Influences on Selecting Reading Programs & Materials

Instructor: Alicia Taylor

Alicia has taught students of all ages and has a master's degree in Education

When it comes to teaching reading, it's very important to use research-based tools that meet the needs of your students. Take a look at this lesson for help selecting reading programs and materials for elementary schools.

The Impact of Reading

Once children hit third grade, a major change happens: they switch away from learning how to read and move toward learning by reading. That means, if a child doesn't master reading by third grade, the issue will ripple out and create problems in everything from history to math to science.

The reading program you choose for your students has a major impact on every area of their academic life. But what influences the choice of the right program for your school?

What is a Reading Program?

A core reading program forms the foundation for reading instruction in primary schools. It includes an approach to basic lessons in decoding, such as phoneme awareness and phonetics, as well as approaches for teaching both younger and older students how to read for comprehension.

Such a school-wide program forms the backbone for reading instruction in all grade levels. Having a system that remains consistent across grade levels avoids confusing students by changing strategies between grades. This does not mean teachers lose all control over their curriculum. Reading programs can, and should be, supplemented with other reading materials and helpful lessons.

Research-Based Programs

No matter the demographics of your school, it is important to make sure you select a reading program that is research-based. This means the program is not based on assumptions or hearsay, but rather on scientific studies that indicate results.

Your school situation may require you to select a reading program based on a specific educational philosophy, such as classical education. Although your educational philosophy will guide which reading programs you consider, it does not eliminate the need to seek out research-based programs. Any educational philosophy will be served well by using materials that are based on scientific investigation, research, and, most importantly, demonstrated effectiveness.

School Composition Considerations

Does your school have many students with learning disabilities? Do you have a large number of high-achieving students? Do you have both? One of the reasons so many different reading programs exist is because so many different schools exist.

If your school has a large number of low-achieving students, or students with disabilities, you will want to select a reading program which allows for a great deal of scaffolding. Scaffolding is an educational approach that leads students through understanding parts of a lesson as they work their way toward understanding the whole. Scaffolding is extremely important for students who struggle.

If a reading program works by breaking whole lessons into more digestible parts, it is a good choice for a school with either low-achieving students or a large number of students with disabilities.

On the other hand, if a school has a large number of high-achieving students, it may be important to choose a program that takes previous knowledge into account and rewards that knowledge. A program that allows greater flexibility for students to move forward at their own pace, rather than matching the pace of their classmates, may be a good choice.

Finally, we can't forget the composition of the faculty. It is important to gain the input of the teachers who will be using the program, since it will be most effective if the teachers feel a sense of ownership. For this reason, teachers should form a part of the group selecting the program. Since K-2 are the grades in which reading instruction is the greatest priority, it may be wise to give K-2 teachers more voice in the selection process than teachers of older grades.

How to Find Information About Programs

Several organizations have examined reading programs and made information available to the public. These organizations include the Florida Center for Reading Research, the Oregon Reading First Panel, and Washington State's K4 Reading Intervention Materials Review. Each organization hosts a website that includes detailed examination of several reading programs' methods.

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