The most important gift that
can be given to a child is the gift of literacy. And for many children,
the only person who is in a position to share that gift is their classroom
teacher. Many children come from homes that do not support or value
literacy or even education. Their linguistic foundations are not as
solid as those of their peers, and their preparation for formal learning environments
is simply inadequate. For these children, the question must be asked,
"if not their teacher, then who?"
Catherine Snow shared the
results of a study in her book Unfulfilled
Expectations (1991). She examined children with a great deal of
home support, and compared them to children with low levels of home support.
Not surprisingly, children with low levels of home support did not achieve
as much success as children with high levels of home support. Snow
then looked at the influence that classroom support could have with these
children. She found that a few years of instruction from a strong teacher
could level the playing field for children from low-support homes.
Snow's study, after two
years of instruction with a strong, knowledgeable reading teacher,
was no measurable difference in academic achievement between children
came from low-support homes and children who came from high-support
homes. In her study, 100% of the children in both categories
experienced high levels
of academic success.
At the other end of the
spectrum, students who spent two years with a "weak" classroom teacher achieved
considerably less academic success. Children who came from low-support
homes who were placed in low-support classrooms struggled and floundered
in class. And alarmingly, about 40% of the students who came from HIGH-support
homes ALSO struggled and floundered in low-support classrooms.
Percentage of children who
achieve success with varying levels of home and classroom support
For all children, the importance of
a highly-qualified, knowledgeable reading teacher is paramount. Without
an artful teacher providing good foundations in reading skills, all children
are at risk for reading difficulties, and as a result, are also at risk for
general academic and financial failure (See "C is for Consequences
for Reading Failure").
|High home support
||Low home support
|High Classroom Support
|Mixed Classroom Support
|Low Classroom Support
The key to effective reading
instruction is assessment. Teachers, especially early reading teachers,
must become highly skilled at using focused, ongoing assessment to diagnose
each student's reading development, and further, teachers must constantly
use that assessment information to structure focused, individualized instruction
for each student. For more information about using assessment to inform
instruction, see "A is for Assessment."
Teaching a child to read
is complicated, and cultivating teachers who are extremely adept at teaching
all children to read takes an investment of time and money. Schools
too often are looking for quick fixes for their reading programs, but those
quick fixes often impede the development of a good, research-based, long-term
reading initiative that could support the development of highly trained and
knowledgeable reading teachers. However, as Snow's research has shown
us, all childen -- even children who come from high-support homes -- are
at risk if they do not have highly-trained and knowledgeable reading teachers.
Here is a wonderful resource put together
by McKenna that describes other web-based resources that are available
to help teachers with their reading instruction.
The Southwest Education
Development Laboratory has a database that describes effective, early reading
instructional activities and which also describes some published resources
that are available for purchase. For teachers looking for ideas on,
for example, how to teach children phoneme awareness, this database may be
helpful. Go to www.sedl.org/reading
and look for the Instructional Resources Database and the Instructional Activities
Campus and district leaders
must play a more active role in school improvement if all children are to
become successful readers. Check out L is for Leadership
for more information on the role that campus and district leaders can play
in helping all children learn to read proficiently.
Also, if there is one book
that stands out as an excellent overview of what really matters in early
reading instruction, it is the book by Allington and Cunningham called "Classrooms
that Work: They Can All Read and Write." This book is very readable
and describes some realistic solutions to some very real problems facing classroom
teachers. "Classrooms that Work" is #2 behind Marilyn Jager Adam's
to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print" on my list of books that I
believe every classroom teacher should read and be familiar with.
And I heartily recommend
the book Reading
Researchers in Search of Common Ground by Rona Flippo. This is a
collection of articles by various reading researchers, and many of the topics
focus on the importance of teacher training. I especially enjoyed the
chapter by Scott Paris titled "Developing readers." It was very readable
and very informative.