The Equation for Reading Success



The equation for reading success has two critical parts:


Parent or Teacher     +     Effective Materials (tools/program)        =   children achieve reading success


Both elements are critical if you want to teach all kids to read. If you are missing one part of the equation, you will end up with reading failure for many children.




All these comments address the use of effective materials not the parents/teacher side of the equation.  The deficiency that causes the significant reading problem in this country is not with the parents and teachers but with the ‘materials’ side of the equation. High rates of failure are caused by the widespread use of ineffective programs and materials. To improve reading proficiency rates in this country we MUST start using effective material. We need to use the effective direct systematic phonics programs that are proven by research to be the most effective way to teach children to read.


The current situation: The fact is almost 70% of the children in this country are not learning to read proficiently[1]. The following engineering analogy illustrates the current situation.  We have been building bridges for years and know for a fact that the bridges only function to capacity 31% of the time. The bridges have a 69% failure rate: approximately 37% of the time the bridge completely collapse and another 32% of the time the bridges only function at a much lower capacity where you can walk over the bridge but not drive over it.  An engineer would stop and evaluate both the blueprint/design and the crews that constructed the bridge to determine the exact problem.  Now, assuming you have a capable crew constructing the bridge you would carefully evaluate the blueprint to see what was causing the problems.  A faulty blueprint will result in failure even with the hardest working, most experienced, dedicated crew.  Well in our education system, we have significant failure rates in teaching children to read and yet we continue to use and defend the old blueprints. To prevent the existing significant failure we must toss out the old faulty blueprints and replace them with the effective programs. The validated research and new brain imaging science shows us the blueprints that actually work. It is past time to actually use these ‘blueprints’ of effective direct systematic phonics programs. Parents, teachers and other educators need to look at the hard facts (not the opinions, theories or philosophical debates) and learn more about the science of reading and the proven effectiveness of direct systematic phonics programs in teaching children how to read.


Teaching Reading One-on-One: Reading is best taught one-on-one by a parent or other caring adult. The one-on-one attention is the ideal arrangement for teaching a child to read.  The individual attention can maximize the child’s learning. You directly see what he fully understands or what he might need a little more practice with. You can continuously alter the presentation to meet the child’s exact rate of learning. Sitting next to a child, you can focus instruction down to the little details and maximize learning. In addition to being very effective and efficient, the one-on-one instruction is also very enjoyable, especially when you are teaching your own child or a kid that really needs the extra attention. Teaching your own child at home or another child in a one-on-one tutoring or pull-out situation does not require special training or expensive material. Teaching a child to read in this ideal arrangement only requires a caring literate adult, a little time and effective instructional materials. 


Teaching in a Classroom Situation: Classroom teaching is an entire different situation than teaching a child how to read one-on-one.  Classroom teaching absolutely does require special training. The ever-present complexities and challenges of dealing with a diverse group of children in a classroom setting greatly complicate reading instruction. A classroom teacher faces multiple complex challenges and that is before you even begin to teach a naïve kid how to read our complex language.   In a classroom, you have 20+ kids at different levels, with various backgrounds and different rates of learning. You also toss in the kid who’s parents are going through a divorce, the kid who didn’t eat breakfast, the kid who’s dog died the day before, the kid who is just plain ornery,  and the kid who was sick and missed all last week…. and that is on an easy day when you don’t have some other distraction.  These complexities and challenges make it even more important for classroom teachers to be using the most effective materials. With all these challenges and complexities, there is no room for instructional materials and methods that inadvertently allow the student to get on the wrong track.  In a one-on-one you have the opportunity to make sure the child actually understands and is doing what they need to be correctly. In a complex group situation, you usually do not have this luxury.   To achieve the highest success rates in teaching children how to read our complex written language, classroom teachers must use the most effective and efficient materials available.  Even with the most effective materials, teachers still face the multiple challenges and complexities of a classroom situation. The simple straightforward part of the equation is the effective materials and methods. The use of science and research proven methods can easily solve the materials half of the equation. The other much more challenging part of teaching absolutely requires the skill and expertise of a ‘good’ teacher.      


Improving Reading Proficiency Rates:  To improve reading proficiency rates we must work together. With accurate information and effective materials we can solve the reading problem in this country. Parents can begin by teaching their own children to read proficiently and hopefully finding and teaching at least one other child to read. Teachers and schools need to use research proven effective methods. Our educational system must make a fundamental shift to effective methods. This is a challenging considering the majority of universities train the teachers in ineffective approaches and methods.  Most professionally trained and highly qualified teachers have never been taught the science of effective reading instruction. They have been given faulty blueprints. In addition, much of the education system is funded and driven in part by the big educational publishing companies that produce and sell the ineffective materials. Change is always hard. However, the switch to direct systematic phonics is necessary. The current situation where close to 70% of the kids in this country can not read proficiently and close to 37% can’t read at even a basic level is absolutely unacceptable. We have the tools to solve this country’s significant rate of reading failure.


Parents and teachers using effective instructional materials and programs can solve this country’s significant reading problem. It is time to grab the effective blueprint and get to work. We can improve reading proficiency rates, starting with one child, one parent, one teacher, one classroom, one school at a time.  Together we can make a difference and ensure our children achieve reading success.


[1]  The 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Reading Report Card



This article was written by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a reading tutor and author of the reading instructional program Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to share information on effectively teaching children how to read. More information is located at  ~ Copyright 2005 Miscese R. Gagen