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The Science of Reading

By Anna Witkin, Medical Consultant |
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Over 40 years of research and meta-analyses (Hattie, J. 2009) demonstrate that Direct Instruction (created by Siegfried Engelmann), is the most effective reading program, including for people with Dyslexia. Most other programs are ineffective. Direct Instruction emphasizes phonics instruction through carefully planned lessons designed around small learning increments. The best starting point for parents who want an evidence-based reading program, is the book “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons”, which can be purchased from Amazon for under $20 (Polygon receives no kickbacks from book sales). It is important to note that phonics is a necessary rather than sufficient ingredient of an effective reading program. A program that includes phonics instruction does not mean it is effective or evidence-based.

Over 40 years of research and meta-analyses demonstrate that Direct Instruction is the most effective reading program, with most other programs being ineffective.

Since the origin of Direct Instruction, there have been hundreds of scientific studies conducted which have repeatedly demonstrated that children taught with this method perform significantly better academically than those taught using other programs. Of these studies, Project Follow Through is currently the most extensive educational research project ever conducted. Beginning in 1968 and under the sponsorship of the federal government, it was charged with determining the best method for teaching at-risk children from kindergarten through third grade. Over 200,000 children in 178 communities were included in the study, and 22 different models of instruction were compared. The communities that implemented these different approaches spanned the full range of demographic variables regarding geographic distribution, community size, ethnic composition, and socioeconomic status.

Project Follow Through is currently the most extensive educational research project ever conducted.

Evaluation of the project occurred in 1977 (9 years after it began), with results that were unambiguous and conclusive. Students who were taught to read with Direct Instruction significantly academically outperformed the students in all the other programs and were further shown to have higher self-esteem and self-confidence. No other program produced results that approached the positive impact of Direct Instruction. Subsequent research found that the Direct Instruction students continued to achieve at a higher level than their peers and were more likely to finish high school and pursue higher education. 

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Anna Witkin, Medical Consultant

Anna Witkin is a contributing writer for Polygon. Anna holds a BA from UC Berkeley, a Masters in Biomedical Science from Tufts, and researched ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning differences during her time at Dartmouth School of Medicine studying for her MD.

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