Sunday, August 1, 2021

Helping teachers help 3rd graders read


How important is it that young children learn how to read? The question itself seems rhetorical, second-nature, even pointless.

Percent of 3rd graders below proficient in reading who fail to graduate by age 19
Source: Annie E Casey Foundation, Double Jeopardy report, Jan 1, 2012

But according to a 2012 report from the Baltimore-based Annie E Casey Foundation, about 16 percent of students who can’t read on grade level by third grade fail to graduate by age 19, compared with 4 percent of their peers who fail to graduate on time and are able to read proficiently by third grade.

Furthermore, when a child’s poor reading ability is compounded by life in a high-poverty neighborhood or in a poor family, the chances of that child graduating high school on time go way down.

Promoting early-childhood literacy through teacher training

About a third of Houston public school third graders failed the state reading test last year. This caused the district to launch a new literacy plan last summer, Laura Isensee of Houston Public Media reports.

In workshops, teachers act like students, experiencing the same learning process students would go through on the receiving end of the instructional techniques teachers are now learning. The program has many prongs, since “Literacy is hard work. It takes time, and it takes resources,” HISD Superintendent Terry B Grier said about the new “Literacy by 3” initiative.

Teachers at the workshop were working on a practice known as “read aloud,” where the facilitator asks questions about a book’s cover, just to get the “students” thinking about what the text might tell them, before she reads it aloud.

“When I look at the cover I see a big cloud, and then I see those animals on the bottom. I wonder why those animals are right there … What do y’all think?” the article quoted trainer Tina Goss as saying in front of her “class.”

Throughout HISD, teachers are also being encouraged to incorporate real-world literacy projects into the curriculum, such as having students collaborate to produce authentic content, like a letter to an elected official.

“It’s not just a single plan or a campaign that we hope to launch,” chief communications officer Tiffany Dávila said on the district’s website. “HISD is building a holistic movement toward reading at all ages, and it begins with each of us showing children—through our actions—why reading is important.”

What the market has to offer

One possible resource schools may use is the Lexia Reading Core5 program. A recent study, reported by the company and received in a press release, showed that “75 percent of high-risk students who began the 2013–2014 year working on reading skills at least two grade levels behind gained two or more grade levels of reading skills in Core5 by the end of the school year.”

The research report, however, was not available without registration, and so we cannot vouch for its quality or accuracy.

However, there are certainly other products on the market, many of which make their research available to the public. And sometimes, there’s just no good replacement for well trained teachers, because this is no easy task, given the complexity of teaching a child to read properly.

“For almost 40 percent of kids, learning to read is a challenge,” writes Reading, a 10-year-old project launched under WETA-TV, public television for Washington, D.C. “So in addition to talking, reading, and writing with their child, families play another important role—being on the lookout for early signs of possible trouble.”

Write a letter (of complaint or admiration) to a company you’ve done business with. See Common Core writing standard W.11-12.4 for more information.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.


  1. A blog post by Alfie Kohn appeared in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog by Valerie Strauss. It’s entitled “Seven ways schools kill the love of reading in kids — and 4 principles to help restore it,” and it’s a must-read for teachers, parents, and anyone interested in the issue of childhood literacy.

    “The piece first appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of English Journal, but it remains as true today as it did then,” Ms Strauss wrote, “perhaps even more so with the advent of the Common Core State Standards.”

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