The Education Week Research Center surveyed approximately 670 K-2 and special education teachers and 530 education professors who teach reading courses. The findings — among the first to look at teacher and teacher-educator knowledge and practices in early reading across the country — tell an illuminating story about what’s happening in classrooms, including what teachers do and don’t know about reading and where they learned it.
The study, called Getting Reading Right, explores the challenges teachers face in bringing cognitive science to the classroom. Liana Loewus, an assistant managing editor for Education Week, reported the study was timely, given that recent scores on the nation’s report card show that just 35% of fourth graders are proficient readers — and that the gap between low and high performers has grown.
The survey showed that 75% of teachers working with early readers teach three-cueing, an approach that tells students to take a guess when they come to a word they don’t know by using context, pictures and other clues, with only some attention to the letters.
Similarly, more than a quarter of teachers said they tell emerging readers that the first thing they should do when they come to a word they don’t know while reading is look at the pictures — even before they try to sound it out. And yet, as the research primer in this report details, those techniques are not backed by science. They’re methods employed by struggling readers; proficient readers attend to the letters.
The survey revealed teacher confusion between phonemic awareness and letter/sound correspondence. Only about half knew that students can demonstrate phonemic awareness by
segmenting individual sounds in a word orally.
Likewise, teachers were asked about their philosophy of teaching early reading. Sixty-eight percent said “balanced literacy,” while 22% chose “explicit, systematic phonics (with comprehension as a separate focus).” Balanced literacy has no single definition, though there is agreement among most balanced literacy advocates that comprehension and immersion in authentic texts are key.
Predominant thinking suggests that, yes, students need some phonics, but not too much or they will become disengaged. And yet, many studies over many decades have shown that systematic, explicit phonics is the most effective method for teaching early readers. And a much-validated framework, known as the Simple View of Reading, says that reading comprehension is reliant on both decoding and language skills. A student cannot understand a text that he or she cannot accurately decode.