Showing posts with label National Early Literacy Panel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label National Early Literacy Panel. Show all posts

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Role of Early Oral Language in Reading Comprehension

           When I was 18-years-old I was a volunteer tutor in an inner-city school. I wasn’t an education major—that came later—but I was intent on saving the world. I was excited about the idea of going into the city and working with elementary school kids who were growing up in poverty.

            But I was also nervous about it. I didn’t know a damn thing about working with kids, the inner city, or reading. A trifecta of ignorance.

            I decided to school myself the evening before my first day of tutoring, so I went to the university library and looked for some books on the teaching of reading. I found two that seemed pertinent and I checked them out.

            One was Rudolph Flesch’s Why Johnny Can’t Read and the other was Roach Van and Claryce Allen’s Language Experiences in Early Childhood. At the time I couldn’t have found two more separate takes on early reading: Flesch’s convincing polemic on the need for explicit phonics instruction and the Allen’s romantic homage to the role of early language development.

            It turns out I was also ignorant about philosophical differences. I was scrambling to figure out what to do and these books—as far apart as they may have been—were pointing me in practical, if seemingly incommensurate, directions.

            Now, 47 years later, with lots of knowledge and experience, I’m back to where I started. I no longer see them as incommensurate (again). Decoding and language, language and decoding… it’s like those television commercials: “tastes great, less filling” or “peanut butter, chocolate.” Sometimes the complementary just makes good sense.

            Recently, Chris Lonigan and I wrote a short article for Language Magazine. It’s focus is on “The Role of Early Oral Language in Literacy Development.” I think both Chris and I have bona fides in the “phonics/decoding/foundational skills” community and have the scars to show it. But we are both also advocates of the so-called “simple view” of reading—students need to know how to decode from print to language and they need to know how to understand language. This is a both, not an either/or.

            Here is a link to the article. Hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Is rhyming ability in important in reading?

Teacher question:
Our district is wrestling with how much emphasis to give rhyming as an early literacy skill. We had previously downplayed rhyming as a necessary focus but the new CA ELA/ELD Framework and CCSS where rhyming is specifically called out has resurfaced old questions.  

Our struggle is this.... with our very high (87%) English Learner population, rhyming is one of the later skills acquired for these students in Preschool through grade 1.  Reading research seems to support the idea of rhyming as a pre-requisite to reading; exposure to this kind of play with words and "word families" gives children another pathway to reading. However, students who are not native to English miss this early exposure and much of their cognitive energy seems to be taken up with meaning-making. Often in our classrooms it seems we are successful at teaching the students to decode and then have to go back and teach them to identify and produce rhyming words.  Doesn't this defeat the purpose for using rhyming as a building block for reading?

This is not to say that our teachers aren't talking about rhyming words as they are encountered in text or pointing out word families but our question, as we decide where to put our educational dollar, is will an emphasis on rhyming give us a reading payout?

Shanahan response:
When I was a young reading specialist (a very long time ago), I wondered about this myself—though I certainly wasn’t aware of any research on it. I noticed that some of my low readers were surprisingly thick when it came to rhyme. Rhyme had always seemed automatic to me, and it made me wonder about its role in reading. As a result, I started to check out the rhyming ability of my students (grade 2-6). Just as I suspected, poor rhyming appeared to be an important marker of low reading ability.

What I had informally noticed as a teacher, the research community noticed as well. In the 1980s (and especially the 1990s--though it continues today), rhyming as a precursor to reading became a big issue. It made sense: many low readers struggled with rhyming, the research community was increasingly interested in how kids perceive language sounds, and phonological awareness (PA) became a big deal. It is rare that one sees a list of those early PA skills that doesn’t include rhyming.

There was so much research on this that the National Early Literacy Panel (2008) was able to meta-analyze it. Here is what we concluded:

1.     Rhyming ability is predictive of later reading achievement, but it had the weakest correlation of any of the phonemic awareness skills. Being able to segment words into single phonemes or to blend phonemes together into words, were significantly better predictors of decoding. (There were no significant differences in these predictors with regard to later reading comprehension growth).
2.     With regard to the teaching of PA, it was concluded that there were few instructional interventions that used rhyming activities as a primary teaching approach, but that the teaching of letters and sounds had a significant impact on student learning.

What do I conclude from this? First, rhyming ability is a predictor of later reading development, but it isn’t as accurate or sensitive as other skills (like letter naming or phonemic awareness—children’s ability to distinguish or segment single sounds in words). If I noticed a youngster was having trouble with rhymes, I would pay attention to it, but if I was setting up a screening program to identify potential problems, rhyming wouldn’t be the way that I would go.

Given that there are no studies showing that teaching rhyming improves reading achievement (or even makes kids more amenable to and successful with phonemic awareness instruction), I wouldn’t want to spend much time teaching it. There are some recent studies that suggest that as students learn to read, their ability to rhyme improves (McNorgan, Awati, Desroches, & Booth, 2014). Thus, instead of better rhyming leading to better reading, the knowledge of words and letters and sounds allows students to gain access to this somewhat separate skill. 

That may be why your second language students do better with rhyming once they can read; they would have greater knowledge of vocabulary and the language in general once they were reading--and these skills are evidently important in rhyming. That is also probably why rhyming has a more similar relationship to reading comprehension as the other phonological skills: These skills have little or no functional relationship in reading comprehension, but they do serve as markers of language proficiency or sophistication. The better one is with language, the better one will be with comprehension. But since rhyming plays little or no functional role in decoding, it is less predictive of decoding skills. 

There is no question that all of these various phonological awareness skills—awareness of the sound separation between words, the ability to separate syllables within words, the ability to segment onsets (first sounds) from rimes (b/ig), the ability to rhyme, the ability to segment or blend phonemes are all correlated with each other. But it is the segmenting and blending of phonemes that has functional value in reading.

I would not put a lot of emphasis on the teaching of rhyme. It sounds to me like your teachers are approaching this appropriately and the policy is, perhaps unintentionally, steering them in the wrong direction.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Why Does He Want to Hurt Kindergartners?

Two groups that are strong advocates in early childhood education (Defending the Early Years and the Alliance for Childhood), released a report called Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose (see They claim there is no research base for the importance of learning to read in kindergarten (so that its inclusion in the Common Core as a goal for K is potentially harmful).   

I think they are wrong about the research here, but wanted to seek out your reaction. Does research suggest that learning to read, especially as indicated in the Common Core, is associated with long-term positive or negative effects? 

Great question. This is one that I’ve been thinking about since I was 5-years-old (no, really). My mom asked my kindergarten teacher if she should do anything with me to help and the teacher discouraged any efforts in that regard. At the time, the “experts” believed that any early academic learning was damaging to children—to their academic futures and to their psyches.

When I became a first-grade teacher, we were still holding back on such teaching, at least during the first-semester of grade one. We didn't want to cause the mental disabilities, academic failure, and vision problems predicted by the anti-teaching types. 

These days we are doing a great job of protecting poverty children and minority children from this kind of damage. Of course, many of us middle-class white parents are risking our own kids. It is not uncommon these days for suburban kids to enter first-grade, and even kindergarten, knowing how to read. As I’ve written before, I taught both of my kids to read before they entered school.

There are not now, and there never have been data showing any damage to kids from early language or literacy learning—despite the overheated claims of the G. Stanley Halls, Arnold Gessells, Hans Furths and David Elkinds (and many others).

Let me first admit that if you seek studies that randomly assign kids either to kindergarten literacy instruction and no kindergarten literacy instruction and then follow those kids through high school or something… there are no such studies and I very much doubt that there will be. Given how strong the evidence is on the immediate benefits of early literacy instruction I don’t think a scholar could get ethics board approval to conduct such a study.

That it wouldn’t be ethical to withhold such teaching for research purposes should give pause. If it isn’t ethical to do it for research, should it be ethical to do so for philosophical reasons? Yikes.

What we do have is a lot of data showing that literacy instruction improves the literacy skills of the kids who receive that instruction in preschool and kindergarten, and another body of research showing that early literacy skills predict later reading and academic achievement (and, of course, there is another literature showing the connections between academic success and later economic success). There are studies showing that the most literate kids are the ones who are emotionally strongest and there is even research on Head Start programs showing that as we have improved the early literacy skills in those programs, emotional abilities have improved as well.

And, as for the claim that early teaching makes no difference, I wonder why our fourth-graders are performing at the highest levels ever according to NAEP?

The studies showing the immediate benefits to literacy and language functioning from kindergarten instruction are summarized in the National Early Literacy Panel Report which is available on line.

And here are some of studies showing the long-term benefits of early literacy achvievement:

Early reading performance is predictive of later school success (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997; Duncan, Dowsett, Claessens, Magnuson, et al., 2007; Juel, 1988; Snow, Tabors, & Dickinson, 2001; Smart, Prior, Sansor, & Oberkind, 2005). This means that young children’s reading performances tend to be pretty stable: kindergarten literacy development is predictive of 1stgrade performance; 1st grade predicts achievement in various upper grades and the performance at each of these levels is predictive of later levels.

If a youngster is behind in reading in grade 3, then he/she would likely still be behind in high school, which can have a serious and deleterious impact on content learning (science, history, literature, math), high school graduation rates, and economic viability (the students’ college and career readiness). 

The research seems clear to me: teach kids reading early and then build on those early reading skills as they progress through school. Don’t expect early skills alone to transfer to higher later skills; you have to teach students more literacy as they move up the grades (something that has not always happened).

Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E., (1997). Early reading acquisition and the relation to reading experience and ability ten years later. Developmental Psychology, 33, 934-945.
Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., et al. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1428-1446.
Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 437-447.
Smart, D., Prior, M., Sansor, A., & Oberkind, F. (2005). Children with reading difficulties: A six year follow-up from early primary to secondary school. Australia Journal of Learning Difficulties, 10, 63-75.

Snow, C. E., Tabors, P. O., & Dickinson, D. K. (2001). Language development in the preschool years. In D. K. Dickinson & P. O. Tabors (Eds.), Beginning literacy with language: Young children learning at home and school (pp. 1–26). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. (preschool literacy and language predicts 7th grade performance)

Monday, October 22, 2012

More New Resources: Early Childhood Literacy

Recently, Chris Lonigan and I edited a follow-up book to the National Early Literacy Panel report. This book deals with literacy in the preschool and kindergarten years. It both summarizes the NELP report, but it also critiques it and extends it with new information. Click here for more information.

We also published a brief related article on oral language and early childhood literacy in Language Magazine. Here is that link:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Early Literacy Questions and Answers

Last week I did a webinar in which I shared the results of the National Early Literacy Panel (NELP), which reviewed research on literacy development and instruction with preschoolers and kindergarten (there is a link to the report in the right hand margin of my site).

I was asked if I would answer questions mailed in by the audience. I agreed, and below have included my answers. Thought they might be interesting to a larger audience, so here they are:

1. In our preschool classrooms, what are the top 5 techniques we should being using?

Staying very close to the findings I would say: (a) definitely teach the alphabetic code; that means working with phonological awareness, letter names, and letter sounds (such teaching was found to be beneficial with kids in this age group and the teaching seemed to have long-lasting value); (b) also, it is a good idea to read books to children daily and to talk to them about what you are reading (ask them questions about it, explain the vocabulary, listen to their ideas, make connections to what they know)--reading to children in this way helps build their language; (c) involve children in writing (pretend writing, writing their names, dictating words/stories/ideas to you); (d) build the children’s language (use interesting and complex language yourself, engage children in activities that raise ideas and that give the opportunity for using language (e.g., cooking, measuring, science activities, arts and crafts), don’t accept vague or weak language from the children, but elaborate on it and get them to speak in complete thoughts, using the right words; and (e) get moms and dads helping in the process, they can help with many of the items above.

2. Is there a literacy readiness test that is highly correlated with actual readiness that you can recommend?

Get Ready to Read! which is made available by the National Center for Learning Disabilities is a good predictor and its design is consistent with the research findings on early literacy.

3. Did the survey find any longitudinal studies of very early decoding? What I have in mind is children who learn to decode at age two, say--how do they do later on?

No, and there are very few studies of younger children (none of 2 year olds, and only a handful with 3 year olds). Generally, we found that the children younger than 5 (meaning the 3s and 4s) who did well with decoding, also did well with later reading (both decoding and comprehension). It is clearly valuable to get them started early, but no info on the 2s.

4. Does RAN (rapid naming) correlate to the use of flash cards? Are you recommending flash cards, and if so, at what age levels? What is your opinion about using flash cards with very young children?

I know of no studies connecting RAN to flash card use, and I do not believe that the evidence in any way suggests that you should even try to teach RAN. (Flash cards with words or pictures or letters are okay to use with young children at any age, BUT if you spend a couple of hours a day engaged in the types of activities noted in item 1 above, proportionally it would make sense to work with flashcards only for a few minutes of that time (in other words, it wouldn’t even get 5% of your literacy time). Flashcards can be a useful tool for memorization (I use them myself when I am trying to learn this kind of information), but their use has to be lively, quick, and brief to have much value.

5. What are the most important early childhood teaching implications for this research?

That you can provide young children with supports for their literacy learning from the very beginning. I vividly remember when “experts” (without data) were claiming that either young children would not be ready to benefit from such teaching or that such teaching would do harm. What the research overwhelmingly shows is that young children clearly benefit from such teaching and the benefits can be long lasting (if the schools build on these children’s early learning). A second important idea is that there is not one thing that has to be done (different activities had different outcomes and young readers need support in various literacy-related outcomes to be successful).

6. What are the teaching implications for older students who may not have these pre-requisite skills to be able to use reading for learning? grades 4-8?

There were no implications for those kids at all from this analysis. However, the National Reading Panel (NRP) looked at such issues (there is a link to that report on the right as well) and they found that teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, and oral reading fluency to struggling readers in those age ranges resulted in improvement. However, in all cases, the NRP concluded that such learning was slower and more difficult (so definitely try to accomplish it early) and some of this teaching (such as phonics) didn’t have the same impact on other aspects of reading that it did when children were younger (again, it is critical that these skills get accomplished as early as possible, but when that has not happened it is important to try to build that foundation later on--though that effort will likely be difficult).

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Just Got Back from Ireland

I just spent a week with my friends in Ireland; this time in the Ballymun section of Dublin. The folks at youngballymun are trying to raise literacy levels in an economically challenged part of the city. This was an area where they built U.S. style high-rise housing for the poor, and like in the U.S., it proved to be disastrous. Now they are tearing those eyesores down (but demolition has slowed or stopped due to the current economic crisis in Ireland), and trying to revitalize the neighborhood.

Well, anyway, youngballymun is working with the schools and community groups (afterschool progams, etc.), to try to improve things for the kids there, and to me it looks like they are making progress, getting buy in, and moving forward in some good ways. It was fun to be part of it. Also, a healthy reminder for me about the face of low literacy. It is easy in the states to think of folks with literacy limitations as being minority or severely disadvantaged (since those groups suffer inordinately here, especially in big cities). And yet in Ireland those who are low in literacy look like me and my kids. Of course, there are plenty of people who struggle in the states who look like me and my kids too, but even though there are great numbers of them, they are somewhat hidden in plain sight. Literacy is not an just issue for someone else or somewhere else.

While I was in Ireland I met with many government officials who are trying to figure out policies, and was covered by the Irish Times and "Drivetime," the big radio show there. I also found some time to speak at the Reading Association of Ireland, about the reading of second-language learners (yes, Ireland, like the rest of the western world is experiencing immigration). As promised, here is a copy of the speech that I presented there.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Applying Research to the Teaching of Reading: Here is a Brief Update on the National Reading Panel Findings

Recently, I was asked to give a talk to Expanding the Reach schools in Arizona. Expanding the Reach (ETR) has been a federal effort to help schools to take Reading First style actions without receiving all of the Reading First style support and regulations.

I was to talk to them about the reading research as reviewed by the National Reading Panel (NRP). There is a problem with doing that, however. The NRP completed its work in 2000, and there have been two major federal panels since that time, the National Early Literacy Panel (that looked at preschool and kindergarten literacy) and the National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children and Youth (that looked at second-language literacy). There have also been a plethora of federal research reports and other research, such as the Reading First impact study. We want teachers to follow the research, but not just the research from a decade ago.

What I did is gave a fairly conventional talk in which I laid out the research findings in the five instructional areas where NRP had findings, but for each of them, I have added a what's new section. So, for example, I shared the studies from NRP that show that phonemic awareness instruction matters, but I then noted that NELP had found a payoff for phonological awareness for younger kids (that is, that it is important to start out with larger sound units than phonemes to get the ball rolling). Or, I explained the NRP phonics findings, but supplemented those with the findings showing that English learners sometimes bring adequate phonics to English (e.g., if they can already read Spanish), and that phonics instruction has a smaller effect size with second language kids (meaning that just raising their phonics won't have as big a payoff for these kids). I showed the comprehension findings from NRP, but pointed out that Reading First had little impact on either the teaching of comprehension or comprehension achievement.

I thought it was a useful way to go, and the audience responded positively, so here is a copy of the powerpoint for your use. It is a nifty summary of the NRP, with some useful updates.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

National Early Literacy Panel Report

The National Early Literacy Panel (NELP) was convened in 2002 to conduct a synthesis of the scientific research on the development of early literacy skills in children ages zero to five. The objective for convening the NELP was to identify interventions and practices that promote positive outcomes in literacy for preschool children.

The National Institute for Literacy (Institute) acted as the lead agency in this project, in consultation with cooperating agencies from the Partnership for Reading. The National Center for Family Literacy, working closely with the Institute, coordinated NELP's work in the completion of the synthesis.

The panel's report, Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel, was released on January 8, 2009. Developing Early Literacy serves as the basis for several, research-based recommendations for parents and the early childhood community, including educators, caregivers, and Head Start providers on promoting the foundational skills of life-long literacy.

A copy of the full report can be downloaded from NELP

A powerpoint presentation of NELP:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Misinformation Marches On

The winter issue of The California Reader includes a spirited response by Glenn DeVoogd to an article that I published in that outlet this fall. Nothing wrong with differences of opinion, so I’ll not use this space to try to argue that I’m wrong and he’s right on those issues. However, I will address some egregious errors in his claims.

1. Glenn says the National Reading Panel (NRP) promoted “a more skills-based approach to reading rather than a meaning-based approach focusing on comprehension” (p. 5). In fact, NRP looked at 205 studies on the teaching of reading comprehension, all with reading comprehension as the outcome. NRP considered 45 studies on vocabulary teaching and 16 on oral reading fluency, all with comprehension outcomes. Even 18 of the 52 phonemic awareness studies and 35 of the 38 phonics studies focused on reading comprehension. Maybe the complaint isn’t that NRP failed to focus on comprehension outcomes, but that we dared to consider a broader set of outcomes (like spelling, fluency, and word recognition).

2. He also claims NRP “missed some well-designed studies supporting the use of” sustained silent reading (SSR), the Book Flood studies of Warwick Elley. NRP did not ignore those studies. It searched for them systematically as described in the report, examined them, and set them aside because they only included second-language learners (beyond NRP’s scope). We were concerned about differences between first- and second-language learners, and, we were not willing to generalize from one group to the other given that their learning situations are so different.

Later the National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children and Youth (NLP), a panel devoted to synthesizing research on second-language learners, examined the Elley studies. Glenn claims the Elley studies were well-designed, but the NLP scientists were troubled by lack of either random assignment or any kind of pretesting. The supposed “gains” from Book Flood may have been pre-existing differences. One book flood study had a sounder design and a positive result, and it was included in NLP. A provocative pattern emerged from that analysis. Three studies, including book flood, showed positive benefits for encouraging reading and three did not. The three that did had second-language learners reading independently in English, and the three negatives had the kids reading in their home languages. The English learners in the positive studies were very isolated from English and had little opportunity to hear it, see it, or use it beyond their school lessons, and this might have been why this treatment was successful. It’s funny that having kids read in their home language had no impact on their reading skills, sort of like the SSR studies with native English speakers.

3. Glenn repeats the incorrect claim that the NRP set aside studies of SSR that did not include oral reading fluency outcomes. That is not the case. That was claimed many years ago by Jim Cunningham whose critique was rife with that kind of misinformation. Glenn apparently believed the critic, but failed to check this out himself. Nope, NRP did not miss some big group of SSR studies that focused on comprehension. Didn’t happen. Those studies were ALL included.

4. Glenn confuses the effects of independent reading with the effectiveness of the methods used to get kids to read more. That is a huge interpretive problem. That reading CAN have positive effects is not proof that particular ways of encouraging kids to read more will be effective (maybe not all approaches for encouraging kids to read work). I remember when Newt Gingrich set up a program to pay kids to read during the summer. Lots of school people set up a howl that claimed paying kids to read would be ineffective. The assumption behind such complaints is that the Gingrich approach is a bad one, not that reading is bad for kids. The fact that SSR has almost no impact on kids learning (average effect sizes are a negligible .05 to .10) should bother people who want to encourage kids to read, since if it doesn’t work, something else should be tried. (Since NRP various researchers, such as James Kim, have been conducting studies where they try to get a learning effect from encouraging reading. They are having a heck of a time of it, because it turns out it is not that easy to get kids to increase their reading enough to make a difference, but we are certainly learning important things from their efforts—more than we are from the folks who are clinging to the failed SSR methodology).

5. Glenn attributed causality to studies that show a correlation between amount of reading and reading quality. Doing that opens the door to lots of quack remedies to reading problems like eye movement training, learning styles, balance beam exercises, etc.—all of which claim effectiveness on the basis of such correlations. A bigger problem with correlations is the fact that the relationship between two variables can be due to their relationship with an intervening variable. I’m surprised those who push these correlations as evidence don’t bother to control for the effects of parent’s socioeconomic status. When you do that, the correlation between amount of reading and reading ability drops dramatically. Kids whose parents have high incomes and high education read more than kids who don’t. (Shhh! Don’t tell the teachers: they might not use SSR if they knew that was the evidence on which it was based).

Glenn expresses concern that teachers have stopped using SSR because of the NRP finding that it had insufficient evidence showing it works. He apparently thinks it is bad that teachers have dropped this ineffective approach. Interestingly, Glenn suggests some ways to improve SSR—and all of his recommendations make it more like instruction, very different from the SSR designs recommended in textbooks or evaluated by research or that one commonly sees practiced in actual classrooms (but more like the reading comprehension interventions that have been found to be so effective). That’s good advice in my opinion, but it makes me wonder why such a smart man is insistent that teachers continue to use such problematic approaches instead of pushing hard for alternative procedures like the ones he notes.

6. Another area I talked of in my article was the findings being reported for studies of reading to children. It turns out that almost none of those studies have reading outcomes, and that the oral language measure used to evaluate the effectiveness of these procedures (simple receptive vocabulary) has a very low relationship with later reading achievement. Glenn’s response is that reading to children has been shown to have a close connection to pre-reading skills… in other words, he takes a “skills-based approach to reading rather than a meaning-based approach focused on comprehension.” Wow that is a very different standard than the one he had a page or two earlier for the NRP. It is those inconsistencies that undermine his arguments: he wants to be able to cherry-pick the evidence that supports his case, no matter what measures were used or how badly the studies were executed, and he wants to be able to ignore the evidence that doesn’t fit with what he wants teachers to do.

Ultimately, that’s why these large public syntheses of research studies by scientists are so important. They are an antidote to the priesthood of professors who claim to be the ones who know best what needs to be done in schools, even as they obscure their claims in mysterious evidentiary standards and inconsistent logic.