How to improve reading: What the research really says.
Sent to the Christian Science Monitor, July 13
If students succeed in suing their school district for failure to help them learn to read well, what kind of intervention will follow? (“Michigan students sue school district for violating their 'right to read',” June 13).
According to the Monitor, the district must use “research-based approaches.” Many of us in the language education field understand that “research-based” is code for “systematic, intensive phonics,” a method goes well beyond teaching the basics of phonics. Studies show that intensive phonics only helps children do better on tests in which they pronounce words presented in a list. It does not help on tests in which children have to understand what they read. Many studies consistently show that students improve their performance on reading comprehension tests in one basic way: By doing a great deal of self-selected, independent reading.
S.D, mentioned in the article, is in grade 8 but reads at the third grade level. S.D. can improve several grade levels each summer just by reading books that are comprehensible and interesting. (Goosebumps begins at the third grade level, and many comics are written at the second grade level.)
The Monitor briefly mentions what these students really need: Improved access to books. The simplest way for this to happen is a greater investment in school and classroom libraries and more support for the experts in recreational reading: School librarians.