DEY Responds to NPR Article: “Why Millions of Kids Cannot Read, and What Better Teaching Can Do About It”

Picture ​NPR article, published Jan. 2, 2019: Why Millions of Children Can’t Read and What Better Teaching Can Do About It by Emily Hanford NPR article, published Jan. 2, 2019:
Why Millions of Children Can’t Read and What Better Teaching Can Do About Itby Emily Hanford

Defending the Early Years was disappointed to see the NPR report Why Millions Of Kids Can’t Read, And What Better Teaching Can Do About It.  Learning to read is a complex process involving three cueing systems—syntactic, semantic, and graphic phonemic.  Children need to master all three of these systems and learn to use them simultaneously as they make sense of print.  It is erroneous to focus on just one cueing system–in the case of the NPR report, the graphic phonemic system.DEY asked Lynne Hall, a literacy expert from the Cambridge Public Schools, to comment on the NPR report.  Hall explained that teachers need to make sure children are using all three cueing systems as they are learning to read. “Guessing is not appropriate,” she said,  “but using context clues is.  If I were teaching a child who said ‘pony’ instead of ‘horse,’ I would say something like ‘yes, that makes sense, doesn’t it?  But let’s look closely at how the word on the page begins.  You said, ‘pony.’  How does pony begin?  How does the word on the page begin?  What could that word be that makes sense?  In this way, we help the child use the semantic system (meaning) to assist in learning the graphic phonemic system.”

In a report released in 2015 by Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood, early childhood experts explain that young children take years to build the foundation they need to make sense of print. They learn that real things can be represented by symbols when they play and use hands-on materials. Very slowly and with the guidance of a skilled teacher, children find meaningful ways to bring letter symbols into their play scenario, ultimately building the foundation for understanding abstract symbols in our print system.

To read more about how young children learn to read, find the full report here:
Download the full report here.

To access the entire PSA on YouTube, visit:

Comments (1)

This is just wrong. Yes, knowledge of word and sentence meanings, of syntax and morphology and connected text meanings are critical. These are important for making meaning from text, the goal of reading. However, skilled readers are also efficient at word reading/ recognition. In order for word reading to become accurate and effortless, learning sound-symbol correspondences and using these to read words builds skill in word reading (see Ehri’s model; see Share”s model – and ALL THE RESEARCH DATA that supports these). Skilled readers can deploy most all of their attention to making meaning because word recognition is so effortless. This does not come through learning how to use context to read words – it comes from tens of thousands of words becoming sight words (automatic recognition) because the alphabetic code was taught, understood, and lots of practice. The cuing system approach to word reading/ recognition is just wrong and it has done so much damage to so many children – Stop already. No one would argue that vocabulary, and language comprehension and knowledge of the world is not important for reading and should be a focus of teaching in the classroom. BUT word reading instruction needs a different focus. There should be law suits against the promotion of these cuing systems to the determent of children. Step back and do what is best for children, not promoting beliefs that are not related to reality.

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