Category Archives: reading research

Numbers, numbers

2-3      Between 2 and 3 years old, toddlers learn a new word every day.

3rd      Third grade is long past the time to intervene for a struggling reader.

3-4      3 to 4 letters/spaces to the left and 14-15 letters/spaces to the right of where we fix our eyes is where we pick up meaning from what we read .

4          There are 4 ways to pronounce the letter A using standard American English.

4-5      Children should be speaking in complete sentences by 4 or 5 years old.

6-12    Between 6 and 12 months old, infants should start babbling.

10-15   A typical student needs to interact with a word 10 to 15 times in order to learn it.

12-18   Children usually say their first words between 12 to 18 months, but not always.

18-24   Children usually say their first tiny sentences between 18 and 24 months.

20        If a child can count to 20, that is a sign he might be ready for kindergarten.

20-30 Kindergarten children should read or be read to 20 to 30 minutes daily.

24th    US students scored 24th out of 65 countries taking the latest Program for International Assessment tests.

30       First graders should read or be read to 30 minutes daily.

42-44 The number of letter sounds in standard American English is 42 to 44, depending where you live.

220     There are 220 Dolch words, better known as sight words.

300    Children from professional families hear 300 more spoken English words in an hour than children of parents on welfare.

1,000 Parents should read to their children 1,000 books before kindergarten, according to the 1,000 Books Foundation.

2,000 A student learns about 2,000 new words a year.

88,500 An incoming high school freshman should know 88,500 word families.

2,250,000 A student reading an hour a day will read 2.25 million words in a year.

32,000,000 Children from professional families hear about 32 million more words—including repeated words—than children from poorly educated families.

How can writing improve reading?

When educators combed research on the writing / reading connection in 2010, they found three writing activities which improve reading comprehension.


  • Having students write about the stories and texts they read by writing personal responses, analyses, or interpretations; by writing summaries; by writing notes; and by answering or asking questions in writing about what they have read.
  • Having students learn about the process of writing; about how texts are structured; about how paragraphs and sentences are put together; and about how to spell.
  • Having students write  frequently.

All of these writing activities improve students’ reading. In future blogs, we will look at why these activities improve reading, and how these activities can be incorporated into a student’s schoolwork or work at home. We’ll start in the next blog with the last idea, that students should write more to improve their reading.

Meanwhile, for more information, see Writing to Read.  At this site you can read the full report, Writing to Read; evidence for how writing can improve reading by Steve Graham and Michael Hebert for the Carnegie Corp. of NY, 2010.

You might also enjoy reading Shanahan on Literacy, a blog about reading by an expert in the field. In his current blog, Dr. Shanahan comments on ideas in this report.

For a struggling reader, intervene as early as possible, says new research

child with adult helping to readIf you notice a child is having trouble reading, intervene as soon as possible, even in preschool.

So conclude researchers who looked at the reading achievement of students for twelve years.  The researchers concluded that struggling readers should receive help as early as possible.

Their research shows that struggling readers are obvious to teachers in first grade (the earliest grade included in the research).  Without help, these kids will not improve over time.

In short, there is no advantage in waiting to intervene.  Start now.

Many children do not receive help until third grade–too late, according to the researchers.  This might be because many states have passed laws saying that all children should be reading by third grade.

Participants in the study were 414 people in the Connecticut Longitudinal Study who were assessed annually every year in elementary, middle and high school.

For more information, read “Achievement Gap in Reading Is Present as Early as First Grade and Persists through Adolescence” in the November 2015 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.

Reading to kids is important to expand their vocabularies

We all know that reading to kids is important. Now there is more research to back up this “chicken soup for the brain” of little kids.

family reading togetherAccording to Jessica L. Montag, a researcher in the Department of Psychology of the University of California, Riverside, and her colleagues, Michael N. Jones and Linda B. Smith, reading, as opposed to talking to children, is important because reading exposes children to many more new words than they would hear from spoken language alone.

Montag took 100 picture books which appear on lists of excellent books for children. She analyzed the words in those books. Then she compared the words with spoken language of caregivers talking to little children. Her research was published in August.

What she found is that the books use more words and different kinds of words than do parents, teachers and caregivers of young children. In fact, the books use 70% more unique words than did the speech. Also, the text provides different types of sentences, sentences of varying complexity, and sentences of different lengths. The books introduce topics outside the parents’ and children’s normal lives, exposing children to new ideas and the vocabulary associated with those new ideas.

So if you’re tempted to skip the reading some days, or to just look at the pictures, think again. The text is important to growing a child’s vocabulary, and a large vocabulary is associated with successful independent reading.

Is gesturing by a child learning to read important?

When my son was almost two, and not talking much, I often read to him a picture book by Helen Oxenbury which showed a toddler doing everyday things: pulling on his socks and pants, for example. I would ask my son, “What is the baby doing?” My son would show me by gesturing—pretending to put on his socks, or pretending to pull up his pants. Once he learned to say words, I stopped this practice.

child making letter T with his body

It turns out that I should have continued with the gesturing. Research shows there is a positive relationship between gesturing and learning in children. By noticing your child’s gestures, you might be able to tell when he understands a concept or when he is trying to figure it out.

According to research,If a child understands a concept, the child’s words and gestures are in sync.

  • For example, if you ask the shape of a triangle, and the child says “three sides” and then draws a triangle with his index finger, the gestures and words are in sync, and you can presume the child understands.
  • If a child is still learning a concept, the child’s words and gestures might be out of sync, and there might be an abundance of gestures or a shrug.
  • For example, if you ask a child to tell you what an orbit means, and the child says “space” and draws a rounded triangle,” the child’s words and gestures are not in sync. The child is still learning.
  • Out-of-sync responses offer parents and teachers an opportunity to help the child learn while his understanding is fluid and open to instruction and before he learns something wrong.

Is gesturing necessary for learning? Probably not, yet research shows that children who gesture while they are learning are more likely to learn. This is especially true if the child is asked to explain a general concept.

For more scholarly details on this subject, check out the work Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago, an expert in this field.

My grandson is scheduled to start kindergarten this fall, but I think he might not be ready. Is there any way to know for sure?

The old rule of thumb is that if a child can put his hand across the top of his head and touch his opposite ear, he is the right age to start school. If he can’t reach his ear yet, he is too young.

young child attempting to touch his ear with opposite hand

But such a test doesn’t begin to take into account all the criteria which could be used to judge the readiness of a child for school.

If your child has been to preschool, his pre-K teacher should be consulted. She has a good idea which students are ready to move on. And if you do send your child to kindergarten, and the kindergarten teacher contacts you in the early weeks of the school year saying your child is not ready, believe her. Not every child who is the right age is ready for kindergarten.

What criteria should you use to assess your child? According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, these criteria should be assessed:

  • Can your child communicate his wants and needs? Can he say, for example, that he needs to urinate or that another student is bothering him?
  • Can your child get along with peers by sharing and taking turns?
  •  Can your child count to 20?
  • Does your child recognize letters and numbers? Kindergartener are not expected to know how to read—although many can. But your child should recognize many letters and numbers and have an inkling of what they are used for.
  • Can your child follow directions? Sit or stand, line up, voices off, criss cross apple sauce—these are common directions that your child will be expected to follow.
  • Can your child sit still for ten, fifteen or twenty minutes, and pay attention to a teacher during that time? Kindergarteners have short attention spans, but they should be able to sit still long enough to listen to a teacher read a story or to watch a film about a baby whale. Not every five-year-old can do that.
  • Is your child able to hold a pencil or paint brush? Is he able to cut with a scissors? Most kindergarteners need more work on these skills as well as on gross motor skills, but they should show rudimentary skill.
child cutting with a scissors


Kindergarten teachers who responded to the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) Kindergarten Teacher Survey on Student Readiness said being able to communicate needs and wants and being curious and enthusiastic about trying new activities are the two most important skills kindergarteners need to start school with.

Some other things to look for include:

  • Can your child handle emotions? It’s normal for a five year old to break down in tears when she’s upset. But, it’s important that she has coping strategies.
  • Can your child use the toilet unassisted? And can he or she be trusted to behave in a restroom without adult supervision?
  • Is your child obviously meek and likely to be picked on? If so, he might need some coping skills to keep bullies at bay.

Although the first two or three years might be hard for young kindergarteners, research shows that they show no academic difference from their classmates by third grade.

If your child is in sports, another consideration is the cut-off birthday. Baseball in my state has a cut-off date of July 31, meaning any child born on August 1 or later cannot participate on the same teams as children born in July. For August-born children sent to kindergarten on schedule, this means they will play on teams with kids a year behind them in school. Their teammates might be strangers rather than classmates.

Still another consideration is driving. If a student is one of the youngest children in his class, his classmates will get their driving permits up to a year before he does. Your child might feel left out, or he might pressure you to let him drive as a passenger with his older friends. Will you be comfortable with that?

And will you be comfortable with your 17-year-old heading off for college with classmates who are already 18 and 19?

Good luck on your decision. There’s so much to consider.

Common Core requires increasingly complex texts

One of the goals of the Common Core Standards that is receiving flak across the country is the push for students to understand increasingly complex texts.

Discouraged child thinks there are too many words in a book she is readingYou might assume that a second grader would read more difficult books than a first grader, but according to the people who wrote the standards, there is not proof that this is happening in US schools. Their “research shows that while the complexity of reading demands for college, career, and citizenship have held steady or risen over the past half century, the complexity of texts students are exposed to has steadily decreased in that same interval.”

They believe that the texts used in middle schools and in high schools have been “dumbed down” over recent decades. To counteract the “dumbing down” of texts, the Common Core Standards want to increase the difficulty of the texts students read so that US students are well prepared for college and for work.

The Standards state that the reading complexity levels for all grades need to be made more difficult, and that what a student studies in May should be more complex than what he studied in the previous September.

How will this be measured? Three ways:

  • Qualitatively: An attentive teacher will note whether a student recognizes various levels of meaning in a work of literature, or if he recognizes that language is used in new or archaic ways, of if the reading requires background specific knowledge that the student might not have.
  • Quantitatively: Readability measures will be used to determine the difficulty level of the materials students read, and the students will be tested to see how much of the material they understand.
  • Reader-task considerations: A teacher with knowledge of her student will rate the student’s motivation, knowledge base, and experience as well as the purpose of the assigned reading, and the difficulty of the task which the teacher assigns (for example, responding to open-ended questions is more difficult than responding to multiple choice questions).
Common Core Georgia Standards

Click on picture for the entire document.

The Georgia Department of Education has created a rubric for teachers (and parents) to use to determine the text complexity of a given reading selection. When the points are totaled, texts with scores of between 80 to 100 are considered of appropriate complexity.

For more information, go to: and

My daughter’s school library has all the books color coded. She’s in turquoise. Is that good for a first grader?

Too many words on a page make reading hard.What you are probably referring to is a way of categorizing books based on their difficulty level. It is called Guided Reading Levels and was developed by Irene Fountast and Gay Su Pinnell in 1996. The 26 Guided Reading Levels use ten criteria to categorize books:

  • genre (fiction and nonfiction and their subcategories)
  • text structure (the way the text is organized, usually chronologically, but sometimes comparing and contrasting; using cause and effect; and problem and solution)
  • content (the subject matter)
  • themes and ideas (the big ideas which the author is trying to show)
  • language and literary features (dialog, literary devices and technical language, for example)
  • sentence complexity (simple sentences are usually easier; complex sentences are usually harder)
  • vocabulary (the words a child is likely to know at a certain grade)
  • words (the number and the difficulty level)
  • illustrations (graphics of all kinds)
  • book and print features (length of a page, layout, subheadings, and table of contents, for example)

This system grew out of a somewhat simpler method of categorizing reading material developed by Reading Recovery in New Zealand. The Reading Recovery method creates 20 levels and uses four criteria:

  • book and print features
  • content, themes and ideas
  • text structure, and
  • language and literary elements

Another method which I talked about in an earlier blog is the Lexile Score.

These three methods of categorizing reading difficulty in children’s texts are some of the latest methods in an effort going back  to the 1870’s. In 1923 a formula was introduced by Lively and Pressey based on word frequency and sentence length. In 1935, Gray and Leary identified 44 factors that should be considered. Within thirty years, 200 readability formulas had been proposed.

Then, for about a generation, these kinds of formulas grew out of fashion.  But with the advent of computers, new systems have been developed based on word frequencies and sentence length. The Guided Reading Levels is one of them.

Turquoise means your child is reading at an end of first grade or beginning of second grade reading level.

For more information on the Guided Reading Levels, go to For a chart comparing several methods of categorizing children’s texts, go to

Use the K-W-L approach before reading to activate prior knowledge

K-W-L charts have been used by reading teachers for almost 30 years, but they can be just as useful to parents of young children to help them with reading comprehension.

K stands for “know” or what the child already knows about a given topic. W stands for “want to know” or what new information the child would like to learn about a given topic. L stands for “learned” or what the child has learned after reading (or having been read to).Empty K-W-L chart

With younger children who cannot read yet, using the K-W-L strategy sets up a pattern which the children can use in the future. One reason some children struggle with reading comprehension is because they don’t think about a topic before they read about it. If children learn to consider what they already know, and link new information to that, they will usually understand the new information better and retain it.

Since writing down words doesn’t help a nonreader such as a preschooler or a new ESL student, drawing pictures can replace the words. Even for children who can read a bit, sometimes drawing the pictures adds fun to the learning experience.

For example, suppose you read the story of Sleeping Beauty to your child, but she has no idea what a spinning wheel is. You find a book about how people used to make yarn by hand before machines did it. What kind of K-W-L chart might arise before you read the book about making yarn by hand?Example of filled-in K-W-L chart

If you, as the parent or teacher, want your child to learn a particular idea from a reading passage, you might steer the discussion to that idea as you and your child fill in the chart. But the chart works best if it reflects the child’s own understanding of a topic, and his own questions about that topic.

For example, if the topic is diamonds, the child might write:Example of a filled-in K-W-L chart

For the K-W-L strategy to help reluctant readers, the questions under “W” and the information under “L” should be linked back to what the child said she knows under “K.” So the teacher or parent might help the child create a chart like this:Example of a filled-in K-W-L chart

By connecting the “Want to Know” and “Learned” information to what the child already Knows, the child is extending the knowledge base she already has, rather than learning and soon forgetting isolated facts.

The K-W-L strategy and chart was first created by Donna Ogle. For more information, see Ogle, D.M. (1986). K-W-L: A teaching model that develops active reading of expository text. Reading Teacher, 39, 564-570.

What causes dyslexia?

Dyslexia (the brain’s inability to read, write and spell with ease) has many causes, not all of which apply to every impaired reader.

In people with dyslexia, nerve cells in the brain are thought not to work well together in order to achieve reading. Or those cells might cooperate, but at slower rates than for average readers. Why?

What might cause dyslexia?

faulty genes

brain injuries

problems connecting sounds to symbols

blockage of brain pathways

using the right hemisphere for left hemisphere functions

migrating neurons

hearing problems

unskilled reading teachers

  • Genetics might play a role for some readers. Defects in a gene known as DCDC2 and its interaction with another gene, KIAA0319, have been identified as related to dyslexia, according to researchers at Yale University.
  • Physical problems in certain parts of the brain might cause dyslexia. Sections of the brain specializing in language or vision, in particular, are needed to see letters; to associate those letters with sounds, syllables and words; and to derive meaning by combining words into sentences. If one part of the brain used in reading is damaged, dyslexia could result. Injuries to parts of the brain might have occurred before birth—a stroke, for example—or they might have happened after birth—a fall, for example.
  • Problems identifying sounds within words and connecting those sounds to letters or to letter patterns is the most studied possible cause of dyslexia. Children with this problem have trouble sounding out c-a-t. When they hear words like “Tyranasaurus Rex,” they don’t hear syllables or individual letter sounds; they hear words. No problem. But when they learn to read, they must take the sounds inside words apart and attach letters to those sounds and put the letters back together again to know words. For some people, this is hard.
  • Failure (blockage?) of the pathways normally used in reading could be a cause of dyslexia. Or weakness at connecting points along the brain’s pathways could cause slow processing.
  • While most readers use the left hemisphere of the brain in a dominant way when reading, it is thought that some dyslexic readers might use the right hemisphere more dominantly, or they might use both hemispheres equally. If so, reading becomes a labor-intensive undertaking.
  • Some researchers think that when the brain is developing, neurons that should be part of one section of the brain “migrate” to another spot in the brain and develop there. When a reader tries to access those cells, they are not where they are supposed to be, hampering the reading process.
  • Young children who have hearing problems might develop a life-long problem associating sounds with symbols for those sounds, resulting in dyslexia.
  • A well trained reading teacher who can identify anomalies in a child’s struggle to read can’t undo the above problems, but she can suggest strategies to lighten or even overcome some of these problems. However, if a child’s teacher is not savvy concerning strategies in the field of reading, the child might flounder. A teacher isn’t the cause of dyslexia, but her lack of skill can make the child’s struggle to read harder.

Reading is about a 6,000-year-old activity for human beings, a new activity in the evolution of the brain. The brain is not programmed to read any more than it is programmed to sing opera. Rather, in learning to read, we humans use parts of the brain which our non-reading ancestors used for something else—seeing and speaking, for example. Those same pathways which evolution streamlined for one purpose are now being used for additional purposes relating to reading, writing and spelling.

Work with brain imaging technology is revealing to researchers the parts of the brain involved in dyslexia. Work with the genome is revealing gene interactions which might have an effect upon reading. The answer to your question—What causes dyslexia?—is the brain and the complicated way in which the brain works.

For detailed information on some of these causes, read expert Maryanne Wolf, Ph.D., author of Proust and the Squid; The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.