Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A SPECIAL SECTION ON READING RESEARCH - Is In-School Free Reading Good for Children? Why the National Reading Panel Report Is (Still) Wrong

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A SPECIAL SECTION ON READING RESEARCH - Is In-School Free Reading Good for Children? Why the National Reading Panel Report Is (Still) Wrong

Article excerpt

Prompted by Timothy Shanahan's and Steven Stahl's responses to his previous Kappan article, Mr. Krashen revisits his criticisms of the National Reading Panel report.

N AN EARLIER Kappan article I reviewed the section of the National Reading Panel (NRP) report that dealt with fluency.1 I argued that the panel's review of the research on free reading in school missed a number of studies and made serious errors in reporting the studies it did include. I noted that some of the studies showed no difference between readers and that comparisons involved students who were already advanced and had already established a reading habit. I pointed out that the NRP did not include long-term studies, which I found to be more supportive of sustained silent reading (SSR) than short-term studies. Moreover, the NRP also included one study in which students were highly constrained in what they could read. The case for free reading, I argued, rests on more than experimental studies; case histories also provide compelling evidence for the power of reading. Contrary to the panel's findings, I concluded that the evidence in support of free reading in school was strong.

Timothy Shanahan and the late Steven Stahl, both members of the NRP, attempted to respond to my criticisms in The Voice of Evidence in Reading Research.2 However, their chapters contain misrepresentations of my position, as well as inaccuracies in reporting the literature. I wish to set the record straight.

Just letting kids read. Shanahan states my position as follows: "Krashen (2001) argued that just letting kids read is better than instruction" (p. 245). This description is simply not accurate. I discussed "sustained silent reading" and other in-school free reading programs. These programs include more than "just letting kids read." They set aside time to make sure children have a chance to read, they provide access to good books, and they do things that encourage reading. I strongly suspect that "just letting kids read" is better than many kinds of instruction, but SSR does more than that.

Did I say that free reading is better than instruction? I actually concluded that it was at least as good as and often better than "regular" instruction, the instruction provided to comparison groups in the studies, which is generally instruction based on skill-building. Shanahan's presentation of my position can be interpreted to mean that I am opposed to all instruction, and that, of course, is false.

Similarly, according to Shanahan, I claim that "teachers prefer just having students read instead of teaching them" (p. 246). I did not say that; I said that teachers prefer free reading to what usually goes on in language arts and reading classes, that is, regular instruction.3

Shanahan refers to the comparison groups in the studies of free reading as utilizing "some impoverished form of teaching, e.g., just assigning random worksheets" (p. 246). I think that it is highly likely that skill-building was involved in the comparison groups, but there is no evidence that the classes with the worst instruction were selected to serve as comparisons in these studies.

What "no difference" means. Many studies comparing in-school reading to regular instruction show no difference between the two groups in gains in reading comprehension. For Shanahan, a finding of "no significant differences" between in-school free reading programs and comparison groups is "not very informative" (p. 246), because the failure to find a difference could be the result of factors other than the efficacy of one of the treatments -- poor application, not enough of a treatment, and so on. While I agree that such factors can play a role, I view these results as an invitation to closer analysis. What is interesting is that studies that do show a difference consistently show the same results. This is true in my analysis, in which I found negative results (in- school free reading fared worse than regular instruction) in only three comparisons out of 53, and in the NRP report, which found no studies in which SSR students performed less well than controls. …

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