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If They Don't Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?

  • Retired from the University of Tennessee
If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?
Richard L. Allington
To help children who have difficulty developing fluent reading ability, educators have
developed remedial and corrective reading classes and a host of training programs,
materials and techniques to use in them. However, even with these intervention
processes and strategies, many poor readers remain poor readers.
Research continues to explore the etiology of the disability and also focuses on
determining the effectiveness of the various intervention processes and strategies. While
investigations of both types are valuable, it may also be fruitful to explore other facets
of remedial and corrective instruction of reading.
It is particularly interesting to look at whether teachers have confused the means
of reading instruction with the end of fluent reading. For instance, a recent
informal survey which counted the number of words read in context by students during
the course of their lessons showed that during remedial and corrective reading
instruction, the students were doing very little reading.
(No claim is made that the sample was randomly selected, nor were rigidly constructed
instruments used to collect the data. Rather, several remedial reading sessions were
visited and served as unwitting participants, as did several classroom teachers who were
working with their poorest readers in small group instruction.) The remarkable result
was that the total number of words read in context by each individual was
surprisingly small and the range was likewise surprisingly narrow. No student read
more than 110 words in context and none read less than twenty-four. A mean of forty-
three words was read in context by each student.
It is not being suggested that either the students or the teachers were shirking their
duties. In fact, both the students and the teachers were busily engaged in a variety of
activities throughout the sessions observed. The point is that while a myriad of
instructional techniques and materials were employed, little reading was
Perhaps reading is not the focus of remedial and corrective instruction in
reading—in fact that is the logical conclusion based upon the above observations.
However, what seemed to be happening was that isolated skills instruction had
become the primary focus of these lessons.
The Case for Reading
It seems strange that an argument must be made for increased reading in
remedial and corrective reading instruction. However, the recent trend throughout
the educational system to depict learning as a hierarchical series of small steps has run
amuck. Learning, but particularly learning to read, has been presented in a variety of
skills-based formats, but it seems that the poorest readers receive the heaviest
doses of skills instruction. Skills instruction is not inherently bad but it is argued that
skills are not enough (Conklin, 1973; Allington, 1975a). In fact, when reading takes
a back seat to skills instruction, one has to ask the age old question about the cart
and the horse.
It should seem clear to anyone who examines the issue that reading is not
responding to flashcards, nor is it filling in blanks, marking vowel values, or responding
to graphemes presented in isolation. Reading ability is not necessarily facilitated by nor
does it necessarily require the ability to perform the above acts. To develop the ability
to read fluently requires the opportunity to read—a simple rule of thumb.
If, in a typical week of reading instruction, students only encounter 150 to 500
words in context one has to ask: How they ever gonna get good?
Steps Toward a Solution
A first step for the teacher concerned with developing better readers is to assess the
amount of reading in context required or presented, particularly in remedial or corrective
instruction. There can be no hard and fast rule for the minimum, ideal, or optimum
amount of reading which should be provided. However, if one wants to approach the
problem conservatively, a goal of perhaps 500 words a lesson per student might be a
starting point. Thus, if the student(s) read extremely slowly, this amount would result in
about twenty minutes of reading. Few students, though, consistently read at a rate of
2.5 seconds per word, or twenty-five words per minute. Poor readers often do function
at fifty words per minute in unfamiliar material, and using the 500-word minimum would
then take about ten minutes of the instructional session. Surprisingly few poor readers
remain at such slow rates when given the opportunity to practice reading in
context daily.
A second procedure is profoundly simple but often tremendously difficult to
implement. It is simply: Leave the reader alone. Do not interrupt with constant
admonitions to “sound it out” or “look at that word again.” This allows the reader to get
more read and at the same time forces the development of independent reading and
correction strategies necessary for effective reading.
Probably no other act is more difficult for the teacher of reading. There seems to
be a hereditary mechanism which is triggered when a student misreads, a mechanism
that can be suppressed only with much conscious effort. But suppressed it must be if
one wishes to develop readers who function effectively and independently.
The only query that may be useful is “Did that make sense?” and then only at the
end of a sentence or selection. Generally, readers are better off when left alone.
The teacher should simply collect data about the students’ reading habits. Without
interruption by the teacher, particularly mini-lessons in word analysis which disrupt the
flow of meaning, the reader can get on with the task at hand—reading.
Another procedure is to keep a chart of the number of words read in context per
session and also the number of words read per minute by the students. The first
attempts can serve as benchmarks for progress in both areas. The charts also serve as a
reminder that the goal of remedial and corrective reading instruction is developing
students who read.
If one accepts these procedures there is bound to be a shift in the emphasis of
remedial and corrective reading lessons. However, the teacher may wish to extend the
emphasis on reading in context. The following strategies can serve as a basis for
developing more fluent readers from those students whose achievement is lagging.
Teaching Strategies
The first strategy works particularly well in remedial sessions. It has been called the
“auditory impress” method (Fry, 1972), though that label seems a bit pretentious for a
simple read-along-together technique. A teacher, or fluent reader, and the student
simply read orally and in unison an identical passage. The teacher takes care to
read with a smooth but effective expression. Typically the student has pre-read the
passage silently, developing an awareness of context. A recent monograph (Daly,
Neville, and Pugh, 1975) reviews research and instructional practice that follow this
general strategy. It is not necessary that the teacher always read live; taped recordings
seem to work nearly as well though some of the rapport available in the personal
contact is lost. In any event, reading along, either orally or silently, is an effective
strategy for providing experience in reading in context, particularly for those students
who seem largely unable to function independently in this mode.
A second strategy is multiple readings of a material. Dahl (1974) reports using
this technique in an experimental setting with unexpectedly good results. Engleman and
others (1974) also suggest the multiple readings but place the focus on word
identification accuracy in a passage designed to present low contextual richness and
using words that are highly similar graphically. This heavy emphasis on word
identification accuracy can defeat the purpose and indeed negate the most
beneficial effects of the multiple readings strategy—increased fluency.
Consider, for a moment, the plight of poor readers. It seems they are never placed
in material which they can read fluently. Instead, more difficult material always
awaits each bit of progress. One effect then is that poor readers seldom have the
opportunity to develop traits associated with good reading, particularly fluent and rapid
oral reading. Poor readers continue to stumble along one word at a time, seldom
phrasing appropriately or using the word prediction skills (Smith, 1975) necessary for
fluent reading. Instead, poor readers identify one word at a time, which results in a
slow, choppy style.
The multiple readings strategy allows the poor reader the opportunity to break out
of this mold. By rereading a selection several times, the student begins to develop
fluency. Experience demonstrates that there is a carry-over effect to other reading in
addition to a variety of affective gains. One particularly effective demonstration of the
gain is to tape a first reading and then tape later readings for comparison.
The multiple readings strategy may remind us of the way many early readers
begin—mastering one story or book and then reading or rereading it to anyone
who will listen. Similarly, many poor readers who have been involved in the multiple
readings practice will attempt to corner anyone who will listen, from infant siblings to
janitors, or visitors to the classroom or clinic.
A final strategy was originally designed for whole school or classroom
application but when these large-scale implementations are not possible, it can be easily
adapted to small group or remedial situations. The Sustained Silent Reading approach
has had a number of advocates (Hunt, 1970; McCracken, 1971; Towner and Evans,
1975; Allington, 1975b) and has been applied in a variety of educational institutions.
Basically the technique is as simple as the others presented. Students are given a
regular fixed period of time to read self-selected material silently. The teacher,
who also reads, serves as a model, much as parents do for many early readers. Again
the underlying philosophy is that the best way to develop reading ability is to
provide abundant opportunity for experiencing reading.
Few can learn to do anything well without the opportunity to engage in
whatever is being learned. Too often the procedures commonly employed in remedial
and corrective reading instruction seem to mitigate against developing reading ability by
focusing more on the mastery of isolated skills with relatively little emphasis
on or instructional time devoted to reading in context. To become a proficient
reader one needs the opportunity to read. Adopting the procedures and strategies
suggested is a beginning step in shifting the emphasis of remedial and corrective
reading instruction from the means to the end.
Allington, R.L. (1977). If they don’t read much, how they ever gonna get good? Journal
of Reading [now Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy], 21, 57-61. Copyright ª International Reading Association.
All rights reserved.
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Hunt, L. “The Effect of Self-Selection, Interest, and Motivation upon Independent,
Instructional and Frustration Levels.” The Reading Teacher, vol. 24 (1970), pp. 146-51.
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(1971), pp. 521-24.
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... This includes both complextext exposure via teacher read-alouds or shared reading, and teacher-supported independent reading practice in leveled, high-interest texts (Duke, 2000;Miller & Moss, 2013;Reutzel et al., 2008;Topping et al., 2007). Correlational research spanning decades associates reading practice with long-term reading proficiency (Allington, 1977;Cipielewski & Stanovich, 1992;Donahue et al., 2001;Garan & DeVoogd, 2008;Samuels & Wu, 2003). In their meta-analysis of studies on reading volume, Mol and Bus (2011) found that 12% of language proficiency in preschool and kindergarten was explained by print exposure alone, and that this effect was accretive: The explanatory power of print exposure on reading achievement increases as students age, suggesting that the benefits of early, high-volume reading are exponential. ...
... Struggling readers tend to lack oral reading fluency (Allington 1983). This requires practice, for example, by modeling a teacher's fluent reading, engaging in shared reading where specific reading strategies are learned, and the repeated reading of texts (Smith 1979;Allington 1977;Cunningham 1979;Samuels 1979). Students who are not fluent tend to divert much of their attention to decoding words rather than to the meaning of what is being read, which leaves them frustrated, demotivated, and cognitively fatigued. ...
... Struggling readers tend to lack oral reading fluency (Allington 1983). This requires practice, for example, by modeling a teacher's fluent reading, engaging in shared reading where specific reading strategies are learned, and the repeated reading of texts (Smith 1979;Allington 1977;Cunningham 1979;Samuels 1979). Students who are not fluent tend to divert much of their attention to decoding words rather than to the meaning of what is being read, which leaves them frustrated, demotivated, and cognitively fatigued. ...
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The report is structured in a way that first explores the incidence of learning poverty in the MENA region, followed by international evidence on the science of learning to read, and factors that are influencing Arabic language learning outcomes. The report then looks at some of the national strategies, policies, and initiatives already in place for Arabic language education, and proposes a path for advancing Arabic language teaching and learning, along with suggestions for regional collaboration efforts that could further support MENA countries.
Expectations for what teachers should know and be able to do have always been a public policy issue from the early iterations of teacher evaluations and supervision to more recent legislative attention to teacher evaluation systems and the roles of instructional coaching, particularly literacy coaches and reading specialists. Research has produced evidence about the impact of teacher quality on student achievement that is based largely on individual teachers’ effects on student reading scores. Varied interpretations of these data, and evolving understandings about what teachers should know and be able to do, and how they should come to know it, have informed policies related to everything from class size to teacher preparation and professional development within and outside the area of reading instruction. Just as third-grade reading scores are the gatekeepers of promotion and retention, they are also often the evidence that informs how teachers and teaching are valued, evaluated, and reformed. This chapter engages policies related to teacher knowledge over the past fifty years, outlining their relationship to reading and their impacts on what counts as good instruction.KeywordsTeacher evaluationTeacher effectsTeacher qualityLiteracy coachReading specialist
Although the measurement of student reading achievement has become more nuanced over the last seventy years, the national preoccupation and worry about, how well children read has persisted throughout the decades. However, the way educators, parents, and especially policymakers frame the issue—and through that, their response to the problem—has changed substantially from the 1960s to today. This chapter will explore how the issue of students with reading difficulties has been framed throughout the years and how that framing was influenced by policy.
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Primary students who struggle to read need incentive to direct their mindset onto the productive path of daily reading. Reading is daunting to the youngest readers who experience difficulties because the act of reading is difficult and tiresome. Effective reading engagement programs motivate these readers to read on a daily basis and accomplish grade level reading achievement. This study explored the reading motivation, reading frequency and reading achievement of 16 struggling readers in grades 1-3 involved in PREP, a primary reading engagement program. The core areas of foci within PREP include contingent reward, book choice and parental involvement alongside reading frequency as an ongoing aim of the program. Using mixed-methods research methods, the researcher investigated the relationship and the changes that take place over time between reading motivation, reading frequency and reading achievement for students in grades 1-3 participating in PREP. The study’s results indicate that participants (N=16) involved with PREP had higher reading motivation, reading frequency and reading achievement after participating in the program.
With the advent of new technologies and the move for faculty to implement these into their teaching practice, a new model for course design and delivery has developed called the flipped classroom model. As more instructors investigate this model, the benefits, which include classroom management, active learning, critical thinking, and maximum use of student-faculty time together, become obvious. With classroom sizes increasing, more instruction moving online, and resources dwindling, the flipped classroom model can be an improved model for both instruction and quality learning. Research supports the benefits of the flipped classroom, but the change from a traditional classroom model to a flipped model requires a pedagogical shift on the part of both teacher and learner.
Adopting a place-based stance to better prepare teacher candidates for local schools, researchers investigated elementary students’ reading, writing, listening, and speaking opportunities. Observations included two literacy lessons of 14 preservice and inservice teachers and analysis identified instructional influences, including best practices (e.g., differentiated instruction), standards, and standardized assessments. Findings indicated students’ opportunities varied from little to no reading during literacy lessons to rich, authentic opportunities to read meaningful texts. Little writing was evident, only some lessons substantively supported state standards, and many speaking and listening opportunities occurred at the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Implications for teacher educators are discussed.
Increasing numbers of both elementary and secondary teachers have implemented Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) as a part of their program in reading instruction. Much of this implementation has oc-curred and will continue primarily on the recommendation of its pro-ponents. There has been no serious examination of the assumptions by these proponents of its effectiveness in bringing about the benefits claimed for it. The tremendous importance attached to learning to read and the limited time available in which to provide instructional activities toward that end should lead us to a rigorous evaluation of SSR whenever and wherever it becomes a component of the reading program. Briefly described, SSR is a, daily, timed period of enforced silent reading. McCracken (1971) suggests that teachers adhere to the fol-lowing rules: 1. Each student must read silently. 2. Teachers must read during SSR. 3. Each student selects a single book. 4. A timer should be used. 5. No reports required or records kept. 6. Begin with whole classes or larger groups of studentS'. According to Mork (1971), free reading, enrichment reading, library periods, and other opportunities which provided for silent reading of individually selected materials might be considered the forerunners of SSR. What is unique to SSR is (1) the structure of the silent reading periods (previously described) and (2) the outcomes to be expected from the use of SSR in the classroom. The latter is per-haps most subject to controversy. The outcomes or benefits one is led to expect from SSR are numer-ous. Oliver (1970) has suggested the following as positive effects of SSR upon readers: 1. Increased attention span.
Often the characteristics of effective teaching seem obvious. But when working with children who are experiencing difficulty in learning, one can become aware of limitations in literature describing the teaching act. Teaching is more than a simple presentation of information and assessment of its acquisition. Two aspects of teaching that are crucial in the training of basic skills involve specificity in directing attending behavior and application of the learned element. The effective application of these elements should facilitate any teaching/learning interaction.
This annotated bibliography, intended for researchers and teachers, lists materials about reading while listening. The entries are organized into five sections: materials for reading while listening, descriptions and assessments of reading-while-listening methods, empirical studies of reading-while-listening methods, theoretical issues related to reading while listening, and tests of listening and of reading. Each entry includes a bibliographic reference and an annotation; publishers' addresses are provided in an appendix. (AA)
This study was concerned with the development of a program for teaching high speed word recognition through training in more sophisticated decoding strategies. The method reported focused on training the student to use minimal visual information while making maximum use of contextual cues in word recognition. The emphasis was on directing attention away from decoding toward extracting meaning from the passage. The 32 poorest readers in the regular second grade reading program in a middle class suburban elementary school were selected as subjects. A 2x2x2 factorial design was used with the subjects who were randomly assigned to one of eight groups. The first experimental factor consisted of the use of hypothesis test training in which the subjects are trained to use context as an aid in high speed decoding. The second experimental factor consisted of repeated reading training which gave the subject practice in using reading as a wholistic process. The third factor consisted of isolated word recognition in which the subject was given extensive practice in recognizing words flashed with a projector. It was concluded that hypothesis test training and repeated reading training led to improvement in reading skill and perhaps a combination of the two is efficacious, but that isolated word training is not effective. (WR)
Corrective Reading Program: Teacher Manual
  • S Engleman
Engleman, S., and others. Corrective Reading Program: Teacher Manual. Chicago, Ill.: Science Research Associates, 1974.
The Effect of Self-Selection, Interest, and Motivation upon Independent, Instructional and Frustration Levels
  • L Hunt
Hunt, L. "The Effect of Self-Selection, Interest, and Motivation upon Independent, Instructional and Frustration Levels." The Reading Teacher, vol. 24 (1970), pp. 146-51.
Reading Instruction for Classroom and Clinic
  • E Fry
Fry, E. Reading Instruction for Classroom and Clinic. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 1972.
Initiating Sustained Silent Reading
  • R A Mccracken
McCracken, R.A. "Initiating Sustained Silent Reading." Journal of Reading, vol. 14 (1971), pp. 521-24.