Theoretical Constructs Underlying Read Right
Dee developed a new and effective solution for teaching students with reading problems to read better. Hear the back story in detail.
The Need for a Paradigm Shift in Reading: Unsolvable Problems
Too many children, teens, and adults struggle with reading. There is ample evidence: 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; the National Assessment of Educational Progress scores in reading have been virtually flat for more than 30 years; the US Office of Education has, for several years, reported that about 1/3 of 4th, 8th, and 12th graders cannot read well enough to easily and comfortably get information from print.
The Federal Government responded to this on-going state of affairs by convening a National Reading Panel in 1997 to conduct a review of research to discover the best way to instruct reading. Its final report, published in 2000, supported the “tried and true.”
The report advocated:
- Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness (the concept that words in spoken language are composed of individual phonemes, or sounds)
- Systematic instruction in figuring out what the words are (using decoding, word-attack, and sight word recognition)
- Employing methods to improve fluency (typically, by asking students to read as fast as possible and timing their words per minute)
- Instruction designed to improve vocabulary
- Improving comprehension by teaching specific strategies and by asking pertinent questions
The final report of the National Reading Panel became the law of the land via the No Child Left Behind Act, which tied receiving Federal funds to a requirement that reading intervention programs reflect the findings of the Panel. A key component of that legislation was the Reading First Initiative–a 5-year, $6 billion attempt to ensure grade-level performance at the end of third grade by requiring teachers to use proven methods of instruction, which clearly meant the 5 “essential components” defined by the Panel.
The final impact study of the Reading First Initiative was published in 2008 and revealed no improvement in reading comprehension for any grade (1, 2, & 3) in any of the years in which data was collected. This in spite of significantly more time spent on reading instruction during the school day and on a significant increase in support to teachers, which included in-service training, increased availability of materials, and the addition of reading coaches to the school staff.
And yet, in spite of this overwhelming evidence that what the Reading Panel recommended as essential components of reading instruction did not work, the reading field continues to advocate for the same instruction that has been in vogue for 150 years.
That instruction is based on a conviction that the foundational skill, the main event of reading, is figuring out what the words are. As Marilyn J. Adams expressed in her book, Beginning to Read (published in 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.” (italics added)
This belief, supported by the findings of the National Reading Panel, fuels early reading instruction and, typically, reading intervention curriculum. The student must:
- Look at the squiggles on the page
- Use decoding, word attack, and sight-word recognition to translate the squiggles to oral language
- Go through the oral language to get to the meaning
Teachers are generally quite competent in teaching the skills required to figure out what the words are. So why are there so many children, teens, and adults who don’t read well? The constructs that underlie the Read Right methodology can explain that. It is our contention that virtually no one is unable to learn to read excellently. The qualifier is: if the environment is right. What does that mean?
Identifying 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 words, it is naming the words–which is what typical reading curricula is designed to facilitate.
If the subjects are reading paragraphs as their brains are being scanned, the resulting neural activation occurs all over the brain. This supports the view that reading words and reading passages are not the same cognitive tasks.
The theory that provides the foundation for Read Right methodology contends that the brain doesn’t care what the words are–it wants to know what the author’s message is, and it doesn’t have to mediate through oral language to get to the meaning.
Theoretical Constructs of the Read Right Intervention Model
Read Right creates rapid and impressive gains in student reading ability. It reflects the following theoretical constructs:
Reading problems are caused when an individual builds an incorrect 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.
Reading, like all processes, operates implicitly and must be learned implicitly
Process learning operates (and is learned) primarily implicitly—below the level of conscious awareness, so processes (like reading) cannot be explicitly taught. Rather, an environment must be constructed that will compel the brain to figure out all of the implicit aspects of the process.
An easy example is bicycle riding: when an individual rides a bicycle, he is totally aware he is riding it, but he has no idea what his brain is doing to make it happen. No parent tries to explain to a child the proper muscle movement required to ride a bike. Parents know intuitively that the child’s brain must figure it out for itself and that the parents’ job is to simply provide the environment and give feedback based on performance when they can. If the parent constructs the proper environment, the child—in almost all cases—will figure out how to ride the bike.
The same is true of reading: because reading operates primarily implicitly, it can’t be explicitly taught. Rather, an appropriate environment must be constructed so the brain can figure out for itself the implicit aspects of performing the complex cognitive act of reading.
Anticipating the author’s message is the foundational strategy of excellent readers–not figuring out what the words are.
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 the brain doesn’t use phonetic information to figure out what the words are. It strategically samples such information as required to help anticipate the meaning. Once the anticipation is created, if the brain is uncertain about its validity, it uses phonics to make sure the anticipated meaning is the same as the author’s intended meaning.
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.
Does the Paradigm Shift Solve the Unsolvable Problems?
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.
Click here for an exploration of Read Right’s views on the 5 basic skills as defined by the National Reading Panel.