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Better Evidence-based Education Center for Research and Reform in Education School of Education READING What economic stimulus means for education reform Phonics – it’s the way it’s taught that matters Douglas and Lynn Fuchs on peer‑mediated instruction Institute for Effective Education

Better Reading

Apr 21, 2015



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Page 1: Better Reading

BetterEvidence-based Education

Center for Research and Reform in Education

School of Education

READINGWhat economic stimulus means

for education reform

Phonics – it’s the way it’s taught that matters

Douglas and Lynn Fuchs on peer‑mediated instruction

Institute for Effective Education

Page 2: Better Reading

What programs are likely to raise your students’ test scores?

Visit the Best Evidence Encyclopedia (BEE)

www.bestevidence.orgl Consumer Reports®-style reviews of reading,

math, ELL, and other programsl Interviews with educators using research-

proven programsl Tools to support your improvement team

The Best Evidence Encyclopedia was developed by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education’s Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education, and funded by the U.S. Department of Education to increase the use of evidence in education to improve student achievement.

Unbiased and reliable information

Empowering Educators with Evidence on Proven Programs

Center for Research and Reform in Education

School of Education

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3spring 2009 Better: Evidence-based Education


Volume 1, Issue 1

4–5 What works in teaching reading

Robert Slavin

6–7 Beginning reading

Yola Center

8–9 Preparing the generous reader

Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar

10–11 Struggling adolescent readers

Don Deshler

12–13 Preventing literacy failure

Sue Burroughs-Lange

14–15 English Language Learners

Margarita Calderón

16–17 Digital picture storybooks

Adriana Bus

18–19 Peer-mediated learning

Douglas and Lynn Fuchs

20–21 Committed to evidence

Jonathan Sharples

22–23 Washington corner

Lauren Gibbs

24–25 News

26–27 Latest research


WElcomE to Better.This magazine is dedicated to a revolutionary idea in education: Use what works. It is

intended to help educational leaders and policy makers access the best in research-based practice, to help them make better decisions for students at all levels, from pre-kindergarten to middle and high school. The articles in Better are written to explain in plain English the state of the evidence behind informed practice in education.

This first issue focuses on literacy in elementary, middle, and high schools. It has articles from some of the top reading researchers in the world. The articles do not always agree with each other, because research continues to evolve. But they are all rooted in rigorous research on what works in the teaching of reading.

Better is created by the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York and by the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University.

I hope you enjoy reading Better, and that it helps you to improve outcomes for students.

Robert SlavinDirector of the Institute for Effective Education Director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education

Better: Evidence-based Education is published three times a year by the Institute for Effective Education, University of York, York, U.K., YO10 5DD © University of York 2009

Phone: 410-616-2300 Email: [email protected]

U.S. Editor: Theresa Norton U.K. Editor: Jonathan Haslam Writers: Jeannette Bollen-McCarthy, Beth Buckheit Design: Cambridge Publishers Limited

The views and opinions expressed in Better are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of York, Johns Hopkins University, or our sponsors.

Copies of Better are available online at

Robert SlavinDirector of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University and the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York

Yola centerPreviously Associate Professor and now an Honorary Associate at Macquarie University, New South Wales, Australia

Annemarie Sullivan PalincsarJean and Charles Walgreen Professor of Reading and Literacy and a teacher educator at the University of Michigan

Don DeshlerDirector of the Center for Research on Learning and the Williamson Family Distinguished Professor of Special Education at the University of Kansas

Sue Burroughs-langeA Reading Recovery trainer/co-ordinator in the European Centre for Reading Recovery at the University of London Institute of Education

margarita calderónProfessor and Senior Research Scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education

Adriana BusProfessor of Education and Child Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands

Douglas and lynn FuchsNicholas Hobbs chair in Special Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University in the US

Jonathan SharplesManager of Partnerships at the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York

lauren GibbsSenior Federal Policy Analyst at the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University

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4 Better: Evidence-based Education  spring 2009

READINGPrograms that work

EvERy yEAR, bright and enthusiastic children enter kindergarten throughout the U.S. Whatever their backgrounds, these children fully expect to succeed in school. Their definition of success, the schools’ definition, their parents’ definition, and society’s definition are all the same: success in elementary school primarily means success in reading.

Everyone knows the importance of success in reading, and everyone knows that the quality of reading instruction children receive can mean the difference between success and failure. In light of the stakes involved, for children, and for society, you’d imagine that there would be a great deal of research and development going on to identify effective reading programs and practices.

Much research has in fact established the general outlines of what should be emphasized in reading: phonemic awareness (knowing how sounds become words), phonics, comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency. Yet how much do we know about the actual programs available to teachers to help their children become successful and joyful readers?

The Best Evidence Encyclopedia (The BEE)In order to find out what works in teaching reading, my colleagues and I at Johns Hopkins University created a set of systematic reviews of research on reading programs. These reviews are on a website called the Best Evidence Encyclopedia, or the BEE ( The BEE

provides easy-to-read, brief summaries of evidence on what works in education, as well as full reviews. We have completed reviews of beginning reading, upper elementary reading, and middle and high school reading, as well as a review of programs for struggling readers in the elementary grades. In order to be included in the reviews, studies had to meet a set of common-sense requirements:l Students using each innovative program

had to be compared to children who used ordinary methods;

l Students using each program had to be well matched with those using ordinary methods;

l Measures had to be fair to all groups (not inherent to the innovative program); and

l The programs had to be evaluated for at least 12 weeks, preferably a year or more.We examined all studies carried out since

1970 in all countries, as long as the reports were available in English. A total of 240 studies met our standards.

Across the individual reviews, the findings fell into a consistent pattern. The highlights were these:

Phonics is necessary but not sufficient for effective reading programs. Successfully

evaluated programs almost all emphasized systematic, synthetic phonics, as the National Reading Panel recommended. However, many ineffective programs also emphasized phonics. Other aspects of the programs were also critical.

Most of the textbooks and CAI (computer-assisted instruction) software have never been evaluated. However, across 24 studies of textbooks and 52 studies of CAI, it became clear that simply adopting a different book, curriculum, or CAI program made little difference in reading outcomes.

What did make a difference was use of phonetically-focused programs and practices that train teachers to focus on building students’ motivation, active interactions, engagement, and thinking skills. For example:l Cooperative learning methods in which

children work in pairs or groups of four to tutor each other in phonics skills, help each other learn study skills, and take turns reading to each other;

l Metacognitive strategy instruction in which students are taught methods for understanding what they read, such as predicting what will happen next,

What works in teaching readingThe evidence points towards the benefits of changing daily teaching practices, writes Robert Slavin

Reading reform means investing in teachers, giving them effective tools and strategies to ensure that every child gets a firm phonetic base as well as strategies to comprehend all

sorts of texts, to build fluency, to develop vocabulary and, most importantly, to love to read

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5spring 2009 Better: Evidence-based Education

READINGPrograms that work

summarizing, making graphic organizers to represent key ideas, and so on; and

l Classroom management and motivation programs, which train and coach teachers in methods of organizing classrooms, effectively engaging all pupils, using time effectively, and having a rapid pace of teaching.

For struggling readers, we found that phonics was particularly important, but again, it was not sufficient by itself. Here is what works best:l Phonics-focused, one-to-one tutoring.

Tutoring programs that focus on teaching struggling readers to unlock the reading code have substantial effects on learning;

l One-to-one tutoring by teaching assistants. While the most effective tutoring methods use teachers as tutors, teaching assistants can also get very good results. Volunteers can also be effective tutors;

l Small-group remediation works less well than one-to-one. Remedial programs in which a teacher works with a group of three-to-six students can be effective, but these methods tend to be less effective than one-to-one; and

l Struggling readers benefit from effective classroom programs. The same programs that were most effective with students in general were particularly effective with struggling readers. This is especially true of cooperative learning methods such as Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) and Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition (CIRC).

Combined, comprehensive programs work best. For all students, the most effective (and extensively evaluated) approaches were programs that combine phonics, one-to-one tutoring for struggling readers, cooperative learning, and effective classroom management and motivation methods. One example is Success for All, a comprehensive model used in about 1,000 elementary and middle schools in the U.S. Another is Read 180, which combines CAI with phonetic materials, cooperative learning, and effective teaching methods to help struggling students in middle and high schools.

ConclusionOur review concluded that improving reading is not just a matter of phonics, better books, or computers. Instead, reading reform means investing in teachers, giving them effective tools and strategies to ensure that every child gets a firm phonetic base as well as strategies to comprehend all sorts of texts, to build fluency, to develop vocabulary, and most importantly, to love to read.

For more information on our reviews, visit the Best Evidence Encyclopedia at

About the authorRobert Slavin is Director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, and Director of the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York. He is also Chairman of the Success for All Foundation.

Further readingCheung A & Slavin RE, (2005) Effective reading programs for English language learners and other language minority students, Bilingual Research Journal, 29 (2), 241–267.

National Reading Panel, (2000) Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Rockville, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Slavin RE, Cheung A, Groff C, & Lake C, (2008b) Effective reading programs for middle and high schools: A best evidence synthesis, Reading Research Quarterly, 43 (3), 290–322.

Slavin RE, Lake C, Chambers B, Cheung A, & Davis S, (2009) Effective beginning reading programs: A best-evidence synthesis. At

Slavin RE, Lake C, Chambers B, Cheung A, & Davis S, (2008a). Beyond the basics: Effective reading programs for the upper elementary grades. At

Slavin RE, Lake C, Davis S, & Madden N, (in process) Effective programs for struggling readers: A best evidence synthesis. At

What Works Clearinghouse (2008) Beginning reading. What Works Clearinghouse Topic Report. Retrieved August 10, 2008, from

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6 Better: Evidence-based Education  spring 2009

READINGBeginning reading

It Is uNDENIABlE that most children will learn to read, irrespective of the method of instruction. However, it is also clear that a significant number of students in regular classes in mainstream schools will have trouble with the literacy process. Indeed, a leading literacy researcher, Marianne Wolf, recently stated that about 40% of children are at risk of literacy failure unless teachers are aware of the essentials of effective beginning reading instruction. Furthermore, of that 40%, depending on economic status, half will get one-to-one remedial attention, but half will miss out. Most national and international surveys of struggling readers appear to substantiate this figure.

During classroom observations and through conversations with teachers, I have frequently heard deep frustration expressed about this group of “at-risk” or “reluctant” readers. Teachers, both experienced and novice, have often confided that their pre-service training has not equipped them to assist struggling readers satisfactorily. However, the most current research evidence can help student and graduate teachers develop their early literacy classroom procedures. Such information can also benefit policy makers, teachers, parents, and others who are interested in the process of children’s reading acquisition and the practices that are designed to foster it most effectively.

The aim of any early literacy program should be to engender in every child a love of literacy that transcends, but must include, the ability to decipher print and to gain meaning from print. The reason that some children who have no difficulty with spoken language experience difficulties with reading is that learning to speak and learning to read are not identical processes. The critical difference between the two is that speech is a product of biological evolution, while

reading is not. Provided that there has been no genetic or environmental impediment to learning to speak, all children will acquire spoken language. However, children are not programmed to acquire literacy in the absence of instruction and, in a sizeable minority of cases, reading will not be learned unless it is taught effectively.

Consequently, students need to be taught skills at both the meaning level, which occurs naturally as part of listening comprehension, and at the word level, which does not. Put simply, reading is the product of decoding (word recognition) and comprehension (both listening and reading). This view is supported by the U.S. National Reading Panel. In 2000 it identified five essential components of beginning reading instruction, including phonological/phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency – which can all be classified as word-level skills – and vocabulary and comprehension, which come under the rubric of meaning-level skills. By taking each component in turn and showing how it can be taught in an early literacy program, we can assist teachers in reducing the unacceptably high level of “at-risk” readers in mainstream schools.

Phonics and fluencyPhonological/phonemic awareness is an essential prerequisite of learning to read. It is the ability to understand the structure of speech, not only its meaning. Before children can learn to read, they must first know that a sentence is made up of discrete words demarcated by breaks. Children must also be aware that words themselves can be broken up into smaller parts. They need to know that cat is not just a furry animal, but consists of three discrete sounds or phonemes, c/a/t/. If a child is unaware that words can be subdivided

in this way, teaching them phonics or the alphabetic code to enable them to read will be unsuccessful. Thus a child who thinks the first sound in “cat” is “meow” is in for trouble, and so is his or her teacher.

There are many excellent programs for teaching phonological awareness available to mainstream teachers, for use either with a whole class or as a small- group intervention (see “Further reading”). If students are not assessed when they start school to identify whether they are phonemically aware, a whole-class phonemic awareness program should be used for at least the first 10 weeks of school, before embarking on an explicit whole-class phonics program.

Once children are sensitive to the internal structure of a word, they are ready to be taught to decode. In their first school year, all students should be explicitly taught to break the alphabetic code, as it is not possible to predict which children are going to have the phonological difficulties that will prevent them from mastering the code implicitly. Furthermore, as each sound or group of sounds is introduced, it should be practiced in connected text so that phonics teaching is not decontextualized. It is also important to realize that phonics or decoding is only one element of word recognition, and that practice in the use of analogies and prediction from context and picture cues should be encouraged, once children have reasonable mastery over sound/symbol correspondence. Crucially, it must be remembered that the eventual aim of phonics instruction is the ability to read words by sight, which means that the sight of a word immediately activates its spelling, pronunciation and meaning in memory, because it has been read sufficiently often before. Sight word acquisition is the automatic or fluent stage of word acquisition, because it is effortless and allows the reader to expend energy only on the meaning of print.

Following the first three elements of effective reading instruction at the word level (phonemic awareness, explicit phonics instruction, and the acquisition of fluency), we move on to the second term of our simple reading equation, comprehension.

ComprehensionComprehension teaching should occur simultaneously with phonics instruction. Unfortunately, research indicates that teachers generally test comprehension rather than teach it. Because listening/reading comprehension is considered a natural process, very little school time is devoted to teaching it. While most reading

Beginning readingWhat are the vital first steps in teaching children to read, and how can we ensure that no child falls behind? Yola Center reviews the evidence

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READINGBeginning reading

failure is caused by difficulties at the word (decoding) level, children also need to be taught how to comprehend text as otherwise only the linguistically gifted will do well.

In addition to testing comprehension, teachers must teach children strategies to use at each stage of the reading process. Before they read a text, strategies such as providing motivation, activating relevant background knowledge, explaining and extending vocabulary skills, discussing text structure (narrative, factual, procedural, etc.) and story prediction should be taught. Strategies to use during text reading include visualizing, questioning the author’s intent by looking beyond the literal meaning of the text (teaching inferential skills), confirming predictions and monitoring for meaning. After text reading, teachers should focus on children’s summarization skills, and looking for the main point or theme.

The best time to teach these strategies is during listening comprehension, or during story reading time. Teachers commonly read books to students that are about one to two years above their reading level, and so can model these strategies to children while they read these more sophisticated texts. The

children can then use these taught strategies during shared and independent reading. A number of references for teaching listening/reading comprehension are included in “Further reading”.

ConclusionThis simple view of reading reinforces the importance of the five components that the U.S. National Reading Panel deemed critical to early literacy instruction. Children must be able to first decipher the symbols of print to translate them into speech, and then construct meaning from the words they have deciphered. If either of these processes falls short, then reading comprehension will be jeopardized. While it is imperative that decoding skills are taught explicitly in the early years, comprehension strategies should be taught throughout the whole schooling period.

To counter any criticism that this is an ostensibly reductionist view of reading, let me quote Keith Stanovich, a leading reading researcher: “We must stop creating a progressive politics where to be of the left, you must oppose science.” Science has shown, unequivocally, that knowledge

of phonological processes is the key to deciphering print. It has also shown that children who are culturally, cognitively and phonologically at risk need explicit instruction in these processes in the first three years of school to avoid literacy failure. Furthermore, instruction in comprehension should be embedded throughout the entire school experience for those students who may not be naturally linguistically gifted enough to appreciate without assistance the wonder of reading.

As poor reading skills contribute in large measure to social and economic inequity, it is imperative that socially progressive educators at both school and policy level support literacy programs based on the most current research data.

About the authorYola Center was an Associate Professor at Macquarie University in Australia until her retirement in 1999. Her principal interests were research and practice in the area of early literacy. She continues her association with the university as an honorary associate and has recently published a book on beginning reading.

Further readingAdams MJ et al, (1997) Phonemic Awareness in Young Children: A Classroom Curriculum.

Beck IL, McKeown MG & Kucan L, (2002) Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction, New York: Guildford.

Blachman BA, (2000) Road to the Code: A Phonological Awareness Program for Young Children.

Center Y, (2005) Beginning Reading, Australia: Allen and Unwin.

Cornoldi C & Oakhill J (eds), (1996) Reading Comprehension Difficulties, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates.

Dymock S & Nicholson T, (2001) Reading Comprehension: What Is It? How Do You Teach It? New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Tunmer W & Hoover WA, (1992) Cognitive and Linguistic Factors in Learning to Read, In Gough PB, Ehri LC & Treiman R (eds), Reading Acquisition, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates.

Wolf M, (2002) The Health Report, Swan.

Williams J, (2006) Stories, Studies and Suggestions About Reading, SSSR, 10 (2), 121-142.

National Reading Panel (2000).

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8 Better: Evidence-based Education  spring 2009

READINGThe generous reader

IN hIs REmARkABlE history of reading, Alberto Manguel notes: “All writing depends upon the generosity of the reader.” This quote captures the essence of reading; text has but a silent existence until the reader brings it to life. But what determines the generosity of the reader? How can teachers promote “generous” readers? Why are some readers “stingy”?

As in many aspects of life, generosity begins with an attitude; that attitude is the basic disposition the reader brings to the text. Generous readers expect the text to make sense and recognize that they have an active role to play in that sense making. As obvious as that may seem, this can be a stumbling block for a number of students, particularly those who have struggled to learn to decode text and who have reached the mindset that reading is the act of saying the words they see in a text quickly and correctly.

Hence, students of all ages need to be taught frequently that reading is about making meaning with text. Young children learn this lesson as parents, caregivers, or teachers read aloud, encouraging them to share their ideas about the text (e.g., What new information have we learned here? How do you think the character in this story is going to solve this problem? Have you ever had this happen to you?).

As children in elementary school begin to decode texts independently of the teacher, the lesson continues. It can be explicit, when the teacher communicates to students that they are accountable for the ideas in the text, and designs engaging activities that encourage them to wrestle with the ideas they are encountering (e.g., How does this author’s account of the plague compare with the author we read yesterday? Did the illustrator do a good job of capturing the author’s description?). Sometimes the lesson is implicit; for example, when the teacher ignores oral reading errors that have no consequence for the meaning of the text or shares their own confusions while reading, modeling the process of re-reading or gathering additional information to help explain the text.

Teaching comprehensionPositive intentions are only the beginning; students also need access to information that will support them in interpreting texts. There are at least two ways to characterize how students can be taught to comprehend text. One approach is to provide instruction in a set of tools that will support text comprehension, and the other is to engage students in conversations in which they participate in constructing the meaning of the text.

The “tool” metaphor has commonly been used to refer to “strategies” that can be applied while reading. Common strategies include: ● Summarizing by identifying and

integrating key ideas in the text;● Using prior knowledge and ideas in the text

to predict upcoming content in the text;● Identifying the kinds of questions that the

text is answering while reading (i.e., self-questioning);

● Visualizing, or making a picture in one’s head that reflects the ideas in the text;

● Drawing inferences, or learning to read between the lines when the information in the text is incomplete. Such strategies should be expertly

modeled for the students, and support or coaching provided. The research is clear that, when done well, strategy instruction can help learners to be actively engaged in their reading of the text, and move to independent reading. This process needs to be thought through, as elements are often missing in strategy instruction. For example, students may be asked to complete a journal entry generating a series of questions from a text, but are never held accountable for answering those questions or justifying their answers with information in the text.

However, there is interest in an alternative approach to comprehension instruction that keeps its focus squarely on the content of the text. In this approach, teachers and students discuss ideas in a text. These discussions are largely directed by the teacher, who poses meaning-based questions. The teachers’ questioning is

Preparing the generous reader‘Generous readers’ look for meaning in text, and it is this understanding that lies at the heart of literacy. But how can we prepare students to be ‘generous readers’, asks Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar

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9spring 2009 Better: Evidence-based Education

READINGThe generous reader

shaped by goals they have identified for reading the text, and may also reflect what they anticipate to be challenging about the text (i.e., complex or unfamiliar ideas, vocabulary that may be unfamiliar, support features such as maps and graphs that require interpretation). Discussion-based approaches to text comprehension are distinguished from the typical “elicitation, response evaluation” pattern in that: ● The discussion features open questions

that invite multiple responses; ● The teacher’s responses are dependent

on the students’ contributions to the discussion;

● There is a preponderance of student, rather than teacher, talk. Discussion-based approaches offer their

own set of challenges; teachers must be knowledgeable about the content of the text, thoughtful about the kinds of questions that are likely to lead to deep understanding of ideas, and capable of adjusting to students’ needs and challenges as the discussion unfolds.

Interesting reading matterThus far, we have suggested that successful comprehension is the result of a productive disposition toward reading, and instructional opportunities to learn how to read for meaning. But there is more.

Think, for a moment, about the verbal interactions we have with others; we are more likely to have positive and fruitful interactions with people when there is sufficient overlap between the vocabulary, dialect, grammar, and frames of reference that they and we use. The same is true of reading. If teachers are to promote generosity on the part of readers, two things must happen simultaneously. First, teachers need to attend to the match between the reader and the text, and, second, teachers need to attend to building the oral language skills of their students so that they can successfully extend the range of texts they can comprehend.

Vocabulary knowledge, in particular, is a key predictor of the ability to comprehend. In the current climate of testing, it is regrettable that opportunities for oral language exchanges, vocabulary learning, and knowledge building that take place when students are engaged in rich content learning (for example, through the study of science and humanities), have been squeezed out by the attention that has been given to lower-level skills that are readily assessed. The reading comprehension of children with English as a Second Language is especially compromised if they do not receive opportunities to participate in rich oral language experiences.

Furthermore, if, as has been documented, young readers spend most of their time reading narrative texts (i.e., stories), they will not be prepared for the demands of reading factual text when they move through school. Factual texts pose unique challenges; unlike stories, which have a fairly predictable structure (setting, characters, plot), they reflect a variety of structures (e.g., cause–effect, problem/

solution, chronology). As students enter secondary school, they need to learn not only how to interpret a broad range of factual texts, but also how to read texts from particular disciplinary perspectives. For example, historical texts represent different authors’ interpretations of world events, which have been constructed from an array of primary and secondary documents; students need to learn how to recognize the perspective from which the text was written, and how to evaluate its credibility by experiencing the process of comparing secondary sources with primary documents. Similarly, learning to comprehend science texts is learning to understand how scientists make evidence-based claims.

Generosity on the part of the readers is also a result of the interest they have in the content of the text. Readers are willing to struggle to comprehend text if they are reading sources that they have chosen because of their interest in the topic, the genre, or the author. This means that teachers should seek to provide opportunities for students to choose texts they wish to read.

So far, no mention has been made of the stingy reader; this is the reader who engages in only a superficial reading of the text and is able to respond to questions that measure recall of information, but appears unable to draw inferences from the text, critique the ideas in the text, compare them with ideas from other sources, evaluate the underlying argument in a text, and synthesize information presented in the prose with information that is presented in graphics. Unfortunately, too many students are stingy readers, and are not well prepared to comprehend and learn from texts in a manner that reflects their real-world uses in a knowledge-economy, with its complex demands for civic literacy.

The good news is that we know a good deal about how to prepare the generous reader. Hence, this essay ends as it began, with a focus on attitude. We need to demonstrate our commitment to the preparation of generous readers through our choices of instructional programs, curricula, preparation of teachers, and national assessments.

About the authorAnnemarie Sullivan Palincsar is the Jean and Charles Walgreen Professor of Reading and Literacy and a teacher educator at the University of Michigan in the U.S. She is an instructional researcher with a particular interest in children who struggle with academic learning.

students of all ages need to be taught frequently that reading is about making meaning with text

Further readingApplebee AN, Langer JA, Nystrand M & Gamoran A, (2003) Discussion-based Approaches to Developing Understanding: Classroom Instruction and Student Performance in Middle and High School English, American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 685–730.

August D & Hakuta K, (1997) Improving School for Language Minority Children. A Research Agenda, Washington DC: National Academy Press.

Mangual A, (1996) A History of Reading, Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf.

National Early Literacy Panel, (In press) Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel – A Scientific Synthesis of Early Literacy Development and Implications for Intervention, Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

National Reading Panel, (2000) Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and its Implications for Reading Instruction: Reports of the Subgroups (00-4754), Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Snow CE, (2002) Reading for Understanding: Toward an R&D Program in Reading Comprehension, Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

Snow CE, Burns MS & Griffin P (eds), (1998) Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children: Report of the Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children, Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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10 Better: Evidence-based Education  spring 2009

READINGStruggling adolescents

INcREAsINGly, school leaders and teachers are exhorted to prepare students to perform at higher levels. Meeting government targets is especially challenging in middle and high schools, as many students lack the literacy skills needed to readily access and understand their subject-matter classes. Consequently,

ways must be found to help struggling adolescents become learners who can fluently navigate and successfully respond to rigorous academic demands. This challenge is compounded by the fact that secondary teachers do not have enough time to teach all that needs to be taught – especially the

literacy skills that should have been mastered in elementary school. Yet a growing number of secondary principals and teachers have dramatically changed the literacy performance of struggling learners, and, in doing so, altered the overall achievement trajectory of their schools.

While every school is unique, those that have turned the corner with their literacy problems have all recognized that priorities had to be set. They concluded that, since good literacy skills are the foundation of success in every subject, effort must be focused on improving literacy. A growing body of evidence points to a set of high-leverage factors that can make dramatic differences in the outcomes for struggling adolescent learners. These factors are at the heart of transforming the overall literacy performance of struggling readers in secondary schools.

change the cultureSecondary schools are made up of fundamentally different and often incongruous parts. As such, it can be challenging to bring staff together around a common vision and shared goals. When a large percentage of the student body lack key literacy skills, the problem exceeds what a teacher or a teaching assistant alone can address. Everyone on a school staff can (and should) play an important role in improving literacy outcomes. Thus, a first step in improving literacy performance is for school staff to agree upon some shared, high-priority literacy goals. Shared goals can promote collaboration and create a culture of growth and achievement. The schools that show the greatest achievement gains are those that: ● Have an unrelenting and uncompromising

focus on quality instruction; ● Detail specific protocols for describing,

observing, analyzing, and talking about instruction;

● Insist on transparency of practice and results; and

● Provide coaching and other instructional support to teachers. Collectively, these actions create a culture

that promotes quality instruction and, in turn, student achievement.

Engagement and motivationImproved reading performance is closely related to the amount of time students spend reading. As one teacher said: “It’s all about ‘eyes on the page’.” The more time students are exposed to the printed word, the more their vocabulary and background knowledge grows and the more proficient they become as readers. To put this into perspective, students at the 10th percentile read about 60,000 words a year. Students at the 50th percentile read about 900,000 words a year.

Struggling adolescent readersStruggling readers present a particular challenge for middle and high schools, as without adequate literacy skills, students cannot succeed in their individual subjects.  Donald Deshler and Michael Kennedy ask how their  outcomes can be improved

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11spring 2009 Better: Evidence-based Education

READINGStruggling adolescents

The great challenge, of course, is how do we get struggling adolescent readers to read when reading has often been a negative, non-reinforcing experience? Research has provided some direction. Students should have a wide choice of interesting reading materials (at different levels) and a variety of ways to demonstrate their understanding. They should also be encouraged to interact with other students, as this active engagement will enhance comprehension. Finally, students should be active participants in setting their learning goals, which ideally should be tied to topics that interest them and are relevant to what they want to become in the future.

subject material Subject teachers play a vital role in increasing the literacy proficiency of struggling readers. As different methods are required for navigating and processing materials from different disciplines, subject teachers create authentic opportunities for students to practice learning strategies within that discipline. Furthermore, as struggling readers are likely to have difficulty accessing and understanding text materials used in a particular subject, it is important to teach (through class lectures or discussions) essential content knowledge, and explicit instruction in terms of how key vocabulary and concepts take on specific meanings within the content area.

comprehension strategiesAdolescents who are successful in school generally use an array of cognitive strategies to meet academic demands. Research evidence indicates that strategies such as questioning, summarizing, imaging, and comprehension monitoring can improve understanding and recall of information. This research also suggests that it is generally helpful to teach students more than one strategy to better equip them to meet curriculum demands.

Subject teachers can enhance literacy performance by:● Identifying appropriate comprehension

strategies for their content area; ● Modeling how these strategies should be

used to understand discipline-specific text;

● Providing multiple opportunities to practice using the strategies;

● Providing feedback to students on their application of the strategies;

● Actively involving students in ongoing discussions of the meaning of the text and how the targeted strategies can be used to facilitate understanding; and

● Setting expectations for continued use of strategies across various class assignments. Teachers must do more than merely

present strategies in the hope that they will become meaningful tools. They must make strategy usage a regular part of their instruction, so students can practice them with the content they need to learn. However, several studies have underlined the fact that it takes time, considerable professional development and follow-up support to adequately equip teachers to teach strategies with fidelity and confidence.

Options for instructional intensitySome adolescents require more intensive, explicit literacy instruction than their subject teachers can provide. Typically, this intensive instruction is offered in a supplemental reading class by reading specialists or teachers who have in-depth preparation in diagnostic and formative assessments, characteristics of struggling adolescent readers, reading methodologies, and explicit and direct instruction.

The teacher/student ratios in these reading classes need to be small (generally no larger than 1:15) to allow students ample opportunities to respond and receive carefully designed, timely feedback. Depending on student needs, instruction could include cognitive strategies for navigating texts in the various disciplines, as well as instruction in some fundamental skill areas such as word analysis, reading fluency, or vocabulary building. An effective instructional protocol would include clear models of the desired reading behavior by the teacher, carefully structured lessons to provide ample practice opportunities, explicit feedback, and specific instruction to help students transfer the newly learned strategies to various text genres and instructional settings.

While a supplemental reading class is a necessary component of a school’s overall approach to literacy improvement, it is not sufficient. Because of the broad diversity of secondary students who struggle with literacy, it can be helpful to think in terms of a continuum of literacy instruction as a framework for improving literacy. Such a framework underlines that (a) some students require more intensive, systematic, explicit instruction in content, strategies, and skills; and (b) there are unique (but very important)

roles for each member of a secondary staff relative to literacy instruction.

conclusion: What worksResearch indicates that struggling adolescent learners can become capable, strategic learners when schools concentrate their thought, energy, and effort on improving literacy. Central to this process are the following actions:● Make improved literacy performance

a priority for the entire school staff. Develop a staff-wide, agreed set of literacy goals. Improving literacy is not just the responsibility of the teacher or teaching assistant; all members of the staff should be involved;

● Increase student engagement and motivation to read. Give students a choice in what they read and how they demonstrate their competence. Provide a broad array of texts that relate to the students’ world, not just the classroom;

● Explicitly model how to interact with discipline-specific text. Provide students with authentic opportunities to practice these strategies;

● Teach students a variety of comprehension strategies. Then provide students with multiple opportunities to practice the comprehension strategies, receive feedback on their use of the strategies, and continue to use them; and

● Provide varying levels of literacy instruction. In addition to supplemental reading classes, consider a continuum of literacy instruction that focuses on the diversity of the students’ needs.

About the authorsDon Deshler is Director of the Center for Research on Learning and the Williamson Family Distinguished Professor of Special Education at the University of Kansas. Michael Kennedy holds masters degrees in both educational technology and exceptional children and youth, has taught for nine years, and is currently a doctoral fellow in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas.

When a large percentage of the student body lack key literacy skills, the problem exceeds what a teacher or a teaching assistant alone can address

Further readingDeshler DD, Palincsar AS, Biancarosa G & Nair M, (2007) Informed Choices for Struggling Adolescent Readers, Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Pressley M, Billman AK, Perry KH, Reffitt KE, & Reynolds JM (eds.), (2007) Shaping Literacy Achievement—Research We Have, Research We Need, New York, NY: Guilford Press.

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12 Better: Evidence-based Education  spring 2009

READINGPreventing failure

Preventing literacy  failure

LItERAcy Is AN ExpEctAtIoN and a right. It has become a universal measure of educational quality, and a focus of international comparison. A normal distribution curve is no longer acceptable – every child needs to achieve literacy.

Which intervention?Sam is the Reading Recovery (RR) teacher at Thornberry, a large inner-city school where children’s life and learning skills on entry are very low. Each day Sam individually teaches the four lowest-achieving Year 1 children in RR, an early literacy intervention designed for children who have difficulties at the end of their first year of elementary school.

After his RR training year, Sam also became intervention manager for the school. Supported by his expertise in literacy acquisition, teaching assistants (TAs) moved away from general classroom support to provide a range of oral language, reading, and writing interventions. TAs welcomed the development, gaining more satisfaction from the children’s results and having a higher status attached to their role.

Sam also operates a student tracking process, holding progress meetings with class teachers. They plan for any child not making good progress, including any interventions that might be needed. Proven interventions are selected on the basis of audited need and the provision map is reviewed termly, with parents always involved when their child takes part in any intervention. The effects have been dramatic despite the low entry levels. Standardized testing results at age seven have gone from 47% of children in the normal range to 81% in reading, and from 49% to 84% in writing. As Sam says: “Now teachers have seen the impact, they ask for more of what is clearly working.”

Success stories such as Thornberry’s are inspiring. Nevertheless, introducing improvement strategies can be daunting, especially when they may appear to hinge on the dynamism of an individual or a particular set of circumstances. Furthermore, the choice of interventions is vast, and

understanding the evidence relating to them can be confusing. Decision makers in schools and districts ask: “What will work in our schools?” The best evidence showing what does work comes from studies reporting effect sizes and/or ratio gains, where the results of interventions are compared with control groups (where children were taught as usual). The scale of the evaluation also matters when making judgements; i.e., how many children were involved, and whether it was a localized or representative sample.

Literacy difficulties lead to costly risks over and above those associated with social disadvantage in general, such as truancy, exclusion, reduced employment opportunities, increased health risks, and increased risk of involvement in the criminal justice system. Therefore, the right literacy interventions can also benefit both schools and wider society in this respect.

case study: the Reading Recovery program Students participating in Reading Recovery receive daily 30-minute, one-to-one lessons for 12 to 20 weeks, tailored to meet their own specific needs. More than a decade of evidence has shown consistently positive results for the program. In Brooks’ review of research on literacy interventions (2007), he concluded that an intervention should demonstrate at least double the rate of normal progress, and listed evidence on those schemes. He noted that RR achieved four times the rate of progress which, after only one year in school, is the gain necessary for the very lowest literacy learners to catch up.

After several years of implementation, and recent developments in RR in response to new research on the functioning of the brain and the role of phonological knowledge in early literacy acquisition, does RR still work? This was explored in a comparison study by Burroughs-Lange and Douetil (2007). From 10 London districts that were among the lowest achieving in England, 42 schools were selected. They were similar in size (average 355 students), and had similarly high levels of economic disadvantage (average 41% free school meals) and children with English as a Second Language (average 49%). All schools offered some children extra instruction as well as classroom literacy teaching. RR operated in half of these schools, allowing for RR progress to be compared with the children who continued to be taught as usual.

The literacy progress of all the lowest achieving six-year-olds was compared at the beginning and end of the 2005-2006 school year, and the end of 2006-2007. Literacy progress of whole classes (1,166 children in all), including these lowest groups, was also assessed. In September 2005, the 292 lowest-achieving children were unable to read the simplest texts, could only recognize a few letters, and write about six words correctly. At the end of the year, the study showed that most of these children had made very little progress. The exception was the group of 87 children who received between three and 20 weeks of RR teaching during the year. From similarly low starting points they had, on average, gained 14 book levels, 20 months in reading age, and could write 45 words correctly, successfully catching up with their average peers.

In comparison, the 147 children in schools without RR had gained on average only three book levels, seven months in reading age, and could write around 21 words correctly. Furthermore, teachers reported greater progress across a range of learning and social behaviors from those children who experienced RR.

In 2005-2006, the early elementary classes in schools with RR (566 children) were five months ahead in reading of those without RR provision (600 children). This provides evidence of wider impact beyond those children receiving the intervention.

There will always be some children who need help learning to read and write, and early interventions can prevent long-term literacy failure, says Sue Burroughs-Lange

Introducing improvement strategies can be daunting,

especially when they appear to hinge on the dynamism of an individual or a particular

set of circumstances

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READINGPreventing failure

Preventing literacy  failureDo the benefits of early intervention last?In July 2007, the literacy achievement of the children in the same 42 London schools was compared. The children who had received RR in 2005-2006 were, on average, achieving within or above their chronological age range on all measures and were still around a year ahead of the comparison children in schools where RR was not available.

On average, ex-RR children had a 12-month advantage in word reading (British Ability Scales) and an 8.5-month advantage on word recognition and phonic skills (WRAPS). In writing, ex-RR children were still able to write around twice as many words correctly as the comparison children.

In national assessments (age 7+) more than 86% of those children who received RR early went on to achieve age level in reading, compared with 57% in comparison schools. In writing over 83% of ex-RR children went on to achieve age level in reading, compared with 57% in comparison schools.

This is clear evidence that after RR low-achieving children attain a significantly higher level in reading and writing than matched groups, and continue to progress with their age cohort a year later. If RR children continue to learn at average rates with their peers this also represents a long-term cost benefit, as no further intervention should be required.

Interestingly, the class groups of the children who received RR also showed improved literacy levels, which were again sustained a year later.

Ending literacy failure? Poor teacher subject knowledge is repeatedly cited as a barrier to successful literacy teaching. Although effective and differentiated classroom teaching can reduce the number and severity of literacy difficulties, there will always be a small proportion of children who need something extra to get under way with reading and writing. The earlier intervention takes place, the greater the chance of closing the gap with their peers.

Schools need to rely on two things: l Early intervention that brings even the

most disadvantaged children up to age competency; and

l Knowledgeable teaching teams who can support the education of children with multiple life and learning challenges that impact early schooling, and can continue to disrupt children’s early gains.

The criteria for evidence-based decision-making are often whether an intervention works well, whether it can work in a particular school, and whether it is cost-effective. However, it is also critical that schools ask whether interventions include professional development for all participants, whether there is an infrastructure for quality assurance, and whether it brings lasting change and lasting benefits to individuals and society more widely.

How we learn to read continues to be further understood through advances in brain

research. However, the same expectation of reliable, extensive evidence of effectiveness needs to drive practice in interventions, as in other aspects of schooling.

About the authorSue Burroughs-Lange is a Reading Recovery trainer/coordinator in the European Centre for Reading Recovery at the Institute of Education University of London. She co-runs the doctoral and masters programs through which Reading Recovery professionals become qualified.

Further reading

Brooks G, (2007) What Works for Children with Literacy Difficulties: The Effectiveness of Intervention Schemes, Research Report 380, London: DfES.

Burroughs-Lange S, & Douetil J, (2007) Literacy Progress of Young Children from Poor Urban Settings: A Reading Recovery Comparison Study, Literacy Teaching and Learning, Vol 12 (1), p 19 –46.

Burroughs-Lange S, (In press) Comparison of Literacy Progress of Young Children in London Schools: A Follow Up Study.

Bynner J & Parsons S, (1997) It Doesn’t Get Any Better: The Impact of Poor Basic Skills

on the Lives of 37-Year-Olds, London: Basic Skills Agency.

Douëtil J, (2006) Reading Recovery™ Annual Report for UK and Ireland 2005–2006, London, Institute of Education, University of London.

KPMG Foundation, (2006) The Long Term costs of Literacy Difficulties, London: KPMG Foundation.

Parsons S & Bynner J, (2002) Basic Skills and Social Exclusion, London: The Basic Skills Agency.

Rose J, (2006) Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading: Final Report. London: DfES.

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READINGEnglish Language Learners

Language, literacy and knowledge for ELLs

School 319 was established in New York in 2005, to replace a school that was closed due to poor performance. Despite having the same students, School 319 was last year recognized as the middle school where students had made the most improvement in the city! This success may be attributed to their approach to literacy. The halls are filled with newspaper clippings, comments from students about current affairs, and even vines hanging from the ceiling with prepositional long phrases, idioms, and other processing words, words that about 40% of the students are still learning. Inside the classrooms, English Language Learners (ELLs) receive strong support. For example, in math, vocabulary is pre-taught before lessons are presented, and at the end of the session students take a test on an interactive whiteboard and cheer if they see “100% correct” for the class. Specialist ELL teachers also sit in on lessons, and offer feedback to teachers.

Supporting ELLs in this way is vital. There are many types of texts that upper elementary and middle and high school students are expected to read, write, and comprehend; not only literature (e.g., poetry, novels, essays) but also scientific writing, historical documents, a range of mathematical texts, and reference material. This variety is complicated enough for mainstream students, but triples in complexity for those with English as a Second Language.

A recent report from the U.S. National Literacy Panel on Language Minority Children and Youth found that the components necessary for successful reading comprehension for mainstream students also become the building blocks for ELL language and literacy development:

phonemic awareness, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, background knowledge, and comprehension. However, the panel found that ELLs need more explicit instruction and more time for comprehension.

The diversity of EllsAdolescent ELLs are diverse. They differ in levels of oral English, literacy ability in both their native language and English, cultural backgrounds, and schooling experience. They may be newcomers with interrupted formal education in their country, newcomers who were highly schooled in another country, or those who have grown up here and have conversational language abilities in English but lack academic language proficiency. Unfortunately, these students are typically placed in the same classroom with teachers who have not had sufficient preparation for addressing this variety of needs.

The diversity of ELLs and their instructional needs were the focus of a four-year study, funded by the Carnegie Corporation, in 20 New York middle and high schools. Expediting Comprehension for English Language Learners (ExC-ELL) was designed as a professional development program for mainstream teachers of math, science, social studies, and language arts. Intensive professional development by experts helped teachers integrate vocabulary and reading comprehension skills development into daily lessons. At the same time, Reading Instructional Goals for Older Readers (RIGOR), a curriculum for middle and high school ELLs reading at a K-2 level, was developed as an intensive intervention for children with low literacy levels in their native language and other struggling readers. The program used science and social studies

leveled readers to develop reading skills and basic and academic language.

Both ExC-ELL and RIGOR emphasize explicit instruction of vocabulary, reading comprehension strategies, and writing templates for content instruction. The programs were piloted with 900 students from diverse language backgrounds, and matched schools were selected as “control groups” (where students were taught as normal). The schools that implemented ExC-ELL and RIGOR school-wide moved from low-performing to high-performing schools in two years.

Vocabulary instruction as the basis of successExtensive explicit vocabulary instruction became the basis of ELL success in these schools. In our observational studies we found that the larger the vocabulary, the deeper the comprehension – and, thereby, the higher the test scores. Without understanding 80 to 90% of the words in sentences or tests, a student could not grasp the concepts to be learned or respond to questions, much less enjoy reading. Furthermore, without specific academic vocabulary (e.g., for math or science), ELLs could not keep up with their subject classes.

There were also non-ELLs who were struggling readers because their word knowledge was limited. Teachers reported that teaching rich vocabulary and reading integrated into math, science, and social studies helped all students perform better.

Instructional strategies were adaptedMany of the instructional approaches used to teach vocabulary to mainstream students were adapted or changed to guide the teachers’ delivery and lesson plans:

Adolescent English Language Learners need explicit instruction in language and literacy, particularly to help them with the challenges they face in middle and high school. To meet their needs, schools need an integrated approach, writes Margarita Calderón

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READINGEnglish Language Learners

l Teach important words before reading, not after;

l Teach as many words as possible before, during, and after reading;

l Teach simple everyday words (Tier 1) along with information processing words (Tier 2), and content specific/academic words (Tier 3);

l Use new words within the context of reading, talking, and writing in the same class period. Even level 1 students can begin reading and writing from day one;

l Emphasize and use lexical items (e.g., tense, root, affixes, phrasal and idiomatic uses) as strategic learning tools;

l Teach ELLs key words for a reading assignment, testing them at the end;

l Avoid sending ELLs to look up words in the dictionary. This doesn’t help; and

l Avoid having a peer translate for ELLs – this doesn’t help either.Explicit vocabulary instruction for ELLs

became a seven-step process that could be taught as a whole class or small group process. The teachers used PowerPoint presentations and interactive whiteboards to present the steps:1  Teacher says and shows the word, and

asks students to repeat three times;2  Teacher reads and shows the word in a

sentence (context) from the text;3 Teacher provides the definition(s);4 Teacher explains meaning with student-

friendly definitions or gives an example that students can relate to;

5 Teacher engages 100% of the students in ways to orally use the word and concept (e.g., Turn to your partner and share how…; Which do you prefer…? Answer in a complete sentence…). Writing the word, drawing, or other word activities should come after reading. Before reading,

students need to use the word orally several times in a variety of ways;

6 Teacher ends by highlighting an aspect of the word that might create difficulty: spelling, multiple meanings, cognates/false cognates, prefixes, suffixes, base words, synonyms, antonyms, homophones, grammatical variations, etc. More in-depth word study will come later. The seven steps should be the opportunity for oral production on meaning, and exposure to the written word in context. Steps 1–6 should move quickly, with no more than 10 to 15 minutes spent in pre-teaching key vocabulary; and

7 Teacher assigns peer reading with oral and written summarization activities, and further word study where ELLs can practice applying the new words.

Ells read every day ELLs need to read, discuss, and start some writing to anchor new words just learned. For ELLs in beginning stages, text should be broken into small segments. This way, they are reading something different every day but are engaged in greater analysis and application as they learn and apply new vocabulary, grammar and writing. Repetitive reading of the same long passages does not help ELLs develop fluency or comprehension.

Teacher modeling think alouds It is important for teachers to conduct think alouds to model strategic reading. The reading comprehension strategies that benefit native English speakers are the same strategies ELLs need to develop: predict, determine important information, summarize, make inferences, visualize, ask and answer questions, make connections,

and monitor comprehension. However, ELLs cannot be expected to make predictions, inferences, or visualize if they do not have sufficient words to understand, or the sentence starters or discourse protocols for making and testing predictions. It is easier for ELLs to begin with asking and answering questions, determining important information, summarization, and monitoring comprehension, and this strategy works especially well with a partner. Furthermore, using think alouds can benefit all students.

Anchoring reading and learningPartner reading is more effective than silent reading for ELLs and works best immediately after the teacher models, when a strategy or flow of narrative is fresh in their minds. Alternating reading sentences aloud with another student, followed by a think aloud, is particularly effective. Cooperative learning also gives students opportunities to practice their new language in safe contexts with peers, and most language, literacy, and information processing activities lend themselves to cooperative learning.

The final piece in the sequence is writing about what is being learned. Small pieces of writing, related to what students are reading, can be introduced daily with one summative piece each week.

Recommendations from the principal The principal of School 319 was asked how he turned it around. He cited extensive professional development, and expert coaching and peer coaching on teaching vocabulary and reading comprehension. Furthermore, he emphasized that as many schools have increasing populations of ELLs, all the teachers need opportunities to learn how to integrate language, literacy, and subject matter.

About the authorMargarita Calderón is a professor and senior research scientist at Johns Hopkins University. She is also a member of the National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children and Youth.

Further readingAugust D & Shanahan T (eds), (2006) Developing Literacy in Second-language Learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Calderón M, (2007) Teaching Reading to English Language Learners, Grades 6-12, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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16 Better: Evidence-based Education  spring 2009

READINGDigital stories

IN thE NEthERlANDs websites offer digitized versions of recently published, award-winning picture storybooks for three- to six-year-olds. Additional features such as animations, music, and sound not only increase young children’s reading pleasure, but may also support story and text comprehension. Unlike the first generation of “living books” recent additions are designed to dramatize the story text, rather than simply add amusement. For example, in one animated story the “reader” can clearly see the feats of a daredevil dad trying to rescue his son, Tim. The animation directly reflects the narrative, with dad taking enormous risks racing through traffic and jumping

from a bridge. Researchers from Leiden University have been exploring ways to make living books interactive, and use children’s responses to adapt content. As the number of living storybooks available on the Internet increases, this type of research is imperative.

Living book websites may offer new opportunities for young children from families with low literacy levels, who suffer from word poverty when they enter school. As semantics play a major role in learning to read, many students from poorly educated families need book reading as a vocabulary acquisition device. Semantics are not only important to comprehend text from upper elementary school and beyond,

but also very early in the word-recognition process. Reading interventions familiarize young children with language beyond the basic level of lexical knowledge for informal, everyday communication. Based on our research, we estimate that making reading books part of children’s lives would substantially reduce the 100,000 Dutch children between two and five who are at risk of reading problems.

The economist Heckman demonstrated in his 2006 paper that the financial return from early literacy intervention may be much higher than the return from language promotion later in a child’s schooling. Digitized picture storybooks may offer a way of intensifying book reading without high costs or creating too great a burden for teachers. Texts can be “read” without adult support because an oral rendition is available instead of, or in addition to, the printed word. Internet sites with a substantial number of digitized books thus enable children to virtually roam through digital libraries, select books, and “read” and “re-read” storybooks to their hearts’ content, independent of adults. However, the sites do offer interactive benefits for teachers, with the possibility for them to be informed by email or SMS (short message service) about book exposure and therefore intervene as necessary. Our research over the last five years has revealed another advantage of living books. The extra features

Online ‘living books’ combine the traditional storybook with animation and sound. Experts from Leiden University have been exploring their potential, particularly for struggling readers

Digital picture storybooks

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READINGDigital stories

in animated picture storybooks work as scaffolds for learning the many words that are unknown to children suffering from word poverty. Book sharing was shown to affect vocabulary knowledge especially when reading was combined with clarification about the meanings of words, by pointing at pictures and highlighting details mentioned in the text. Animations in living books seem to be an alternative, promising way to clarify unknown words in a book, especially when vocabulary is lacking.

How do living books bolster learning new vocabulary? In traditional printed picture storybooks illustrations cement language, and thus support learning. However, it is often hard for children to connect illustrations to the story text unless they receive ongoing support from an adult in shared book reading sessions.

Take, for instance, a static illustration in Winnie the Witch, depicting the witch with her wand and her green cat. Facets of the scene described in the text are shown in the picture, but it is hard to connect the image with the narration that explains how the cat was turned from black to green by waving the magic wand and reciting the magic spell. In the video version, by contrast, the process is made visible and we see how Winnie picks up her wand, waves it, uses the spell, and turns the cat from black to green, thus illustrating the successive sentences in the narration.

In fact, in living books visual elements that are normally compressed into just one static illustration are instead split into several smaller portions, each representing one element of the narration. By synchronizing phrases in the narration with portions of the picture there is a higher probability that connections will be made between words and non-verbal information.

From a series of randomized experiments with children aged five and six with a limited-Dutch background, it appears that living books promote vocabulary growth more than books with just static illustrations. We found that, after 20 minutes, the time it takes to “re-read” one living book about four times, children’s vocabulary gained six out of the 42 complex words in the focal book. Students’ word knowledge also did improve as a result of spending the same time reading a static version of the same book, but growth was less substantial.

Similarly, video outperforms exposure to adult-led whole class readings that include reading intonation, facial expressions, and an adult who corrects disruptive behavior. Critics have argued that video and other multimedia additions to storybooks are so overwhelming that children forget to listen to the story text and just focus on actions in the video, thus

not learning new vocabulary. However, our research has not supported the hypothesis that video distracts children or overloads their memory. By contrast, our findings corroborate Allan Paivio’s cognitive theory that language learning builds on the foundation of nonverbal representation, and that cementing language sets up effective memory traces resulting in heightened scores on vocabulary tests.

While the virtue of storybooks is widely accepted for expanding vocabulary, reading routines that include video storybooks tend not to be acknowledged as a further opportunity for young children suffering from word poverty. Our findings, so far, indicate that children’s expressive vocabulary may expand by more than 300 words per year when they watch video storybooks for 20 minutes a week (therefore by about six words per week), provided all relevant conditions are fulfilled: l Children are attentive even without an

adult sitting next to them, as happened in our experiments;

l The stimulus books include a large diversity of words thus enabling vocabulary growth; and

l Digital libraries include a sufficient number of books to expose children during a longer period to a variety of stories. With two book reading sessions per

student, per week, we would expect an increase in vocabulary to be twice as large, and amount to 600 words. As most living books do not take more than five minutes, we would recommend that children “read” two or more books per session. This is comparable to the format of children’s television shows, and a practical possibility for kindergarten and beginning reading curricula.

A longitudinal experiment tested the predicted effects in a group of 135 Dutch students. Over a three-month period, five-year-old Dutch children struggling with early literacy skills were logged on to a digital library once a week. During sessions of 15 minutes children “read” and “re-read” two different storybooks without any help from the teacher or researcher. In some cases children were sitting in their regular classroom using earphones in order not to disturb their peers, and in other schools the sessions took place outside the classroom

because computers were in separate rooms. To prevent the children “reading” only two or three different books out of the five available, the site was programmed to allow a maximum number of repetitions. This experiment demonstrated that the children, after about 2.5 hours of “reading” and “re-reading” living books on the computer, had made significantly more progress on the Peabody Vocabulary Test (PPVT) than equally poorly performing control students from the same classrooms who did not use the living books. However, we noticed that when students’ vocabulary substantially lagged they benefited less from exposure to the digital library, probably because the selected books were rather complex to this group. We have, therefore, begun to experiment with a digital library that adapts the selection of available books to children’s comprehension levels, by including questions about the text and creating a feedback loop from their score to the book menu.

In conclusion, new routines with living books may not only enhance children’s enjoyment of reading, but also help them to comprehend storybooks and prepare them to become competent and avid readers later in life. Furthermore, the Internet sites open up new possibilities for teachers in terms of monitoring young children’s reading activities.

About the authorsAdriana Bus (email: [email protected]), Marian Verhallen, and Verna van der Kooy-Hofland are based at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Adriana Bus, professor of education and child studies, has written about storybook reading among parents and children and the impact of multimedia storybooks on children’s reading skills. Marian Verhallen and Verna van der Kooy-Hofland are completing their PhD research on the efficacy of computer programs for young children at risk.

texts can be ‘read’ without adult support because an oral rendition is available instead of, or in addition to, the printed word

Further readingBus AG, & Neuman SB, (Editors) (2009). Multimedia and Literacy Development: Improving Achievement for Young Learners. New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

Bus AG, Van IJzendoorn MH, & Pellegrini AD, (1995), Storybook Reading Makes for Success in Learning to Read. A Meta-analysis on Intergenerational Transmission of Literacy, Review of Educational Research, 65, 1–21.

Nation K, (2008), Learning to Read Words. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61, 1121–33.

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READINGPrograms that work

FoR moRE thAN A DEcADE, differentiated instruction has been one of the “it” phrases in education. This is because it is recognized by many as critically important; a strategy for accelerating student learning and for celebrating their diversity. However, it is difficult to accomplish. Despite enthusiasm for the strategy, and occasional descriptions of exemplary teachers, there is persuasive evidence that few classrooms truly differentiate instruction. One promising approach to differentiation is peer-mediated instruction whereby children work together to support each others’ learning. The connection between peer-mediation and differentiated instruction is that peer-mediation represents an important re-organization of the conventional classroom; an alternative to the “sage-on-stage” and “stand-and-deliver” approach to learning and teaching; a decentralized learning environment. This decentralization provides teachers (and students-as-teachers) with opportunities for customizing goals, activities, support, and accountability that do not exist in more conventional classroom arrangements.

Reciprocal teaching Palincsar and Brown’s Reciprocal Teaching is a small-group intervention designed to improve low achievers’ reading comprehension. It is usually considered appropriate for upper elementary school children, rather than younger elementary-age children where its effects are less clear. The program has popularized the notion that reading comprehension can and should be taught explicitly.

Students read expository material paragraph by paragraph, and while reading learn and practice how to generate questions, summarize, clarify word meanings and confusing text, and predict subsequent paragraphs. In the early stages of Reciprocal Teaching, the teacher

models these strategies; then students practice them on the next section of text as the teacher tailors feedback through modeling, coaching, hints, and explanations. The teacher also invites students to react to peers’ statements by elaborating or commenting, suggesting other questions, requesting clarifications, and helping to resolve misunderstandings.

In the course of this guided practice, the teacher gradually shifts responsibility to the students for mediating discussions as the teacher observes and helps as needed. At this point, sessions become dialogues between children as they support each other and alternate between prompting the use of a strategy, applying and verbalizing that strategy, and commenting on the application.

cooperative Integrated Reading and compositionA well-researched example of a cooperative learning program is Stevens, Madden, Slavin, and Farnish’s Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition (CIRC). This program replaces all usual reading and composition activities for students aged seven to eleven. It relies on teamwork, with group rewards that are dependent on a team score reflecting all members’ achievement. The team whose members obtain the highest average on individual weekly quizzes is declared classroom “team of the week.” CIRC encourages mutual helping among team mates so that all learn. Student groups are deliberately heterogeneous with high- and low-achievers (including students with learning

difficulties) distributed evenly among them. The program comes with its own materials, as well as detailed lesson plans for teachers.

Each new reading text is introduced to the class during a teacher-led activity, which is followed by peer-mediated activities, including oral story reading and answering of comprehension questions. For some of these activities, students work in pairs rather than in small groups. After the activity cycle, students take individual quizzes, with team rewards. Composition is also taught by the teacher and practiced by students during a cycle of drafting and editing with feedback from peers. Students accumulate points for their team by being productive writers. Several studies of CIRC have demonstrated positive results for students with and without reading disabilities.

classwide Peer tutoringDelquadri et al’s Classwide Peer Tutoring (CWPT) activities facilitate learning by allowing students ample practice in a fast-paced, supportive context with immediate corrective feedback. At the beginning of each week, students are paired randomly with a new partner and given lists of spelling words, simple mathematical problems and reading assignments from their basal text. For a few minutes each day, partners alternate roles of tutor and tutee, asking each other questions and reading aloud. The pairs earn points for correct answers, reading without errors, and correcting their

Peer mediation is an effective means of differentiated reading instruction. Douglas and Lynn Fuchs discuss several peer-mediated programs for elementary students that are research-backed

Decentralization provides teachers (and

students-as-teachers) with opportunities for customizing

goals, activities, support, and accountability

Peer-mediated instruction

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mistakes. Each pair is also assigned to one of two classroom teams, and the points the pairs accumulate go to their team. A winner is declared each week. Points and teams are meant to serve only as motivation.

A majority of teachers and students conduct these activities well enough to bring about notable improvement in basic skills mastery. In the most ambitious study of the effectiveness of CWPT, students aged six and seven were randomly assigned to either experimental or control conditions. Experimental students participated in CWPT activities until they were age ten. At the end of this period, they demonstrated superior reading, language, and mathematics scores on a standardized test. Furthermore, students in CWPT classes were less likely to have been identified as having learning difficulties or behavioral problems.

PALS ProgramFuchs and Fuchs’ Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) was developed with the goal of combining the supportive, engaging, and practical pairing format of CWPT with some of the rich, challenging content of Reciprocal Teaching and CIRC. PALS programs in reading have been developed and field-tested with children from kindergarten through middle and high school, but this description focuses on students aged seven to eleven.

Following initial training, teachers conduct three 35-minute PALS sessions each week

as part of their allocated reading time, implementing the program with all children in their classes. Every student in the class is paired, with each pair including a higher- and a lower-performing student. Although tutoring roles are reciprocal, the higher-performing student reads first for each activity to serve as model for the lower-performing student. Both students read from material appropriate for the lower reader, which typically is literature selected by the teacher.

Pairs are also assigned to one of two teams for which they earn points. At the end of each week the teacher calculates each team’s points and the class applauds the winning team. Every four weeks the teacher creates new pairs and team assignments. Thus, like CIRC, the motivational system combines competitive (team vs. team) and cooperative (combined effort of the pair) structures.

Each PALS session includes:l Partner reading, with each student

reading aloud for five minutes and the lower-performing student retelling what occurred. Students earn one point for each correctly read sentence and 10 points for the retell.

l Paragraph shrinking, with students taking turns in their pairs to orally read one paragraph at a time and stop to summarize. Tutors guide the identification of the main idea. Points are earned for understanding.

l Prediction relay extends paragraph shrinking to larger chunks of text. This

activity combines prediction, reading, and summarization. Points are earned for accuracy.

Research has demonstrated the potential of PALS to enhance children’s reading comprehension.

The “active ingredient” of PALS may reside both in its specific activities and in its overall organization. PALS-related activities—taken from or inspired by Reciprocal Teaching, CIRC, and CWPT—encourage students to practice research-based strategies, which have been shown to strengthen reading comprehension when implemented regularly on instructional-level text. Furthermore, PALS organizes highly structured, reciprocal, one-to-one interaction, which:l Provides all students with frequent

opportunity to respond;l Facilitates immediate corrective feedback;l Increases academic engaged time; and l Offers social support and encouragement,

with all students sharing the esteem associated with the tutoring role.

Moreover, with the PALS scoring system students work cooperatively with partners, but compete in teams to earn points. We have often observed that this keeps students working in a focused, productive, and constructive manner.

conclusionDespite the apparent effectiveness of the programs we have discussed, peer mediation is an under-appreciated and still infrequently used approach to differentiate and strengthen learning and teaching. Yet the programs have a stronger evidence base than many other approaches that are far more expensive and difficult. Peer-mediated instruction does not solve every problem, and there are still small numbers of children who need additional interventions, such as small group or one-to-one tutoring. Yet it makes sense to use classwide methods known to help most children, and only then consider additional interventions for the few who do not respond well enough.

This highlights the importance of monitoring at-risk students’ reading progress throughout the school year to identify those who require program adjustments. In this regard, we support new policies which re-define general education as multiple levels of increasingly intensive prevention.

About the authorsDouglas Fuchs and Lynn Fuchs hold the Nicholas Hobbs chair in Special Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. They conduct research on reading and math instruction and on classroom assessment.

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AcRoss thE polItIcAl DIvIDE there is now a strong consensus that evidence should be used as the basis for what is practiced in schools.

The time seems right to build on this consensus and move forward with an approach that sees good evidence brought to bear on the programs and practices that are used in schools.

There are a number of elements needed to make this happen, and it will take time to get them all in place.

Researching the right thingsFirst, it is important that more research is directed at finding out what works. There is a growing body of education research in the U.S., using a variety of approaches and methods. It is clearly important that new research does not merely duplicate what has already been done, but instead builds on existing knowledge. To do this, it is important that there are strong systematic reviews of existing evidence. A systematic

Jonathan Sharples and Jonathan Haslam consider the importance of bringing evidence to bear on education policy and practice

The time is right

“We’ll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps.”

President Barack Obama, Address to Congress, February 24, 2009

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review is a summary of research that uses explicit methods to perform a literature search and critical appraisal of individual studies to identify those that are valid and relevant. This enables us to understand clearly what we know already and what needs to be investigated in the future.

There is an important role for evaluative research to help us distinguish between effective and ineffective programs and practices. Research often describes or evaluates a specific teaching practice, such as assessment or pacing, but does not evaluate the implementation of programs and practices that form the larger building blocks of the curriculum. So long as programs include effective practices, the reasoning goes, they must also be effective.

But this is a dangerous assumption. It is rather like saying that, so long as a drug contains the active ingredient, the dose, frequency and length of prescription are unimportant details. By the same token, all programs in education that use similar principles are not the same, and it is important that there is reliable, evaluative evidence of their effectiveness.

For example, the recent BEE ( review of beginning reading found that phonics is necessary but not sufficient for effective reading programs. Successfully evaluated programs almost all emphasized systematic, synthetic phonics. However, many ineffective programs also emphasized phonics. Other aspects of the programs were also critical, such as classroom management and motivation.

There has been recent progress in building a base of randomized evidence on education programs and practices. The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences was established in 2002 to provide rigorous evidence on which to ground education practice and policy. An example of its recent work was a study on four of the most popular math programs in the U.S. (seven math programs

account for 83% of the market). Almost 40 schools were assigned to the programs randomly. The results showed that two of the programs were significantly better than the others.

Another recent U.S. study looked at the effectiveness of a computer-based language program, Fast ForWord. Used by more than 570,000 students, the study was a randomized field trial to test whether the strong effects found with the program in the laboratory were being replicated in school settings. The researchers found that the program did not, in general, help students improve their language and reading comprehension test scores.

These large scale studies are expensive to run, but it is worth it, since such studies can support (or not) the use of programs that are themselves very expensive. The evaluations will save money, time, and effort in the long run by ensuring that resources are channelled into effective and cost-effective approaches.

the role of the professionalSome practitioners might be concerned that this kind of research may constrain the inspirational, effective teacher – that some programs tend to be dogmatic and prescriptive. In fact, evidence-based education means integrating an educator’s professional expertise with the best available evidence from research. It empowers teachers by making information and evidence available to help them make effective decisions. Professional judgements will always be needed to apply the evidence in the context of particular schools and classrooms.

Evidence is also valuable in supporting the importance of a great teacher. A recent study looked at the impact of an effective teacher. The quality of the teacher was the second most important predictor of a student’s success (second only to the student’s previous performance level). Interestingly, it also showed that it was not possible to identify good quality teachers on the basis of gender, age, education, or experience (except for those having very low levels of experience). Good teachers can come in many forms.

This makes sense when we think of medicine, which, until quite recently, was not soundly built on evidence. A good doctor should be professional, with good communication skills and a thorough understanding of the latest, best evidence in medicine. We would not expect a good doctor to prescribe a particular medicine or treatment because “that’s what we’ve always done” or because a colleague has just tried it on a patient and it seemed to

work. We should expect better evidence that something works than tradition or anecdote.

That should be the case in education, too. Professional teachers should use the programs and practices with the best evidence that best fit the needs, resources, and context of their students.

To ignore the importance of a teacher’s professionalism in the improvement of education would simply not be the most effective approach to raise standards. Indeed, any plan to improve the quality of education will fail unless it involves educators from the outset.

The time is propitious, it seems, to build on these ideas, and towards an education system that is built more on evidence and what works, and less on fads and fashions.

We would not expect a good doctor to prescribe a particular medicine or treatment because ‘that’s what we’ve always done’ or because it seemed to work. We should expect better evidence that something works than tradition or anecdote

What is evidence-based reform and why does it matter?

Evidence-based education reform is a process of change that uses high-quality evidence from rigorous experiments to guide educational policies and practices. Proponents of evidence-based education reform hold that true progress will take place in education only when: (1) educators and policy makers have a broad set of programs and practices with strong evidence of effectiveness available; and (2) government policies support the use of well-evaluated programs, as well as the development and evaluation of new, promising programs.

To increase student achievement, programs and practices used by teachers at all levels need to be improved. This, in turn, requires a focus on research and development to create and rigorously evaluate new approaches capable of making a substantial difference in student outcomes. There is currently limited research evaluating specific educational programs, practices, and materials. As a result, evidence of what works is rarely consequential in educators’ decisions. This limitation not only fails to provide the best educational programs to children, but it also removes any incentive for developers to create programs that work better than current practices. Still, other fields, such as medicine, agriculture, and technology, have instituted evidence-based practices, and they had to overcome similar pressures. There is no fundamental reason that education cannot do the same.

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ThE AmERIcAN REcovERy AND REINvEsTmENT AcT that was approved in February, commonly known as the economic stimulus package, creates a once-in-a-lifetime infusion of cash to schools. An eye-popping $100 billion dollars will be targeted to education, nearly twice the U.S. Department of Education’s entire annual budget.

The $3 billion set aside for school improvement grants could bring meaningful changes to an estimated minimum of 6,000 schools. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, through which these funds will be distributed, there is a statutory limitation of $500,000 maximum and $50,000 minimum award to schools, though these limitations could be temporarily waived to allow support for massive urban school reforms. These funds are on schedule to be distributed by the beginning of the 2009–2010 school year. The funds need not be spent immediately, but must have an allocated use by the beginning of the 2011–2012 school year. Unlike “shovel-ready” construction and infrastructure projects outside of the education realm, schools have some time for planning on how to use these funds, but not much.

This infusion of cash is coupled with a mandate for concrete results. The U.S. Department of Education has stretched out the timeline as much as it could so that the need for quick spending would not overshadow the mandate for smart spending that produces results.

The eternal question lingers…Will schools choose programs proven to work, or programs with proven marketing strategies? This has always been a concern, but today, the stakes are higher than ever. With this unique one-time opportunity for large-scale reform spending, all eyes are on schools to make dramatic improvements over a short period

of time. Wise choices by schools will involve adoption of interventions that have shown significant gains in student achievement over and over again — because there is no time for gambling on unreplicable solutions.

sustainable reformSchools have three options:l Continue to build their patchwork of ideas

and hope for the best;l Choose programs and curricula that are

well-marketed, but unproven; orl Adopt reform models that are proven to

yield sustainable results.The U.S. Department of Education is

furiously working to provide guidance to states and schools on how to use this funding to produce meaningful reform and maximum results. Reform is consistently the centerpiece of all conversations surrounding this new funding.

The Department is publicly insisting that stimulus funds will be used to spur innovation, and not be used for unsustainable changes, such as increases in

teacher pay. Departmental guidance thus far is focused on using this one-time financial support to invest in resources and training that will stabilize innovations after the “funding cliff” that will inevitably occur after funding returns to normal levels. Schools need to think large scale and long term, as they should not expect these funding levels to last and need to plan accordingly.

Schools can do this by building their human capital and capacity. For example, schools could invest in “super-training” teachers and school leaders, who might later serve as trainers or coaches for other teachers in the school. Schools could invest in promising learning technologies such as interactive whiteboards or electronic response devices and couple this investment with a multi-year professional development contract to ensure that these technologies yield meaningful results for students. Schools could also invest in proven comprehensive school reform and turnaround models and work with vendors to negotiate pre-payment on contracts for continued professional development and implementation support for future years.

Washington corner:

Stimulating evidence-based reformThe $100 billion in economic stimulus for education offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for schools to afford to adopt proven reform models. Lauren Gibbs explores the possibilities.

We must do dramatically

better. We must continue

to innovate. We must build

upon what works, and we must stop doing what

doesn’t work U.s. secretary of Education

Arne Duncan, 2009

[stimulus funds are to be used] to implement

evidence-based strategies that will help build

sustainable capacity for improving teaching and

learning in Title I schools, recognizing that the

amount of funds available will support interventions

at a level of intensity not always possible in

the past U.s. Department of Education

guidance, 2009

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The key factor in these ideas is that each can be obtained with a one-time investment that will pay multi-year dividends on student achievement. Proven programs and models are available, but schools need to be urged to make this kind of forward-thinking investment using the best available research, rather than just piling on to the current patchwork of unproven reforms.

Schools are scrambling to figure out how to apply this financial infusion. The Department is quietly urging the school improvement industry to help to get the word out about how to use this money for a maximum impact.

The school improvement industry has already begun heavily marketing different interventions to schools, and this is only expected to intensify as schools develop their plans. Unfortunately, the school improvement industry is not populated exclusively by those dedicated to evidence-based reform. Those in the education research community devoted to high standards, and education practitioners dedicated to the use of

proven programs, must join the call for sustainable reforms.

The future of reformOnly 3% of the education stimulus funds are targeted to school improvement. Yet the actions taken now will chart the course for the role of evidence in education reform in the future. How schools will use this money will be determined in the next six months, but the results of these decisions will impact education policy and spending for the next decade.

With this enormous one-time infusion of cash to schools, the expectations on performance will be higher than ever. The Department’s guidance for extraordinary transparency will not allow implementation mismanagement to be swept under the rug. If schools fail to hit the ground running with proven, sustainable strategies for reform, they will face unprecedented scrutiny. An expensive crash-and-burn for school improvement will seriously undermine the future funding of school-based interventions. How this funding is used will

also have a considerable impact on the issues of substance addressed during the upcoming reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

Money has never been, and never will be, a magic bullet for education reform. At the same time, financing on this scale has the potential to be transformational. We have a once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity for schools to afford to adopt proven reform models. This opportunity should serve as a launch pad for evidence-based reform that will put thousands of underperforming schools on a trajectory for success.

Further readingThe U.S. Department of Education regularly updates its website with guidance for the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: 

President Obama’s administration has created a central website for tracking all stimulus spending:

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RAND reports on major evaluation of charter schoolsThE RAND CoRpoRATIoN recently reported on a major study of charter schools across the U.S. to compare student achievement in charter and traditional public schools. Charter schools—which began in the US in 1992 and have grown to over 4,000 schools—receive public money but operate somewhat independently from guidelines of local school districts. The study examined longitudinal, student-level achievement data from Chicago, San Diego, Philadelphia, Denver, Milwaukee, and the states of Ohio, Texas, and Florida. This study encompassed more locations than previous studies of charter schools, and more extensively considered whether differences in effects were related to

local charter laws and policies or other factors.

Contrary to popular belief, the study found that charter schools were not attracting the highest-achieving students in the traditional public schools. For those students transferring to a charter secondary school, achievement gains were, on the average, neither substantially better nor

substantially worse than those of students in local traditional public schools. Similarly, the introduction of charter schools was not shown to significantly affect test scores of students in nearby traditional public schools.

The greatest negative effect was seen in the achievement of students attending a charter school in its first year of operation. Across locations, student performance increased as the charter schools aged.

An area of significant gain was the association between attending charter school and continuing on to college. Students attending charter middle and high schools had a higher probability of graduating and of enrolling in college.

RAND Corporation, 2009

ACCoRDING to the findings of a $20 million pilot program in Texas, immersing schools in technology accelerates technology proficiency in teachers and students, but most significantly improves math and reading scores when students take home laptop computers.

The Technology Immersion Pilot, funded by the Texas Education Agency in 2003, examined whether the effective use of technology in Texas public schools would be increased by immersing schools in technology at once rather than by introducing technology resources over time. An evaluation of the pilot used a quasi-experimental research design to enable a scientific estimation of the effects, comparing experimental and control groups.

Researchers determined that teachers in immersion schools were more technology proficient and used technology more often for professional productivity purposes than teachers not in immersion schools. In addition, teachers were faster to become positive toward innovative technology practices across years than teachers not exposed to immersion.

Students became significantly more technology proficient in the immersion

schools, interacted with peers in small-group activities more often, and received fewer disciplinary actions than non-immersion students. However, immersion did not increase self-directed learning, general satisfaction with schoolwork, or attendance.

While technology immersion had an inconsistent effect on assessment scores for reading and math achievement – varying by grade levels – using a laptop for home learning was a strong predictor of both reading and math achievement.

Texas Center for Educational Research,  2009

Laptop computer use in the home improves test scores in Texas pilot program

The introduction of charter schools was not shown to

significantly affect test scores of students in nearby traditional

public schools

Researchers determined that teachers in immersion

schools were more technology proficient and

used technology more often for professional productivity

purposes than teachers not in immersion schools

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New review – phonics may be key to beginning reading successA sysTEmATIC REvIEw identifying proven beginning reading programs found that phonics is not enough to improve children’s reading, reports Johns Hopkins University.

The review by Professor Robert Slavin from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education looked at hundreds of studies and identified 62 rigorous evaluations of approaches to improving the beginning reading success of children in kindergarten and first grade. The approaches studied included reading textbooks, technology, professional development, and a combination of textbooks and professional development. The review concluded that programs focusing on changing daily teaching practices, such as use of cooperative learning, have a greater impact than those focusing on textbooks or technology alone.

Perhaps the most surprising finding of the review relates to the popular, and hotly debated, notion of adding phonics to traditional reading instruction as a way to cure reading problems, an approach strongly emphasized in the Bush Administration’s Reading First program. While the review notes the importance of phonics in beginning reading instruction, it also concludes that just adding phonics is not enough to bring about widespread improvement in children’s reading. Textbooks, technology, and professional development approaches that added an emphasis on phonics rarely showed significant improvements in reading. What did work were programs that give teachers extensive training in classroom strategies such as cooperative learning and teaching of letter sounds and sound blending.

Best Evidence Encyclopedia website,

pREsChool TEAChERs in low-income neighborhoods report that over 15% of the children in their classrooms exhibit behavioral problems that hinder their academic progress. While much attention has been paid to strengthening educational components of preschool, less attention has been given to improving basic behavioral, emotional, and cognitive skills needed to succeed in school. The Foundations of Learning (FOL) Project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, was established to address these needs.

The FOL Project builds on the work of the Chicago School Readiness Project, a randomized trial of 18 Head Start centers that uniquely combined teacher training and classroom consultation. FOL is a large-scale test of the Chicago School Readiness model that has produced promising results in small-scale studies, helping to resolve severe behavioral problems in a subset of preschool children. The

research organization MDRC is evaluating FOL by analyzing participating preschool classrooms randomly assigned to either receive the FOL program model or use traditional classroom approaches.

The FOL Project uses a two-pronged program model: l Professional Development: Teachers

receive training on effective classroom management strategies that promote children’s positive behavior; and

l Classroom Consultation: Clinically trained professionals reinforce the intervention by consulting with teachers and providing individualized clinical services to children identified as being at-risk. FOL operated in 51 Newark preschool sites

(26 program sites and 25 control sites) in the 2007-2008 school year, following a pilot with 17 Newark sites the previous year. In Chicago, 40 classrooms will be a part of the study during the 2008-2009 school year.

MDRC, 2009

Building behavior skills leads to school-ready students

hIGh sChool DRopouTs can find themselves at a distinct disadvantage in a labor market where education is typically linked with greater job opportunity. In an attempt to intervene and reengage these at-risk youth, the National Guard created the Youth ChalleNGe program. Funded through the U.S. Department of Defense, the goal of ChalleNGe is to make sure teens get the education, opportunity, and structured training and mentoring they need to succeed.

To evaluate the effectiveness of ChalleNGe, MDRC is evaluating the program

using a randomized assignment research design. About 3,000 young people entered the study in 10 ChalleNGe programs in 2005–2006. Early results suggest that partway through the ChallenGE experience, program participants are better positioned to move forward in their transition to adulthood. Measures assessed include attainment of high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate by program participants, as well as likelihood of program participants to attend college.

MDRC, 2009

Evaluation shows signs of success for National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program

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The Latest ResearchReport: Effectiveness of Reading and Mathematics Software Products: Findings from Two Student Cohorts. (2009)

What? This randomized control trial study reports on the impacts on student achievement of a second year of use of selected software products in 1st grade reading, 4th grade reading, 6th grade math, and Algebra I. The report presents effects of 10 products on student test scores.The evaluation found no significant difference in student achievement between the

classrooms that used the software and the classrooms that did not use the software, in any of the four groups, in either the first or second year of use by teachers. Only one product, Leap Track in 4th grade, had a statistically significant positive effect on student achievement.

It should be noted, however, that for all the products, usage was somewhat limited: the maximum annual usage by any treatment group was fewer than 43 hours in the first year and fewer than 25 hours in the second

year. The study did not consider whether increased use of the software would affect outcomes. In addition, findings were not adjusted for variations in schools and districts taking part in the study, which may have affected outcomes.

Authors: Campuzano, L., Dynarski, M., Agodini, R., Rall, K.

Where? This report can be found on the Institute of Education Sciences website at

Report: Achievement effects of four early elementary school math curricula: Findings from first graders in 39 schools. (2009)

What? This study of first graders in 39 schools sought to determine whether some early elementary school math curricula are more effective than others at improving student math achievement, particularly in disadvantaged schools. The study design involved grouping similar numbers and types of schools, teachers, and students into “blocks” which were then randomly assigned to each curriculum.

The four curricula selected for the study were: Investigations in Number, Data, and Space; Math Expressions; Saxon Math; and Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley (SFAW) Mathematics. The findings showed that student math achievement was significantly higher in schools assigned to Math Expressions (blending student-centered and teacher-directed approaches) and Saxon (blending

teacher instruction of new material with daily practices of previously learned concepts and procedures) than in schools assigned to Investigations and SFAW. For example, the effects showed that a student at the 50th percentile in math achievement could expect to have a percentile rank of 9 to 12 points higher if the school used Math Expressions or Saxon, instead of Investigations or SFAW.

The author states that a follow-up report is planned to reflect the addition of 71 schools to the study. In addition, a third report will present results of expanding implementation to the third grade in a subset of schools. The study is being conducted as part of the National Assessment of Title I.

Authors: Agodini, R., Harris, B., Atkins-Burnett, S., Heaviside, S., Novak, T., Murphy, R.

Where? This report can be found on the Institute of Education Sciences website at

Report: A randomized field trial of the Fast ForWord Language computer-based training program. (March 2009)

What? Scientists developed the Fast ForWord computer-based training programs to help students at-risk for reading and language difficulties by sharpening their general auditory processing skills. While there had been developer claims of success based on laboratory experiments, there was little rigorous research prior to the current study.

This study among second and seventh grade students in eight Baltimore City public schools compared results of using the supplemental Fast ForWord Language program with those of students who

received only their regular classroom-based literacy instruction.

In general, the FastForward Language program did not help students in the eight schools improve their language and reading comprehension test scores. Researchers acknowledge that outcomes may have been affected by implementation challenges: between 67% and 76% of students attended the required 20 days of training and only 38% to 51% completed a sufficient number of exercises recommended by the developers.

Scheduling and student motivation played a major part in the implementation challenges; in fact, when the middle school

teachers and students remained committed and more faithfully implemented the program as it was designed by the publisher, the students showed significant gains in reading comprehension. Because the publisher’s implementation requirements are high (e.g., amount of training needed), researchers of the study questioned viability of widespread implementation of Fast ForWord to improve test scores on district- or state-administered standardized tests.

Authors: Borman, G.D., Benson, J.G., Overman, L.

Where? This report can be found on the SAGE publications website at

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Child Trends Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center whose mission is to improve student outcomes by providing research, data, and analysis to those who serve children and youth. The Child Trends website identifies emerging education issues, evaluates programs and policies, and provides data-driven, evidence-based guidance on educational policy and practice.

Doing What WorksDoing What Works is a U.S. Department of Education-sponsored website dedicated to helping educators identify and make use of effective teaching practices. Doing What Works includes practice guides developed by the Department’s Institute of Education Sciences that evaluate research on the effectiveness of teaching practices described in the

Promising Practices Network The Promising Practices Network (PPN) provides educators with evidence-based information on programs and practices that are proven to improve educational outcomes for children. The information on the PPN website focuses on five main sections: programs that work, research in brief, service delivery, resources and tools, and partner pages.

Social Programs That Work The Social Programs That Work website was developed by the Coalition for

Evidence-Based Policy, whose mission is to promote government policy making based on rigorous evidence of program effectiveness. The site provides policy makers and practitioners with clear, actionable information on what works, as demonstrated in scientifically-valid studies.

The Campbell Collaboration The mission of The Campbell Collaboration (C2) is to help educators make well-informed decisions by preparing, maintaining, and disseminating systematic reviews in education, crime and justice, and social welfare. The C2 website provides findings for systematic reviews that

address questions about the effects of educational interventions.

What Works ClearinghouseThe What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) was established by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to promote informed education decision making. The WWC website provides educators with databases and reports that review the effectiveness of replicable educational interventions (programs, products, practices, and policies) intended to improve student

The Latest ResearchReport: Impact evaluation of the U.S. Department of Education’s student mentoring program. (March 2009)

What? Student mentoring programs connect volunteers with students who have been identified as at-risk either academically or socially/emotionally. These programs have become increasingly popular in recent years, though research has shown a range of impact findings, generally not sustainable over time. To build the body of rigorous research on mentoring, researchers conducted a study of the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Mentoring Program to compare outcomes of 2,573 students in

the fourth through eighth grades who were randomly assigned to either receive or not receive school-based mentoring.

Students were compared on a total of 17 outcomes in the domains of interpersonal relationships and personal responsibility, academic achievement and engagement, and high-risk or delinquent behavior. The evaluation found that for the full sample of students, the program did not lead to statistically significant impacts on any of the measures.

Comparing subgroups by gender and age revealed significant differences. For girls only,

the impacts on Scholastic Efficacy and School Bonding and on the Overall Absenteeism Rate were positive and statistically significant. In contrast, for boys only, the impact on self-reported Pro-social Behaviors was negative and statistically significant. There was also a statistically significant negative impact on truancy for younger students (under 12), but not for older students.

Authors: Bernstein, L., Dun Rappaport, C., Olsho, L., Hunt, D., Levin, M.

Where? This report can be found on the Institute of Education Sciences website at

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