In 1997, congress asked the NICHD, through its Child Development and Behavior Branch, to work with the U.S. Department of Education in establishing a National Reading Panel that would evaluate existing research and evidence to find the best ways of teaching children to read. The 14-member panel considered roughly 100,000 reading studies published since 1966, and another 10,000 published before that time; from this pool, the panel selected several hundred studies for its review and analysis. To learn more about the panel's findings, check out Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read—Summary Report.
The panel found that a combination of techniques is effective for teaching children to read:
- Phonemic awareness—the knowledge that spoken words can be broken apart into smaller segments of sound known as phonemes. Children who are read to at home—especially material that rhymes—often develop the basis of phonemic awareness. Children who are not read to will probably need to be taught that words can be broken apart into smaller sounds.
- Phonics—the knowledge that letters of the alphabet represent phonemes, and that these sounds are blended together to form written words. Readers who are skilled in phonics can sound out words they haven't seen before, without first having to memorize them.
- Fluency—the ability to recognize words easily, read with greater speed, accuracy, and expression, and to better understand what is read. Children gain fluency by practicing reading until the process becomes automatic; guided oral repeated reading is one approach to helping children become fluent readers.
- Guided oral reading—reading out loud while getting guidance and feedback from skilled readers. The combination of practice and feedback promotes reading fluency.
- Teaching vocabulary words—teaching new words, either as they appear in text, or by introducing new words separately. This type of instruction also aids reading ability.
- Reading comprehension strategies—techniques for helping individuals to understand what they read. Such techniques involve having students summarize what they've read, to gain a better understanding of the material.
The panel's findings, released in April 2000, and other reading research, provided the basis for the No Child Left Behind Act, which was signed by the President in December 2001. The Act calls upon states to set basic reading standards for local school systems, and to test students to assure they have met those standards.