December 20, 2007
I often receive letters from parents or teachers who have instructional concerns in reading. This week I received the follow plaint from a concerned mother:
Dear Dr. Shanahan,
I have a son who had a hard time in Kindergarten and 1st grade. He didn't know his alphabet when he left Kindergarten he went to summer school for 6 weeks in the summer. When he started 1st grade this year he only knew a few of his letters and numbers. In the past few months with extra help from his teachers, at home, I hired a private tutor and bought a computer online program Head Sprout he now knows all of his letters and their sounds so, he now can put words together to read. The School wants to start Reading Recovery with him. He is a level 3. I guess the rest of the class is at a level 10. Will that reading program benefit him? Is there more I can do at home? I am very concerned about my son I want to do whatever I can to help him.
Here was my response:
Dear Concerned Mother:
No program with any integrity can guarantee educational success. However, Reading Recovery is a good approach that has helped many children, and so there is a real possibility that it could help. A colleague and I published a critical analysis of the research on Reading Recovery (Shanahan, T., & Barr, R. (1995). Reading Recovery: An independent evaluation of the effects of an early instructional intervention for at-risk learners. Reading Research Quarterly, 30, 958-997). In that review, we determined that Reading Recovery was effective—though perhaps not as helpful as it proponents sometimes claim. There is a more recent analysis of some of the Reading Recovery research on the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/reports/beginning_reading/reading_recovery/. They, too, concluded that Reading Recovery can help.
So, given that research, if I were in your place, I would not hesitate to have my child placed in Reading Recovery. However, let me add a caveat to that. Although Reading Recovery is meant to be individually tailored to a child’s needs, there still has been a tendency for it to ignore phonics instruction or to downplay such instruction. This is unfortunate because perhaps 85% of children who are struggling with reading at this age level will have decoding problems. One study has even shown that adding a more direct version of phonics instruction to Reading Recovery can speed children’s learning gains (Iverson & Tunmer, 1993). So, I would not hesitate as a parent to approve a Reading Recovery placement, but I would hedge my bets by giving some additional phonics help at home (there are also research studies indicating faster Reading Recovery progress when parents provide additional help).
I don’t know the program that you mentioned and it might be a good one for continued work in this area. There are some others that I think highly of and that I suspect you could make work at home, too. One is something called Leap Frog Phonic System http://www.amazon.com/LeapFrog-Learn-Complete-Phonics-System/dp/B000PDY7KG and the other is Earobics http://www.earobics.com/. Both of these are computer based and are designed for youngster’s your child’s age. They are both well-designed and should support sound continued decoding progress for the next year or two. If you do purchase something like that (or if the program you have purchased has lessons that will take your child through the vowel variations, etc.), I would suggest that you work with him on it, rather than just shunting him off to the computer. Better progress is almost sure to result.
There is a book that you might want to read: (Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz http://www.amazon.com/Overcoming-Dyslexia-Complete-Science-Based-Problems/dp/0375400125. It can be of some assistance to you as well.
One final caveat about Reading Recovery. Although it has been successful, it (like any other program) cannot ensure your son’s long term success. In other words, even if the above regimen catches him up this year, you will need to continue to be vigilant during coming years, making sure that sufficient attention is given to his reading so that he continues to succeed (reading problems are rarely “fixed” in that sense). Once he can really read stories and books, it would be helpful for you to listen to his reading and to guide his practice in rereading until he can do a really good job with a text.
Learning problems are rarely "cured," but they can often be overcome. Good luck to you.