What is the National Reading Panel and what did it do?

In 1997, Congress asked the NICHD, along with the U.S. Department of Education (ED), to form the National Reading Panel to review research on how children learn to read and determine which methods of teaching reading are most effective based on the research evidence.

The panel included members from different backgrounds, including school administrators, working teachers, and scientists involved in reading research.

Why was the National Reading Panel formed?

The panel was formed because many of the nation’s children have problems learning to read. If they don’t get the help they need, these children will fall behind in school and struggle with reading throughout their lives.

Although parents, teachers, and school officials work hard to help kids learn to read, there have been many different ideas about what ways of teaching reading have worked the best—and some ideas have contradicted each other.

Congress asked the NICHD and the ED to form the National Reading Panel to evaluate existing research about reading and, based on the evidence, determine what methods work best for teaching children to read.

What were the findings of the National Reading Panel?

The National Reading Panel’s analysis made it clear that the best approach to reading instruction is one that incorporates:

  • Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness
  • Systematic phonics instruction
  • Methods to improve fluency
  • Ways to enhance comprehension

The following is a summary of the panel’s findings:

Concept Description Finding
Phonemic awareness Means knowing that spoken words are made up of smaller parts called phonemes. Teaching phonemic awareness gives children a basic foundation that helps them learn to read and spell. The panel found that children who learned to read through specific instruction in phonemic awareness improved their reading skills more than those who learned without attention to phonemic awareness.
Phonics instruction Phonics teaches students about the relationship between phonemes and printed letters and explains how to use this knowledge to read and spell. The panel found that students show marked benefits from explicit phonics instruction, from kindergarten through sixth grade. (Although ideally most children will master phonics in the early grades, those still struggling in later grades may need explicit phonics instruction as intervention).
Fluency Fluency means being able to read quickly, knowing what the words are and what they mean, and properly expressing certain words—putting the right feeling, emotion, or emphasis on the right word or phrase.
Teaching fluency includes (1) guided repeated oral reading, in which students read out loud to someone who corrects their mistakes and provides them with feedback, and (2) independent silent reading, in which students read silently to themselves.
The panel found that reading fluently improved the students’ abilities to recognize new words; read with greater speed, accuracy, and expression; and better understand what they read. Evidence showed that repeated oral reading improved fluency and that reading practice also helped. However, the panel noted that independent silent reading should not be substituted for instruction.
Comprehension: Vocabulary instruction Teaches students how to recognize words and understand them. The panel found that vocabulary instruction and repeated contact with vocabulary words are important. Techniques such as pre-teaching vocabulary and learning to use the words in context are helpful in learning word meanings.
Comprehension: Text comprehension instruction Teaches specific plans or strategies that students can use to help them understand what they are reading. The panel identified seven ways of teaching text comprehension that helped improve reading strategies in children who didn’t have learning disabilities. For instance, creating and answering questions and cooperative learning helped to improve reading outcomes.
Comprehension: Teacher preparation and comprehension strategies instruction Refers to how well a teacher knows things such as the content of the text, comprehension strategies to teach the students, and how to keep students interested. The panel found that teachers were better prepared to use and teach comprehension strategies if they themselves received formal instruction on reading comprehension strategies. They also found that teaching students to use strategies in combination was more beneficial than simply teaching individual strategies.
Teacher Education in reading instruction Examines how well computer technology can be used to deliver reading instruction. In general, the panel found that studies related to teacher education were broader than the criteria used by the panel. Because the studies didn’t focus on specific variables, the panel could not draw conclusions. Therefore, the panel recommended more research on this subject.
Computer technology in reading instruction Examines how well computer technology can be used to deliver reading instruction. Because few studies focused on the use of computers in reading education, the panel could draw few conclusions. However, the panel noted that all of the 21 studies on this topic reported positive results from using computers for reading instruction.

Where can I get help for my child’s reading disorder?
Many organizations for people with reading and other learning disorders provide a wealth of resources to help these people and their parents get help.
A few places to start are:
ED, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). OSEP offers services and assistance to support people with dyslexia and specific learning disabilities.
Parent Technical Assistance Center Network , also supported by OSEP. The Network can help parents learn about their children’s reading or other disabilities, assist parents with connecting with and talking to professionals about their children’s disabilities, and help parents understand the laws and policies related to education for a child with a disability, such as dyslexia.
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities , generally referred to by the acronym NICHCY , offers information related to education for all kinds of disabilities, including reading disorders.
Special Education resources , maintained by the Learning Disabilities Association of America. These resources help parents understand the process of getting special education for their child and help them make sure the child is getting all the help he or she needs.
Help with Your Child , also maintained by the Learning Disabilities Association of America, provides a list of resources for parents of children with learning disabilities. These resources include descriptions of the professionals that may be able to help a child with reading disorders, tips for parents on helping their child at home, and resources for working effectively with teachers. It also offers information on special education .
The National Center for Learning Disabilities can help provide resources for getting your child evaluated at school and questions to ask an evaluator (PDF – 223 KB). It also provides information on dealing with daily living and parenting a child with a learning disability .

Where can I get help for my child’s reading disorder?

Many organizations for people with reading and other learning disorders provide a wealth of resources to help these people and their parents get help.

A few places to start are:

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