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Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (1998)

Chapter: Part I: Introduction to Reading

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Suggested Citation:"Part I: Introduction to Reading." National Research Council. 1998. Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6023.
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Part I
Introduction to Reading

Reading is a complex developmental challenge that we know to be intertwined with many other developmental accomplishments: attention, memory, language, and motivation, for example. Reading is not only a cognitive psycholinguistic activity but also a social activity.

Being a good reader in English means that a child has gained a functional knowledge of the principles of the English alphabetic writing system. Young children gain functional knowledge of the parts, products, and uses of the writing system from their ability to attend to and analyze the external sound structure of spoken words. Understanding the basic alphabetic principle requires an awareness that spoken language can be analyzed into strings of separable words, and words, in turn, into sequences of syllables and phonemes within syllables.

Beyond knowledge about how the English writing system works, though, there is a point in a child's growth when we expect "real reading" to start. Children are expected, without help, to read some unfamiliar texts, relying on the print and drawing meaning from it. There are many reasons why children have difficulty learning to read. These issues and problems led to the initiation of this study.

Suggested Citation:"Part I: Introduction to Reading." National Research Council. 1998. Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6023.
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Page 16

Even though quite accurate estimates can be made on the basis of known risk factors, it is still difficult to predict precisely which young children will have difficulty learning to read. We therefore propose that prevention efforts must reach all children. To wait to initiate treatment until the child has been diagnosed with a specific disability is too late. However, we can begin treatment of conditions associated with reading problems, for example, hearing impairments.

Ensuring success in reading requires different levels of effort for different segments of the population. The prevention and intervention efforts described in this report can be thought of in terms of three levels (Caplan and Grunebaum, 1967, cited in Simeonsson, 1994; Pianta, 1990; and Needlman, 1997).  Primary prevention is concerned with reducing the number of new cases (incidence) of an identified condition or problem in the population, such as ensuring that all children attend schools in which instruction is coherent and competent.

Secondary prevention is concerned with reducing the number of existing cases (prevalence) of an identified condition or problem in the population. Secondary prevention likewise involves the promotion of compensatory skills and behaviors. Children who are growing up in poverty, for example, may need excellent, enriched preschool environments or schools that address their particular learning needs with highly effective and focused instruction. The extra effort is focused on children at higher risk of developing reading difficulties but before any serious, long-term deficit has emerged.

Tertiary prevention is concerned with reducing the complications associated with identified problem, or conditions. Programs, strategies, and interventions at this level have an explicit remedial or rehabilitative focus. If children demonstrate inadequate progress under secondary prevention conditions, they may need instruction that is specially designed and supplemental—special education, tutoring from a reading specialist—to their current instruction.

Suggested Citation:"Part I: Introduction to Reading." National Research Council. 1998. Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6023.
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Page 15
Suggested Citation:"Part I: Introduction to Reading." National Research Council. 1998. Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6023.
×
Page 16
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While most children learn to read fairly well, there remain many young Americans whose futures are imperiled because they do not read well enough to meet the demands of our competitive, technology-driven society. This book explores the problem within the context of social, historical, cultural, and biological factors.

Recommendations address the identification of groups of children at risk, effective instruction for the preschool and early grades, effective approaches to dialects and bilingualism, the importance of these findings for the professional development of teachers, and gaps that remain in our understanding of how children learn to read. Implications for parents, teachers, schools, communities, the media, and government at all levels are discussed.

The book examines the epidemiology of reading problems and introduces the concepts used by experts in the field. In a clear and readable narrative, word identification, comprehension, and other processes in normal reading development are discussed.

Against the background of normal progress, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children examines factors that put children at risk of poor reading. It explores in detail how literacy can be fostered from birth through kindergarten and the primary grades, including evaluation of philosophies, systems, and materials commonly used to teach reading.

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