After a decade of tracking students’ pathways in early reading, we’ve been able to identify the schools getting outsized results—so we called them to ask what they’re doing! And so far, we’ve identified five consistent patterns.
1. Start early.
Schools that deliver the strongest results work hard to get kids on track — and often ahead — in kindergarten. Why? Those who get through the decoding stage by age eight begin building vocabulary and background knowledge through reading itself. These schools reason that it’s easier to get students ahead from the start than to try to catch them up later.
2. Surround kids with books.
Reading at the right level improves decoding, vocabulary, knowledge, and stamina. In a recent study, 11 students who read an extra seven minutes per day in class had substantially higher reading rates than other students. Those minutes add up to 160,020 additional words read each school year, and reading volume is important in building knowledge—even more so than cognitive ability.
All schools collect data; the best ones think of it as measurement. For instance, they measure whether an intervention is having the expected impact. If not, they introduce new, temporary measures for attendance, perhaps, or fidelity of implementation. They are constantly tinkering and learning. They describe themselves as never satisfied.
4. Create a support team.
One of the most effective practices we found is ensuring that students get extra support when they need it. Classroom teachers can have a hard time reaching everyone, even with the best intentions. A cross-classroom team can base its decisions on careful data analysis and do whatever it takes to ensure extra resources are found and allocated where they’re needed most.
5. Beat summer.
Summer is brutal. Students often lose as much as half of their hard-won gains from the school year over the summer weeks, and the loss is especially steep for students from lower-income households. But even a few minutes a week of reminder exercises can reverse these losses, just as using a muscle prevents atrophy.
Reading at a college-entry level is a virtuoso performance. Even reading on level by third grade requires a constellation of successes — from mastering the sound-spelling patterns of English, to the painstaking accumulation of vocabulary and knowledge necessary to make sense of sentences. The simple verb to read hardly feels adequate to describe what students are doing when they make sense of the text. Ensuring the effortless enjoyment of reading for all is one of the great social undertakings of our time. We’re so happy to be working toward this noble goal with you.