Why do so many children and adults struggle as readers?
There is of course no one reason why so many children and adults struggle as readers. Innate learning ability, home environment and parental involvement, quality of schools attended, etc., are all factors which play a profound role in determining how well a person learns to read.
However, according to research conducted by the U.S. National Institutes for Child Health and Development, there is one overriding reason above all others that is the root cause of the unacceptably high percentage of individuals who struggle as readers. These individuals have not been taught scientifically-based reading instruction with a comprehensive and systematic phonics component. According to their findings, struggling readers have difficulty identifying, discriminating, and isolating sounds—foundational skills for fluent reading.
In order to remedy this lack of phonics knowledge among young struggling readers, the following remedies are suggested.
- Elementary classrooms must incorporate certain research-based practices, including:
- Early identification of children at risk of reading failure;
- Daily training in linguistic and oral skills to build awareness of speech sounds or phonemes;
- Explicit instruction in letter sounds, syllables, and words accompanied by explicit instruction in spelling;
- Teaching phonics in the sequence that research has found leads to the least amount of confusion, rather than teaching it in a scattered fashion and only when children encounter difficulty;
- Practicing skills to the point of “automaticity” so that children do not have to think about sounding out a word when they need to focus on meaning;
- Concurrently with all of the above building comprehension skills and vocabulary knowledge through reading aloud, discussing, and writing about quality children’s literature and nonfiction topics;
- Frequent assessment and instructional adjustments to make sure children are progressing. What Education Schools Aren’t Teaching about Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren’t Learning (National Council on Teacher Quality 2006)
Researchers have determined that if students were exposed to systematic phonics instruction in the early grades, the current percentage of the population that struggle in reading would drop from approximately 30 percent to well under 10 percent. A study published by the U.S. Department of Education, Preventing Reading Failure: The Myths of Reading Instruction, found that 90 percent of remedial reading students today are not able to decode fluently, accurately, and at an automatic level of response.
Research has determined that approximately 60% of children learn to read regardless of what method is used to teach them. For these children, it does not really matter what reading curricula or teachers they encounter, they will learn how to read. But approximately 40% of children struggle with beginning reading instruction. For these 40% of children, the path to literacy is much more difficult and the outcome far more uncertain. In the case of these children, it is absolutely vital that they be taught with a science-based reading curriculum and that their first teachers be competently trained in research-based methods of instruction. By routinely applying the lessons learned from the scientific findings in reading research to the classroom, their reading failure is now considered largely avoidable. It is estimated that the current failure rate of 20 to 30 percent could be reduced to the range of 2 to 10 percent.
(US Department of Education’s report The Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2005.)
So in short the answer to the question as to why such a high percentage of our population struggle as readers is that they struggle because they were never taught systematic phonics as young children or at any other age for that matter.