National Reading Panel

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The National Reading Panel (NRP) was a United States government body. Formed in 1997 at the request of Congress, it was a national panel with the stated aim of assessing the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children to read.

The panel was created by Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health, in consultation with the Secretary of Education, and included prominent experts in the fields of reading education, psychology, and higher education. The panel was chaired by Donald Langenberg (University of Maryland), and included the following members: Gloria Correro (Mississippi State U.), Linnea Ehri (City University of New York), Gwenette Ferguson (middle school teacher, Houston, TX), Norma Garza (parent, Brownsville, TX), Michael L. Kamil (Stanford U.), Cora Bagley Marrett (U. Massachusetts-Amherst), S. J. Samuels (U. of Minnesota), Timothy Shahahan (U. of Illinois at Chicago), Sally Shaywitz (Yale U.), Thomas Trabasso (U. of Chicago), Joanna Williams (Columbia U.), Dale Willows (U. Of Toronto), Joanne Yatvin (school district superintendent, Boring, OR).

In April 2000, the panel issued its report, "Teaching Children to Read," and completed its work. The report summarized research in eight areas relating to literacy instruction: phonemic awareness instruction, phonics instruction, fluency instruction, vocabulary instruction, text comprehension instruction, independent reading, computer assisted instruction, and teacher professional development. The final report was endorsed by all of the panel members except one. Joanne Yatvin wrote a minority report criticizing the work of the NRP because it (a) did not include teachers of early reading on the panel or as reviewers of the report and (b) only focused on a subset of important reading skills. Timothy Shanahan, another panel member, later responded that Dr. Yatvin had received permission to investigate areas of reading instruction that the panel could not address within the limited time provided for their work. Shanahan noted that she had not pursued additional areas of interest despite the willingness of the panel to allow her to do so.

In 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the report would be the basis of federal literacy policy and was used prominently to craft Reading First, a $5 billion federal reading initiative that was part of the No Child Left Behind legislation.

Phonemic awareness

The NRP called phonemic awareness (PA) instruction "impressive":[1]

Overall, the findings showed that teaching children to manipulate phonemes in words was highly effective under a variety of teaching conditions with children in kindergarten and first grade and with older learners who struggled with phonemic awareness and that teaching phonemic awareness to children significantly improves their reading more than instruction that lacks any attention to PA.

The report determined that PA instruction based on teaching children to manipulate phonemes with letters was highly effective. Phonemic awareness instruction also improved spelling in grade-level students, although it did not improve spelling in disabled readers.

Phonics instruction

The NRP reviewed 38 studies on the teaching of phonics and found that teaching children the relationship between letters and spelling patterns and pronunciation and how to decode words improved reading achievement. Young children who received such instruction did better with decoding words, nonsense words, spelling, fluency, and reading comprehension. Older disabled readers also benefited from such instruction in terms of improvement in decoding, but without commensurate gains in spelling or reading comprehension. Systematic phonics instruction--that is instruction based on a planned curriculum-- was found to be superior to more opportunistic versions in which teachers tried to teach what they thought students needed. There were no statistical differences between synthetic phonics programs in which each letter sound is taught versus analytical phonics that analyzes the sounds within complete words.

Oral Reading Fluency

The NRP analyzed 16 studies showing that teaching oral reading fluency led to improvements in word reading, fluency, and reading comprehension for students in grades 1-4, and for older students with reading problems. Instruction that had students reading texts aloud, with repetition, and feedback led to clear learning benefits.

Encouraging Students to Read

The panel analyzed the published research on the effects of encouraging students to read. Most of the studies of this focused on the practice of sustained silent reading, in which teachers makes books and time available for students to read on their own without interference, interruption, or teacher involvement. The research quality was particularly low and the panel concluded that there was insufficient evidence on which to determine whether such approaches have any learning benefit for students.

Comprehension Strategy Instruction

The panel examined the results of 204 studies on reading comprehension instruction. It was evident throughout the grades that teaching students how to think about the ideas in text can improve reading achievement. Particularly powerful in this regard were teaching students to summarize the information that they had read, or having them ask (and answer) questions about the ideas. Additionally, efforts to guide students to monitor their comprehension (essentially paying attention to whether they were understanding during reading and taking some kind of action if they were not), to use their prior knowledge, to visualize the information described in text, or to think about the structure of a text through story mapping, all provided learning benefits to students.


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