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NICHD Panel Recommends Methods To Teach Reading

By Bob Bock

In the largest, most comprehensive review of its kind, a congressionally mandated independent panel supported by NICHD found that the most effective way to teach children to read is through instruction that includes a combination of methods such as:

  • Phonemic awareness — the knowledge that spoken words can be broken apart into smaller segments known as phonemes.
  • Phonics — the knowledge that phonemes are represented by letters of the alphabet that can then be blended together to form words.
  • Guided repeated oral reading — having children practice what they've learned by reading aloud while receiving guidance and feedback from more proficient readers.
  • Reading comprehension strategies — techniques for helping children to understand what they read.

The panel reported its findings on Apr. 12, before a hearing sponsored by Sen. Thad Cochrane of Mississippi and a briefing held by Rep. Anne Northup of Kentucky's third congressional district.

"For the first time, we now have guidance — based on evidence from sound scientific research — on how best to teach children to read," said NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander. NICHD supports research in reading and learning. "The panel's rigorous scientific review identifies the most effective strategies for teaching reading."

On hand for the press conference announcing release of the National Reading Panel's report are (from l) Cyril Kent McGuire, assistant secretary of educational research and improvement, Department of Education; reading panel Chair Donald Langenberg, chancellor, University System of Maryland; Sally Shaywitz, professor of pediatrics, Yale University; NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander (at podium) and Rep. Anne Northup of Kentucky.

The National Reading Panel was established in response to a 1997 congressional directive. Specifically, Congress asked the director of NICHD, in consultation with Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, to convene a national panel to review the scientific literature and determine, based on that evidence, the most effective ways to teach children to read.

"A child's success in school — and in life — is dependent upon his ability to read," said Northup, who wrote the legislation establishing the panel. "That's why it is so discouraging that nearly 69 percent of America's fourth graders can't read at a proficient level."

She added that numerous programs have been unable to succeed in raising children's reading levels. "Thankfully, the National Reading Panel has delivered the knowledge and the tools we have been lacking," she said.

The 14-member panel included scientists in reading research, representatives of colleges of education, reading teachers, educational administrators and parents. For its review, the panel selected research from the approximately 100,000 reading studies that have been published since 1966, and another 15,000 that had been published before that time. Because of the large volume of studies, the panel selected only experimental and quasi-experimental studies, and among those considered only studies meeting rigorous scientific standards, in reaching its conclusions.

The panel's report is available from its web site, A thorough explanation of two key concepts in the report — phonemic awareness and phonics — is available in the NICHD publication, Why Children Succeed or Fail at Reading,

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