process. . . Even the availability of interpreter services in the educational setting may not address deaf childrens needs for direct and meaningful communication.
Strategies for Success
Studies have found that early reading strategies can involve learning to match sign language to words in print (Andrews & Mason, 1986; Withrow, 1989). More recent research suggests that, while deaf children may focus on visual strategies during early reading development, as reading skills develop, they use other strategies as well (Padden & Hanson, 1999).
Therefore, children with hearing loss may need different kinds of reading instruction as their skills develop. This may include an emphasis on spelling rules and phonological awareness. Deaf children can benefit from exposure to large amounts of written text to build vocabulary and comprehension.
Technology can also play an important role, through the captioning of television programs and videos, computer-assisted real-time captioning, assistive listening devices, and computer software.
The skill of teachers in assessing childrens strengths and limitations and in building individual strategies shapes successful reading instruction. This is true whether addressing students with special needs or turning marginal readers into good readers.
Resources for educators and administrators may be found in Reading Resources, Appendix I of this book.
Ready to Read Every Child a Reader