Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Literacy Courses and the Prevention of Reading Difficulties

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Literacy Courses and the Prevention of Reading Difficulties

Article excerpt


Children who have a strong foundation in learning to read typically move along a trajectory leading to proficiency. However, the opposite also holds true: children with weak emergent reading experiences proceed slowly and haltingly, and generally do not become skilled readers without intensive intervention. These differences tend to be stable over time and are difficult to alter (McCardle, Scarborough, and Catts 2001, 231).

The need for children to have a robust start in reading is well established in the literature on reading acquisition (Burke, Hagan-Burke, Kwok, and Parker 2009; McCardle, Scarborough, and Catts 2001; Menzies, Mahdavi, and Lewis 2008). This finding is important as one-third of children in the United States fail to achieve a basic reading level by fourth grade. The percentages are even higher for minority students, with 50% of Hispanic, 51% of American Indian, and 54% of Black students reading below a basic level (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2007).

Recognizing the value of a strong start in reading, the National Research Council commissioned the text Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, edited by Snow, Burns, and Griffin (1998), over a decade ago. This landmark publication reviewed all of the scientific research available at the time on the topic of emergent reading and its influence on subsequent reading ability. This text, along with more current research (Connor, Morrison, and Slominski 2006; Dickinson and McCabe 2001; Dickinson, McCabe, Anastasopoulos, Peisner-Feinberg, and Poe 2003; Menzies, Mahdavi, and Lewis 2008; Nation and Snowling 2004; NICHD 2005), highlights the importance of providing rich opportunities for learning oral language and for practicing literacy-related skills during the preschool years. Teachers who know how to design learning environments that foster language and literacy development can prevent reading difficulties by helping students develop an awareness of print and an understanding of its purpose, and by advancing their comprehension and appreciation of stories, knowledge about letters and sounds, and ability to read and write common words.

Unfortunately, classroom teachers are not always aware of the research for averting reading problems, nor do they always have in-depth content knowledge for teaching reading (Brady et al. 2009; Moats and Foorman 2003; Spear-Swerling 2007; Spear-Swerling, Brucker, and Alfano 2005). According to Moats (1999, 7), "a chasm exists between classroom instructional practices and the research knowledge base on literacy development." When teachers lack this content knowledge, there may be serious and lasting consequences for children, most particularly for those who do not have strong literacy learning experiences in their homes. These children have to rely on school for early reading experiences. Without knowledgeable teachers who can provide the essential emergent reading experiences, these children are at considerable risk for reading failure.

Teacher Preparation Programs

Teacher preparation programs have been criticized for not providing teacher candidates with a strong knowledge base in reading instruction (Smartt and Reschly 2007; Lyon, 2002; Mather, Bos, and Babur 2001; Moats 1999). Research has confirmed this concern. McCombes-Tolis and Feinn (2008, 236) compared elementary and special education teachers' knowledge for reading instruction with state standards. They found that nearly a third of the teachers did not know or were unsure about the stages of children's reading development, the common characteristics of children who experience reading difficulties, and the type of interventions such children require. The researchers concluded that "teacher preparation programs are not preparing candidates to achieve mastery of essential teacher competencies."

Risko et al. (2008) conducted a review of reading teacher education by analyzing empirical research published from 1990 to 2006. …

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