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A Review of the Different Methods for Teaching Children to Read

Posted on November 27, 2016

There are many methods that teachers have tried over the years to teach children to read. Below is a brief history of some of the most prominent ways, who developed them, and a few definitions of what they are.

Basal readers:
Includes a specific set of words found on the Dolch word list.The Dolch list is the Standard list for basic sight words. Developed by Dr. Edward William Dolch in the 1930’s and 40’s, he studied the most frequently used words in children’s books and cited a list of over 300 high frequency words. The Basal readers, first espoused by Dr. Edward McGuffey in the 19th and 20th centuries, were graded primers for grade levels 1-6. They are often still used today to teach reading, including phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Also they often include phonetics which includes learning short vowel sounds, and rhyming and other word attack skills. The ‘Dick and Jane’ series was created in the 1930’s by William S.Gray of the University of Chicago’s School of Education, and focused on reading whole words, rather than phonics. Dr. Gray was instrumental in the decades long dominance of whole word reading vs. phonics. Along in 1967, Dr. Jeanne Chall of the Harvard University Reading Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote a noteworthy book, “Learning to Read: The Great Debate” and cited a wealth of research which pointed to the importance of the phonics approach. It was a direct assault on the ‘Look-Say’ ‘Dick and Jane’ approach to learning to read. In 2000 the National Reading Panel released a report which said that the early systematic instruction of phonics is the best way to teach children to read. Today, most reading programs include a balance or mixed approach with a strong emphasis on phonics instruction.

State District Approved Teacher Directed explicit teaching of phonic and comprehension.
These Teacher editions and children’s anthologies contain stories, both fiction and non-fiction, which guide the teacher through the program with a script and includes all the components of reading and writing to create a complete Language Arts Program. These types of books are used in the public school systems throughout the United States. Open Court and Treasures are the names of a couple of these type of reading programs.

The Phonics method:
Relies on children’s prior knowledge of the alphabet , including the names and sounds of the letters and depends on the child’s ability to blend the sounds together to decode and write more complex language. Dr.Seuss books fall into this category.

The ‘Look and Say’ method:
Children learn to recognize words with he help of a picture. Teachers teach the students to write short sentences and use word cards to build their vocabulary. The ‘Dick and Jane’ series falls into this domain.

Language Experience Approach:
Uses student’s own words to help them read. Students can draw pictures and teachers will write a sentence explaining it. (i.e. Mom is in the kitchen). This supports children’s conceptual development and vocabulary growth.

The Context Support Method:
The teacher finds easy books that emphasize the children’s interests so they can be motivated and feel enthusiastic about reading.

Science Research Associates (SRA)
Diagnostic and prescriptive method which incorporates sight vocabulary, phonics, and comprehension at each level of proficiency.

The Ziff Technique Method:
It is really a combination of many of the ideas listed above. It develops Lucy Calkin’s (Columbia University’s Teacher’s College) and Donald Graves’ ( University of New Hampshire) combined research about how children learn to read by writing first. The ideas that 1) children will want to write if you let them and 2) the technique of ‘quick writing’, whereby a student writes non-stop on a topic for 10 minutes to find his writer’s voice, are the impetus for developing this method and teaching early readers through the Ziff Technique. It includes the Language Experience Approach but begins on Day 1, with Writing. Even if the student doesn’t know the alphabet, he begins to learn it gradually with each new lesson. The letters and word recognition skills are reinforced daily using the child’s own personal spoken language and ideas. The topics and the direction that the content of the writing takes are 100% driven by the students themselves. The students share their thoughts on a particular topic and the teacher records them, which the child then writes down and eventually reads back to the teacher. The program can be summed up as a successful way for early readers to verbalize their ideas by learning to write sight words, use phonics, and then read their own written thoughts or ideas.