Why Reading Teachers Can't Teach
Children to Read
(and What They Can Do About It)
Sue Heath, Research Editor, Wrightslaw
have been a remedial reading teacher in a public school for 30 years.
All remedial reading teachers in my school have 50-60 students. This
year, I was given 10 special education students (in addition to the
50 students I already had).
is virtually impossible to meet the needs of all these children. Are
there any guidelines for remedial reading teachers?
I want to help these children but there is just so much that one person
you are a remedial reading teacher and have 50 or 60 students who
have different problems and are at different stages of reading development,
you cannot provide effective remedial reading instruction.
Many of your students will fail, despite your best efforts. (Three
Reasons for Reading Failure)
Succeeding in Teaching Children to Read
If you are to succeed in teaching children to read, you must be well-trained
in research based reading instructional methods. You must teach your
students every day. You must have data from assessments so you know
where each of your students is functioning and where each child needs
You must use the programs as they are intended to be used - including
the recommended hours per day and week, and the recommended
teacher-student ratio. (Read What
are the Criteria for Remedial Reading Programs?
Because you have too many students, you cannot use reading programs
as they are intended to be used. This is one reason why more
than 50 percent of children never learn to read proficiently.
Can Fix the Problem?
you are looking for someone else to fix this problem, it is not going
to happen. The person you are looking for is you. You vote
in local elections. You have colleagues, friends, and neighbors.
say all remedial reading teachers in your district have 50 or 60 students.
With this many students, these teachers can't teach remedial reading
either - they are likely to be frustrated and unhappy too.
You and your fellow reading teachers need to get organized and become
Organized, Educate Others
is power in numbers. (Read One Person is a Fruitcake,
50 People Are a Powerful Organization.)
remedial reading teachers in your district. Get together and develop
strategies to educate your school board, your community -- and the
parents of the children you teach.
Provide facts about the three reasons for reading failure.
Provide facts about how to teach reading. (Read What
are the Criteria for Remedial Reading Programs?)
Provide facts about the six
qualities of effective reading programs.
When Selecting a Reading Program from The
Educate the decision-makers (administration, school board) and
parents about the model reading program from the Department of
Education that calls for 90 minutes of instruction, 5 days a week,
from kindergarten through grade 3, in general education classrooms.
(Read Preventing Reading
Difficulties in Young Children from the National Research Council
and Question C-1 in Guidance
for the Reading First program)
Provide facts about the consequences of failing to teach children
to read. Failing to teach children to read:
is not cost-effective
fills prisons with illiterate citizens
* fills welfare rolls with illiterate families
* wastes taxpayer money
* destroys the lives of children who just need to learn to read
also need to educate the parents (most of whom think their children
really are receiving remedial reading instruction). Provide parents
with the facts and "11 Questions to Ask about Your
Child's Reading Program."
Make 11 Questions to Ask about Your Child's Reading
Program into a flyer that you, other teachers, and parents can
can distribute throughout your community (flyers are a powerful underutilized
tool). (Read Using
Flyers to Educate Others)
Training in Research Based Reading Instruction
are required to get additional training on new research based medical
treatments. Reading teachers who have worked in the field for several
years need to get additional training in research based reading methods
so they have the necessary knowledge and skills to teach children
who do not learn to read on their own.
Fixing the System
do not question that you care a great deal about your students. You
have devoted your life working for them. You know the system is broken.
As a teacher with 30 years of experience, you need to direct your
efforts to saving children who will be damaged until the broken system
you continue to tread water in the broken system, your students will
not learn to read and the system will have to be fixed by someone
Who knows and cares as much as you?
need to fix some part of the problem every week. This applies to all
you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem."
Reasons for Reading Failure
The program is not appropriate for the child.
2. There are too many students in the reading class
3. The pace of the instruction is too rapid for children to achieve
mastery of skills presented.
Six Qualities of Effective
programs are driven by reading research,
2. Effective programs emphasize direct, systematic, intensive, and
3. Effective programs require school wide
buy in before they are adopted
4. Effective programs are supported by
initial professional development and extended
followup training throughout the school
5. When implementing an effective program, the
school needs to be committed to
the integrity of the program s instructional
approach and materials;
6. Effective programs make effective use of instructional
time, provide multiple reading opportunities, and employ
a variety of reading assessments (Schacter, nd).
Person is a Fruitcake,
50 People Are a "Powerful Organization"
is power in numbers:
person = A fruitcake
2 people = A fruitcake and a friend
3 people = Troublemakers
5 people = Lets have a meeting
10 people = Wed better listen
25 people = Our dear friends
50 people = A powerful organization
Things Parents (and Teachers) Need to Know by Parent
Model Reading Program
Look at the federal
model reading program that is effective in teaching children to
read. (For specifics, read Question C-1 of Guidance
for the Reading First program)
model calls for 90 minutes of instruction per day, 5 days a week,
from kindergarten through grade 3. Children who are not making sufficient
progress receive additional instruction. This model assumes that reading
instruction takes place in general education classrooms.
Questions to Ask About Your Child's Reading Program
Here are some questions you need to ask about your child's reading
What is the name of my child's reading program?
2. Is the reading program researched-based? Does the program include
the five essential elements identified by the National Reading Panel
and required by No Child Left Behind?
3. How many children will be in my child's reading group?
4. How have the children in this group been selected?
5. Has the teacher been trained in direct, systematic, multisensory
6. Is the teacher certified in this particular program?
7. Has the teacher completed a supervised practicum in this program?
8. How many hours of instruction per week will my child receive?
9. How will the pace of the instruction be determined?
10. What criteria will be used to determine mastery?
11. How will I be informed about my child's progress?
Research Based Reading Programs
These articles and publications will help you learn about research
based reading programs, appropriately trained teachers, stages of
reading development, and the federal model reading program.
Why Do Some Children Have Difficulty Learning to Read? What Can Be
Done About It? by G. Reid Lyon, Ph.D.
Panel Reports Combination of Teaching Phonics, Word Sounds, Giving
Feedback on Oral Reading Most Effective Way to Teach Reading (NIH
News Alert, 2000)
reading development - If the program is not appropriate for the
child's reading stage, it will be ineffective for him, even if it
works for other children his age.
Research on Reading from the National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development by Bonita Grossen, University of Oregon
Great Definitions About Reading in NCLB
- No Child Left Behind includes the legal definitions of reading,
essential components of reading instruction, scientifically based
reading research, and reading assessments. Does your child's program
have these "essential components"? Has the school given
your child a diagnostic reading assessment? What did this assessment
for the Reading First Program - The purpose of Reading
First is to ensure that all children are proficient readers by the
end of third grade. This publication
includes a description of a model program - 90 minutes of instruction
per day, 5 days a week, with additional instruction for children who
continue to struggle,
based reading programs and contacts
Learn more about Reading
- how children learn and need to be taught.
more about research
Meet Sue Whitney
Sue Whitney of Manchester, New Hampshire, works with families as a special education advocate and is the research editor for Wrightslaw.
In Doing Your Homework, Suzanne Whitney gives savvy advice about reading, research based instruction, and creative strategies for using education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools.
Her articles have been reprinted by SchwabLearning.org, EducationNews.org, Bridges4Kids.org, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys.
Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that was
published by Harbor House Law Press, Inc.
She also served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC).
Sue Whitney's bio.
Copyright © 2002-2022 by Suzanne Whitney.