Teaching At-Risk & Struggling Children to Learn to Read

EXPLANATIONS and CITATIONS for the True-False Quiz about Reading


1. It is false that all children can learn to read by being read to and by reading good literature.

“However, many children with robust oral language experience, average to above average intelligence, and frequent early interactions with literacy activities also have difficulties learning to read. Why? Programmatic longitudinal research, including research supported by NICHD, clearly indicates that deficits in the development of phoneme awareness skills not only predict difficulties learning to read, but they also have a negative effect on reading acquisition. Whereas phoneme awareness is necessary for adequate reading development, it is not sufficient. Children must also develop phonics concepts and apply these skills fluently in text…

“…Children must also acquire fluency and automaticity in decoding and word recognition. Consider that a reader has only so much attention and memory capacity. If beginning readers read the words in a laborious, inefficient manner, they cannot remember what they read, much less relate the ideas to their background knowledge. Thus, the ultimate goal of reading instruction—for children to understand and enjoy what they read—will not be achieved…

“Reading research by NICHD and others reveals that “making meaning” requires more than phoneme awareness, phonics, and reading fluency, although these are necessary skills. Good comprehenders link the ideas presented in print to their own experiences. They have also developed the necessary vocabulary to make sense of the content being read. Good comprehenders have a knack for summarizing, predicting, and clarifying what they have read, and many are adept at asking themselves guide questions to enhance understanding.”

Reid Lyon, Ph.D., “Why Reading Is Not a Natural Process,” Educational Leadership, (March 1998): 14-18

2. It is false that that learning to read is a natural process.

Programmatic research over the past 35 years has not supported the view that reading development reflects a natural process—that children learn to read as they learn to speak, through natural exposure to a literate environment.”

Reid Lyon, Ph.D., “Why Reading Is Not a Natural Process,” Educational Leadership, (March 1998): 14-18

3.  It is false that good preschool and K literacy experiences guarantee a child will learn to read proficiently.

“…many children with robust oral language experience, average to above average intelligence, and frequent early interactions with literacy activities also have difficulty learning to read. Why? …deficits in the development of phonemic awareness skills not only predict difficulties in learning to read, but they also have a negative effect on reading acquisition.”

Reid Lyon, Ph.D., “Why Reading Is Not a Natural Process,” Educational Leadership, (March 1998): 14-18


 4.  It is false that a good reading strategy for determining a word is to look at the first letter, say the sound, and think of a word that begins with the same sound that might make sense.

“…less-skilled readers depend on context for word-recognition. The word recognition processes of skilled readers are so automatic that they do not need to rely on context (Stanovich et al. 1981). Good readers employ context to aid overall comprehension, but not as an aid in the recognition of unfamiliar words. Whether we like it or not, an alphabetic cipher must be deciphered, and this requires robust decoding skills…To guess the pronunciation of words from context, the context must predict the words. But content words—the most important words for text comprehension—can be predicted from surrounding context only 10 to 20 percent of the time (Gough et al. 1981).”

Reid Lyon, Ph.D., “Why Reading Is Not a Natural Process.” Educational Leadership, (March 1998): 14-18


 5.  It is false that struggling readers should not be required to decode nonsense words or


“Nonsense word fluency measures a student’s ability to decode individual phonemes and then blend them together to read. They’re an indicator of a student’s progress in acquiring early alphabetic principle skills. By using nonsense words, we can find out whether a child knows the most common sound for letters (lettersound correspondence), and whether a child can blend the sounds to read words he has never seen before.”

Meier, Joanne, Ed.D., “Nonsense As In Nonsense.” Sound It Out Blog #20451, posted on Reading Rockets.


 6. It is false that teaching phonics to children will destroy their love of literature.

“Does phonics instruction get in the way of reading comprehension? Quite the opposite is true. Because systematic phonics instruction helps children learn to identify words, it increases their ability to comprehend what they read. Reading words accurately and automatically enables children to focus on the meaning of text. The research is quite convincing in showing that phonics instruction contributes to comprehension skills rather than inhibiting them.”

“Phonics in Practice” from the First-Year Teacher Self-Study Course adapted from Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read, K – Grade 3, posted on-line at Reading Rockets.


7.  It is false that all children who fall behind their peers in reading will eventually catch up.

“Three longitudinal studies (Juel, 1988; Francis et al., 1996; Shaywitz et al., 1999) have put the weight of research squarely behind the skill deficit theory and against the developmental lag theory. Each study tracked the reading development of children beginning in first grade…In the simplest terms, these studies ask: Do struggling readers catch up? The data from the studies are clear: Late bloomers are rare; skill deficits are almost always what prevent children from blooming as readers. This research may be counter-intuitive to elementary teachers who have seen late-bloomers in their own classes or heard about them from colleagues. But statistically speaking, such students are rare. (Actually, as we’ll see, there is nearly a 90 percent chance that a poor reader in first grade will remain a poor reader.)”

Editors with thanks to Louisa Moats, Ed.D. “Waiting Rarely Works: Late Bloomers Usually Just Wilt.” American Educator (Fall 2004)

“One of the most compelling findings from recent reading research is that children who get off to a poor start in reading rarely catch up. As several studies have now documented, the poor first-grade reader almost invariably continues to be a poor reader (Francis, Shaywitz, Stuebing, Shaywitz, & Fletcher, 1996; Torgesen & Burgess, 1998).”

Torgesen, Joseph K., Ph.D. “Catch Them Before They Fall: Identification and Assessment to Prevent Reading Failure in Young Children.” American Educator (Spring/Summer 1998)

 8.  It is true many children and adults, regardless of intelligence, require direct,

   systematic instruction in the foundational skills of reading.

“Substantial evidence shows that many children in the 1st and 2nd grades and beyond will require explicit instruction to develop the necessary phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling and reading comprehension skills. But for these children, this will not be sufficient. For youngsters having difficulty learning to read, each of the foundational skills should be taught and integrated into textual reading formats to ensure sufficient levels of fluency, automaticity, and understanding.”

Reid Lyon, Ph.D., “Why Reading Is Not a Natural Process,” Educational Leadership, (March 1998): 14-18


“..for others (adult readers), the problem is more basic. Reading skill deficits affect performance on nearly every part of the GED test battery, because they are written tests. Learners with reading problems must address them before they can hope to meet their goals.”

McShane, Susan. Applying Research in Reading Instruction for Adults: First Steps for Teachers. National Institute of Health, 2005.


Decoding: Adults with weak decoding skills need explicit and systematic phonics instruction.”

Kruidenier, John, Ed.D. Research-Based Principles for Adult Education Reading Instruction. National Institute of Health. 2000.

9. It is true that children with good visual memories can memorize enough words

to appear to be reading, sometimes until the third grade.

“Some children can memorize a sufficient number of words in the early grades to appear to be reading, but this strategy for learning new words is maladaptive.  Children memorize a word that is highly dependent upon context, and because most words share many visual features with many other words, children who attempt to memorize words as wholes tend to confuse words.  Moreover, there is a limit as to how many words children can memorize—while most competent readers have a reading vocabulary of around 50,000 words, children who memorize words as wholes are only capable of learning a maximum of about 5,000 words in isolation. In order to become competent readers with reading vocabularies in the 50,000 to 75,000 range, children need to learn to decode words rather than simply memorize them.  Decoding words is much more generative and flexible and requires much less attention and memory.  Children who can decode words are able to break down new, unfamiliar words, and arrive at a phonological code that they can communicate with others (i.e. a child can sound out an unfamiliar word, and, if necessary, ask others what that word means).”

Wren, Christopher, Ph.D., “Sight Word Reading,” published on-line at Balanced Literacy.


10. It is true that we can teach all but approximately 2-5% of children to learn to read.

“Thanks to new scientific research—plus a long-awaited scientific and political consensus around this research—the knowledge exists to teach all but a handful of severely disabled children to learn to read well. Although home factors do influence how well and how soon students read, informed classroom instruction that targets specific language and reading skills beginning in kindergarten enhances success for all but a few students with moderate or severe learning disabilities.”

Moats, Louisa, Ed.D. “Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science.” American Educator (June 1999)

“Scientists now estimate that 95 percent of all children can be taught to read at a level constrained only by their reasoning and listening comprehension abilities.”

Fletcher & Lyon, 1998, summarize intervention studies that have been successful in reducing reading failure to this level. Quoted in Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science.


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