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The Need to Balance Reading Curriculum

Reading is so important to a great life. As many people have echoed, learning to read turns into reading to learn. So interestingly, we know a lot less than we should about how effective reading programs are in teaching children to read. This is partly an outcome of large publishing companies, who deliver a service to schools by printing a wide range of materials for schools to choose. The very helpful service of designing and delivering curriculum materials also leads to making money and guarding the success of such programs.

Reading is Understudied?

As we think about reading programs and publishers, we naturally turn to researchers to help us understand which program might be more helpful for which type of struggling reader. We must pause here because this area of teaching and learning, says an EdWeek article, is a little bit understudied, precisely because of the proprietary nature curriculum companies who end up guarding their materials:

“It’s kind of an understudied issue,” said Mark Seidenberg, a cognitive scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, and What Can Be Done About It. “[These programs] are put out by large publishers that aren’t very forthcoming. It’s very hard for researchers to get a hold of very basic data about how widely they’re used.”

EdWeek article printed online Dec 3, 2019

This disconnect between reading research needs and for-profit company needs is a quite common problem here in the United States where outside research could end up shifting market profitability. How can we improve reading research and allow large educational publishing companies to thrive?

Reading Wars?

Do you remember the reading wars of the 1990s? I can’t believe I am asking you that, because I do, and it shows how old I am getting. Back then the fight was between whole language and phonics, as if one was better than the other. Since then publishers usually create materials that have a mix of both. Well here is the outcome of those wars, in the form of the reading programs currently in schools as reported by teacher surveys conducted by EdWeek:

Publisher and Program%
  
Fountas & Pinell’s: “Level Literacy43
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: “Journeys27
Fountas & Pinell’s: “Reading Recovery”19
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: “Into Reading17
Teachers College Reading and Writing Project: “Units of Study for Teaching Reading16

Balanced Reading Instruction

So the outcome of this thinking is a tall order for us to choose the reading programs that might help all students have access and equity to quality reading instruction! We need to find the reading programs that balance phonics and whole language with reading recovery and reading intervention. We also need to address the fact that reading proficiency as measured at 3rd grade is around 30% so a crisis is well underway! We need to resolve the reading wars, the for-profit and the curriculum publishing needs with a scientific approach to teaching reading for all of our diverse readers!

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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