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The Best Way for Teaching Children How to Read: A Hotly Debated Topic

Two young students enjoy a fun book while learning to read.Educators across the United States and globally continue to debate the best methods for teaching children how to read. Over the years, U.S. educators have advanced many reasons why the nation’s children have not improved reading scores. This diversity of perspective results in different approaches to solving the challenge.

Two schools of thought have emerged in this decades-long debate. One focuses on phonics instruction (as part of a structured literacy approach), while the other favors a whole-language approach. Many educators now feel that successfully teaching children how to read requires a more balanced approach rather than reliance on one or the other.

Fresno Pacific University offers professional development courses for teachers motivated to learn the latest strategies to improve student reading outcomes. These courses provide educators with new tools, student- strategies and classroom content that makes students better readers.

The Expanding Content Literacy course, for instance, examines teaching literacy to elementary school students.

The Literacy Problem in the United States

While educators may differ on what they believe is the best approach for teaching children how to read, they agree that the problem continues. Far too many students do not develop reading proficiency, a situation that may keep them from reaching their full potential.

The biannual National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) uses data from tests administered to students across the country. Most educators consider the NAEP highly reliable. The data indicate that reading scores have remained flat since 1998. According to The Atlantic, the performance gap between low-income and other students has remained wide.

The challenge of improving reading is critical because of the many short-term and long-term benefits of reading. A compilation of scientific studies on reading books shows it can help:

  • Strengthen brain activity and connectivity
  • Build theory of mind (a set of skills for building and maintaining social relationships)
  • Develop empathy
  • Build a stronger vocabulary
  • Reduce stress

Learning to read at a young age provides benefits later in life. Studies show the practice of reading can help people sleep better, delay cognitive decline, increase lifespan and alleviate depression.

Educational Methods for Teaching Reading

The debate around reading generally splits educators into two groups, according to the Hechinger Report. Phonics involves teaching young children to memorize the sounds that letters make to understand the words they read. Whole language instruction consists of letting kids learn to read naturally by exposing them to many books and spending instruction time on learning the ideas and stories in the books they read, rather than the words themselves.

Whole language emerged as a challenge to the long-standing view in education, according to The Atlantic, that calls for teaching children basic reading skills in their early elementary school years. The other reading component, comprehension, is taught as a different set of skills.

However, more recent research indicates that comprehension may depend less on reading skills than what readers already know. If schools give students a passage to read that centers on a subject they know nothing about – the French Revolution, for example, or farming techniques – they may score low on comprehension even if they understand every word.

The Hechinger Report states that a balanced approach combining the best strategies may work best, as long as an emphasis is made on phonics at an earlier age. They report that phonics is critical to developing strong reading skills and comprehension for a subset of students.

Overall, a balanced approach can boost students’ reading comprehension by expanding their knowledge and vocabulary by teaching them history, science, literature and the arts and guiding students through a logical sequence from one year to the next. Research also shows that students benefit from reading texts considered too difficult for them.

Fresno Pacific Courses on Teaching Reading

The following professional development courses from Fresno Pacific University investigate the best practices for improving student reading skills.

Expanding Content Literacy takes a balanced approach, helping teachers to learn how to develop students’ higher-order thinking and literacy skills.

The course guides educators to better understand the methods to help their students attach new information to prior knowledge, understand key concepts and vocabulary and synthesize information to make meaning.

The Content Comprehension: Helping Students Read and Understand course is ideal for educators who work with ESL, special needs and low reading-level students.

The course provides teachers with strategies that work with content they already use in the classroom. Educators learn to incorporate multiple reading comprehension strategies and develop their own techniques for assisting students in this essential learning domain.