Teaching kids how to read is one of the key tasks elementary school teachers face. At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, only 40% of the third-grade students of teacher Alison Campbell at Lindenwold school in New Jersey were reading on grade level. At school year's end, this percentage had climbed to a stunning 90%, a progression Campbell credits to the literacy program she attended at the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) of the University of Delaware (UD).

CEHD education graduate programs rank among the best in the nation. Professor David Coker, who teaches courses on reading and writing instruction at CEHD, said, "It's really important to use research-based practices because our time in school is really limited."

Research has shown that literacy (and math) skills are among the strongest predictors of academic performance. Kids who are able to master decoding practices and specific reading comprehension levels in early grades are much more likely to be successful afterward, in middle school, high school, and university. Students who can read and write well can undertake any academic task. But if they can't, their capacity to tackle new subjects can be seriously compromised.

Teaching kids to read is a complex process, and there are different methods to doing it, some focusing on phonics and others more on language comprehension. However, reading is a broad concept, and research has revealed that the best instruction includes explicit instruction in both approaches. "Students need vocabulary knowledge, they have to have phonics knowledge, they have to have strategies for comprehending and so on," said Steve Amendum, a professor in the School of Education at UD.

It's crucial to have an understanding of phonics to build a solid foundation of literacy. And while language is acquired naturally through communication, reading has to be taught systematically by other people - parents, caregivers, or teachers (not to mention computers). As Sharon Walpole, another professor in the UD's School of Education, stated, "All kids and all individuals - all humans - need to learn to read and write from somebody. It's not natural."

Picture: Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Wikipedia)