A paradigm shift is a radical change in thinking—from an accepted point of view to a new one. Read Right reading programs (K-3 Primary Core Curriculum and the Read Right Intervention Program delivered on site or online) offer a paradigm shift in teaching reading effectively. What triggers a paradigm shift? Persistent problems that cannot be solved by popular methods tried by nearly every school system in America for years. For Read Right developer Dr. Dee Tadlock the unsolvable problem was a son who was unsuccessful in learning to read in first grade. He provided the initial catalyst for Dr. Tadlock’s search for a better way to teach reading. After three years of post-doctoral research, Read Right methodology was developed as an effective, lasting solution which she initially tested with her son, and then her own special education students. That’s right. Read Right developer Dr. Dee Tadlock is a former special education teacher.
Most educators will agree that too many children, teens, and adults struggle with reading. Ample evidence suggests that flawed ideas are the cause. First, virtually every school district in America has students in almost every classroom that can’t read well enough to do the work they’re asked to do. Second, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores in reading have been virtually flat for more than 30 years. The same data shows that two-thirds of 4th, 8th, and 12th graders read at a basic level or below, insufficient for success in college and many careers.
In 1997, the U.S. Government responded to the on-going state of affairs by convening a National Reading Panel to review available research. The objective: discover the best way to instruct reading. Its final report, published in 2000, supported the “tried and true” approach: explicit, systematic teaching in “five essential components” of reading. The components and the order in which they must be taught:
- Phonemic awareness (the concept that words in spoken language are composed of individual phonemes, or sounds)
- Intensive phonics knowledge (decoding, word-attack, and sight word recognition)
NOTE: Word recognition is perceived as the foundational skill that must be in place before successful reading is possible. As Marilyn J. Adams expressed in her book, Beginning to Read (1990), “Skillful reading is not a unitary skill. It is a whole complex system of skills and knowledge. . .On the other hand, unless the processes involved in individual word recognition operate properly, nothing else in the system can either.”
- Fluency (typically, timing students to encourage them to read as fast as possible to determine words-per-minute)
- Vocabulary (individual words and their meanings)
- Comprehension (teaching specific strategies to support text understanding; often involves asking questions to see if comprehension has occurred)
Without appropriate scientific testing, these five parts and pieces were assumed to accurately represent what was required for successful reading. Teaching these skills became the law of the land via the No Child Left Behind Act. The act tied Federal funds for states and individual school systems to a requirement that reading intervention programs must reflect the findings of the National Reading Panel. A key component of that legislation was the Reading First Initiative—a 5-year, $6 billion attempt to support selected schools and school districts in implementing the “five essential components of reading instruction” so the effectiveness of such instruction could be demonstrated. The end goal was that no child leave third grade with a reading problem.
Fortunately, the U.S. Government likes data, so it commissioned a final impact study of the Reading First Initiative. Officials assumed that quality instruction of the five basic skills would produce confident, successful readers. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the 2008 Reading First Impact Study Final Report (Abt Associates) revealed no improvement in any of the five skills after three full years of study with three grade levels (Grades 1 – 3). There was one exception: modest gain in phonics knowledge for only one year of the study, and in first grade only. Importantly, they found no improvement at all in any year, nor in any grade level, in the only skill that gives the act of reading value: comprehension. Thus, students were no better off understanding what they read. This result emerged in spite of significantly more teacher training, more time spent on reading instruction in the classroom, additional appropriate materials, and the introduction of reading coaches to the school staff. Again: $6 billion spent on a “tried and true” assumption about reading instruction, and no significant effect. Bottom-line? Focusing reading instruction on the “five essential components” did not work to help students become successful readers!
Today, schools are still using these failed methods because the federal government is still promising that they will work. Consider this: They are the same methods that SpEd has been using for decades to remediate reading ability. They didn’t produce consistent, significant growth in the past and they are extremely unlikely to do so in the future.
As Albert Einstein wisely said, “Insanity is continuing to do things the way we have always done them and expecting to get different results.”
Read on for an explanation of why this 150-year-old method of instruction does not and cannot work.
FACT: Identifying Individual Words and Passage Reading Are Different Cognitive Acts
The theoretical constructs underlying Read Right methodology are supported by fMRI research conducted when subjects are reading. If the subjects are reading word-lists, the resulting neural activation patterns are located primarily in the language centers of the brain. Subsequent research has revealed that the same neural activation patterns occur whenever the brain is naming something—objects in the environment or even pictures of objects. Thus, when the brain is reading to identify individual words on a page, it is merely naming those words. Notably, this is what the five essential components theory of reading is designed to facilitate.
Read Right methodology is a paradigm shift for the field of reading. Why? Read Right contends that the brain doesn’t care what the words are. The human brain is the organ for making sense of the world. It constantly seeks meaning. An example is the manner in which babies and toddlers acquire speech. They babble at first, experimenting with the creation of the sounds of their native languages—the sounds they hear in their environments. . Later, they figure out that language is a tool for communication. They don’t learn the meaning of individual words and then string them together to communicate. Rather, they want to communicate a broader meaning, and they gather up language to actualize the communication. Meaning comes first—before the language. Their first attempts at using words are not for naming (or reciting) the words; rather, from the very beginning, they use words as language was intended: to communicate meaning. When a small human toddles over to the kitchen sink, reaches towards the faucet with a chubby little hand and says, “Waw.” He is not saying, water. He is saying, “I want a drink of water.” Mother—a very natural and intuitive teacher of language—responds by saying, “Oh, do you want a drink of water? OK.” Then she hands the toddler a glass of water. In using language (talking, listening, or reading), the meaning always comes first. The language to express that meaning is gathered afterwards. Current reading instruction places words before meaning.
Humans must figure out for themselves how to make meaningful speech happen. At the center of it all, though, is meaning—not separate and explicitly taught skills that can, over time, be added up to deliver meaningful language. Confused? Consider this: approximately 1 percent of all 4 and 5 year olds teach themselves how to read without any decoding instruction. In every case, they’ve been read to for years, and they frequently ask for the same book to be read again and again. With no more than that, they figure out the complex process of reading—and never need additional help or support with the skill. They never display reading problems. They read excellently from the very beginning.
Shifting the Paradigm: Read Right’s Theoretical Constructs
Read Right creates rapid and impressive gains in students’ reading abilities. It reflects the following theoretical constructs:
As an individual learns how to do something, he or she builds a neural network to guide the process. Reading problems are caused when an individual builds a flawed neural network to guide the process of reading. Because the network has errors encoded in, it operates inappropriately when it is accessed to read.
The only way to eliminate a reading problem is to compel the brain to re-model the network. Brains are “plastic,” but they are unlikely to accidently encounter an environment that would cause them to remodel existing circuitry. The tutoring environment must be precise to facilitate the remodeling work and ensure it will happen.
A process is anything you can put a how-to in front of, like how to ride a bike, how to scratch your nose when it itches, how to walk, how to talk, how to read, and thousands of other “how-to” things. Reading, like all processes, is primarily learned implicitly and operates implicitly—below the level of conscious awareness. Because of this, all processes—including reading— cannot be explicitly taught. Think of bicycle riding: —as you are riding a bicycle, do you know what your brain is doing to keep you upright? Did anyone teach you how to integrate and co-ordinate the neural systems necessary to make bicycle-riding happen, or did your brain figure it out for itself?
Even though processes operate primarily implicitly, every process has some explicit aspects. These can and should be explicitly taught. For reading, the explicit aspects include sound-symbol correspondence, the concept of word in print, the understanding that when a reader reads out loud, the language created is the same as the language represented in print on the page, and the purpose of punctuation. All of these can be easily and explicitly taught. Knowledge of the explicit aspects of reading is necessary, but it is not sufficient to enable excellent reading. An iceberg is an appropriate metaphor for any process-learning: the small part of the iceberg sticking above the water is representative of the explicit aspects of any process, and the much larger part of the iceberg under the water represents the implicit aspects of any process. The job of the educator, once the explicit aspects of reading are taught, is to construct an environment within which the brain is compelled to figure out all the implicit aspects of reading and integrate them with the explicit aspects. Once the brain figures this out, the reader emerges from the reading act understanding, at a literal level, the author’s intended meaning each and every time reading is engaged.
Unfortunately, the reading field has never—in 150 years—acknowledged the implicit nature of procedural learning. Reading professionals only advocate “explicit and systematic” instruction of reading skills and strategies. Read Right theory contends that the concept is oxymoronic. It’s impossible to explicitly teach implicit process, which must be mastered reading excellence to be achieved. As a “how-to” thing, reading excellence requires complex neural activity below the level of our conscious awareness. Thus, excellent reading cannot be taught. The brain must figure it out for itself.
The foundation and main event of reading is not word identification; it is anticipating the author’s message. The brain must figure out how to plan, coordinate, and integrate numerous complex neural systems so such anticipation is possible. Phonics is necessary to read, but excellent readers don’t use phonetic information to figure out what the words are. When needed, they strategically sample just enough phonetic information to help anticipate the meaning and, in the face of uncertainty, use phonetic information to confirm or reject the anticipation.
Implications of the Three Assumptions
To eliminate a reading problem, the brain must be in an environment that compels it to remodel neural circuitry so it successfully guides the complex, implicit process of anticipating the author’s meaning. Read Right provides such an environment.
The Paradigm Shift Solves the Unsolvable Problem
Students who participate in Read Right, regardless of the label they wear to explain the reading problem, make rapid, impressive gains in reading that outstrip any reasonable expectations. You can explore the data pages of our website to find support for this statement, including third-party, gold-standard research. Also, you might want to peruse our video library to hear testimonials from those who have witnessed first-hand the transformation made possible by participation in Read Right.
For a point-by-point comparison of the five essential skills theory as compared to Read Right theory, go to the readright.com home page and scroll down.