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Words, words, words...

There are several recognized methods of teaching children to read.  Those who favour any one particular method will find plenty of evidence which demonstrates that their own preference is best, and which does down the other methods.  Real-book enthusiasts have no time for phonics fanatics, developmental reading devotees shun look-and-say supporters.

Can everyone be right?  Certainly, there is much research which suggests that the teaching method does not matter overmuch, that it is the enthusiasm and example and dedication of the teacher which makes the difference.

And there is much evidence to suggest that the best results come when the child learns a variety of reading skills.  After all, children learn to read in different ways.  They use different techniques to work out what new words mean and how to say them.  So they need practice in shape recognition and in phonics, in thinking about similar words, in thinking about context.  Some children may take more readily to particular methods, but they do need a grounding in each.  In our daily reading as adults, we all use various methods to varying degreees.

Becoming a nation of readers puts it this way:   "Based on what we now know, it is incorrect to suppose that there is a simple or single step which, if taken correctly, will immediately allow a child to read.  Becoming a skilled reader is a journey that involves many steps.  Similarly, it is unrealistic to anticipate that some one critical feature of instruction will be discovered which, if in place, will assure rapid progress in reading.  Quality instruction involves many elements.  Strengthening any one element yields small gains.  For large gains, many elements must be in place." (1)

Reading is important.  It is a vital survival skill.  Reading, and of course writing, is the basis of learning.  Until recently, it was the main method by which people far apart could talk to each other, across the miles or across the years.  Even today, reading has advantages not shared by telecommunications or computer technology.  And when you think about the vast amount of information, written information, that computer technology makes possible, the ability to read becomes ever more important.

In a fast-changing world, where what is learned at school may be out-of-date by the time the child reaches university, ability to learn is all-important.  We owe it to our children to give them the gift of reading, for without it learning becomes difficult indeed.

Research on the teaching of reading may yield conflicting results.  But there is much research in aspects of reading which consistently yields similar results.  There is evidence to show that readers become readers by reading;  there is evidence which shows that reading assists in language development, both first and later languages;  it shows that readers learn better and learn faster than non-readers and poor readers.

There is near unanimity about four of the elements which go towards making lifelong readers.  Study after study lays stress on

I intend to explore each of these factors in turn in the coming months.  In the meantime, you might care to ponder these statements:

"'If we would get our parents to read to their preschool children fifteen minutes a day, we could revolutionize the schools." (2)

"Reading as a leisure activity is the best predictor of comprehension, vocabulary, and reading speed."  (3)

"Reading is, among other things, a skill, and like all skills, the more you use it the better you become at it.  Conversely, the less reading you do, the more difficult it is."  (4)

"Children read more when they see other people reading." (5)

"Those who read in a second language write and spell better in that language."  (6)

"Children don't just come to first grade and suddenly learn to read.  There is a great deal of activity that must occur prior to formal schooling in order for children to become good readers." (7)

The views expressed here are my own.
They are not neccessarily the views of the school, nor of individual teachers within the school.


(1) Becoming a nation of readers : the report of the commission on reading,  (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education, 1985),  p.4.
(2) Superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, 1981, quoted in: Rebecca Puskas, Parents who read help their children succeed,  The School Librarians' Workshop, June 1992, p.9.
(3) Stephen Krashen, The power of reading : insights from the research, (Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 1993), p.5.
(4) Jim Trelease, The read-aloud handbook,  (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), p.115.
(5) Krashen, p.42.
(6) Krashen, p.7.
(7) Barbara N. Kupetz,  A shared responsibilty : nurturing literacy in the very young,  School Library Journal, July 1993, p.28.


Written and copyright John Royce 1995.

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John Royce, BA, MLib, ALA
Library Director, Robert College
Arnavutköy, TR-80820 Istanbul, Turkey.

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It was last revised on 5 January 2001.