We Know HOW to Teach Children to Read: Let's DO It!
Dr. Jan Hasbrouck
A leading researcher, educational consultant, and author who works with schools in the U.S. and internationally
Too many students in our classrooms struggle with learning to read. This does not need to occur. Research has shown that approximately 95% of all students can be taught to read at grade level, including those with learning disabilities and dyslexia. How can we meet the needs of every student in today’s classrooms? We'll discuss the characteristics of students who become our struggling readers along with research-supported and classroom-proven approaches to successfully address these students' needs.
Dr. Jan Hasbrouck
Jan Hasbrouck, Ph.D., is a leading researcher, educational consultant, and author who works with schools in the U.S. and internationally. Dr. Hasbrouck worked as a reading specialist and coach for 15 years and later became a professor. She is the author and coauthor of several books, and her research in reading fluency, academic assessment and interventions, and instructional coaching has been widely published. She continues to collaborate with researchers on projects related to assessment and intervention. When schools are open, she enjoys volunteering at her grandson’s K–8 school in Seattle.
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Welcome to EDVIEW360.
Dr. Jan Hasbrouck:
The brain has to be changed. The brain has to rewire. Areas of the brain have to be repurposed to learn to read, write, and spell. And the earlier we start that process, the better it is.
You just heard from Dr. Jan Hasbrouck, a leading researcher, educational consultant, an author who works with schools in the U.S. and internationally. Dr. Hasbrouck is our guest today on EDVIEW360.
This is Pam Austin. Welcome back to the EDVIEW360 podcast series. We're so excited to have you back with us. I'm conducting today's podcast from my native New Orleans, Louisiana. Today, we are excited to welcome Dr. Jan Hasbrouck, an internationally known reading expert, a leading researcher, educational consultant, and published author who works with schools in the United States and internationally. Dr. Hasbrouck is our guest today for EDVIEW360. Welcome, Dr. Hasbrouck.
Thank you, Pam. It's lovely to be here. I'm looking forward to our conversation.
Oh, I am too. Let us start off by asking you to tell us a bit about your background and what drew you to become a researcher, an expert on how to teach students to read.
Well, it's been a long journey. I've been doing this for many decades now. And I think like a lot of people who choose education as a career, I've heard people refer to it as a calling, and that really does resonate with me. I don't remember a time when I didn't think about teaching as what I wanted to do. In fact, my mother used to love to tell the story. I'm the eldest of three girls. And so, I was the first to go off to school and those kinds of things, and she said, might be a little folklore, but she used to say that the first day I came home from kindergarten, I announced at dinner that evening that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up.
And there were variants along the way, I thought about medicine and nursing, and that was not a good fit. I did some candy striper volunteering and stuff. "No, that's not going to be me." So, I started off always thinking about teaching, but what happened to me, I think this is common for a lot of people along the way, I thought of myself in different roles. So, when I was in elementary school, this is what I want to do, I want to be an elementary teacher. And then in middle school, I really did like sciences. So, I thought, "Oh, I'll be a seventh-grade biology teacher."
And then in high school, I was going to be a high school English teacher. And, in fact, I had a really memorable conversation with a high school English teacher. I was getting ready to graduate, and I liked this teacher very much. And I went up to her after school one day and shared with her very nervous and excited that I wanted to be a high school English teacher just like her. And that's what I was going to study at the university. She had a big impact on my life because of her response that day. She said, "Oh, Jan, you don't want to do that. The world doesn't need more high school English teachers. We need to teach these kids to read," and how fascinating.
I have no idea, of course, where her head was that day, had she just had a really bad seventh-period class or whatever it was, but I was young and impressionable, and I admired her a great deal. And I can't say that moment, I said, "OK, I'm going to be a reading teacher," but she planted a seed for sure. And then I started off at the University of Oregon and another serendipitous moment connected me with people who were really approaching reading and teaching as a science. There were folks studying the process of reading instruction through a project called Project Follow Through.
And Sig Engelmann was the lead professor and Wes Becker was the lead researcher. And there were folks like Ed Kame’enui , Doug Carnine, Russell Gersten, and many others involved with that project. So, as a very young, 19-year-old, perspective teacher, I started working at that early stage with people who were approaching teaching, not only as an art, because of course it is, but also what are the most-valuable, high-impact, evidence-based practices that we can use to ensure that all children will read? So, that was a big impact on my thinking.
And then I graduated and became a reading teacher for a while and then a reading coach. And then I went on to get my doctorate and started doing research and worked at various universities. But the pull of the real world, what real teachers were doing in the classroom eventually pulled me away from university work. And now I work independently, connected with researchers at universities, but also with teachers and organizations. It gives me the opportunity to look at the research of other people and do what my current work is, really translating that research, making it useful and applicable to teachers. So, that's the journey how I got to where I am today.
Wow. What a great story, Dr. Hasbrouck. I have to tell you, the seed that bore fruit, that's how I look at it. And the opportunity for the fertilizer that helped you grow to be a researcher, that explains so much about you. But I'm not going to tell any more of your story, I'm going to ask you some more questions so you can share with our listeners. You've been heard to say that our brains are not wired to learn to read. I want you to elaborate on that, and why reading comes so easily to some students and not for others.
Oh, don't we all wish those of us who care so passionately about helping children become successful at reading and all of us who have that passion know why? It's so, so, so important that we help every child or as many children as we can, which we do know is almost every child, become a skillful reader. So, yes, when I make that statement of our brains are not wired to read, that is very exemplary, if you will, of the work that I am doing these days, which I do call a translational work, that I'm taking the work of other researchers and helping share it with the broader education community.
I'm not a neuropsychologist or a neurocognitive researcher, but I follow the work of folks who are. Maryanne Wolf being one of those people, Jeannine Herron, Stanislas Dehaene, Nadine Gaab, and those are the kind of people who are studying the...and many others…but studying the function of the brain and what we used to theorize about what is happening inside our brains when we are learning to read. Because of the research of those folks and others, we are learning much more about the brain.
And the conclusions of everyone who is studying the cognitive neuropathways that are involved in learning to read, they are the ones who have come to the conclusion that the fact that any of us can read is rather a miracle because what we have learned is that our brains, the human brains, almost all of them, about 95 percent is the general conclusion, have evolved to the point where we have the capacity to turn our spoken language into the ability to translate some kind of symbolic system in the system that most of us use in the world if we have sight, if we have vision and the ability to see, we have learned to use some kind of visual symbolic system.
And that varies from language to language, but we use that system to translate the language that we've already learned, the spoken language, into a way that we can communicate with each other through print. We can take our thoughts and put them into print for other people to read, and we can translate or decode the print of others and make it understandable to us. But we have to retrain and repurpose our brains to do that. So, this 95 percent of us who have evolved to the point where our brains have that capacity, but our brains have not, there are no brains yet that have evolved.
And if we survive as a species for another few thousand years, our brains may evolve to the point where our brains are born with the capacity to make sense of print. But right now, it's not. What the neuropsychologists have learned is that as we learn to read, parts of our brains, areas of our brains, real estate in our brains, have to repurpose itself. It has to be retrained away from just understanding and making sense of sound, and translating and repurposing and retraining our brain to make sense of print.
And luckily for most of us, probably, the estimates vary, and it does differ between languages, some languages are easier to translate into print than others, but most of us, perhaps about 60 percent or so, make that translation, that transition that repurposing the brain, that happens relatively easily with some instruction, some. We do know across the spectrum of ease of learning to read, there are a few humans that we label as precocious readers that with absolutely minimal exposure to print, they become skillful readers.
Most of us need a little bit more active, purposeful instruction. And then there are brains that can learn to read and write and spell, but it will need to be much more purposeful, it's going to be much more effortful on their part. Those are the people that, more typically, we label with that term dyslexia. And there's a lot of disagreement about the percentage of the human population that have those brains, but it varies from perhaps as low as about 4 percent that have that genetic predisposition that makes reading difficult, 4 percent up to perhaps as high as 15 percent of the population.
So, our brains are all very different, but none of us were born to read at all.
Wow. Yeah. Just thinking of that summary, it was very well laid out. I appreciate that. Most people can't remember how they learned to read. And when you quoted that 60 percent that makes the translation relatively easy, that resonated with what most people that you talk to. You didn't realize that there's something going on with the brain that's essential for reading to happen. And I have to tell you, Dr. Hasbrouck, you may not be actively involved in research, but you are one of the many broadcasters spreading the word, sharing the knowledge of how our brain goes from learning to read, and letting people to understand that you know what, it's a skill, it's not natural. It doesn't just happen with a magic wand.
Thank you for being that broadcaster. But we're not done yet. Let's talk about the research that supports the fact that 95 percent of students can be taught. I'm going to say that again, can be taught, to read successfully. What do schools need to do to reach that 95 percent success rate?
Well, I appreciate that question, Pam, because I think it is an astounding number that is hard to wrap our heads around the fact. We do hear, all of us live, especially perhaps in the United States, we've had big, sweeping political legislative movements or laws enacted that say 100 percent of kids are going to learn to read by X number of date. And I love the enthusiasm and I love the focus on reading, and I'm grateful for when those legislative rollouts come with millions of dollars for schools. That's all very appreciated.
But as someone who's aware of the research, I know we're never going to get to 100 percent. We can't get to 100 percent. Where we've gotten to with our current practices is pretty abysmal. When we look at NAEP scores, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, that there is a lot of general agreement that NAEP does a pretty good job of judging different levels of skillful reading. The most recent NAEP assessment, and it happens at fourth grade and higher, says that we have proficient readers in the United States. There's only about a third of our students are proficient readers, and that doesn't come anywhere close to that 95 percent.
So, our current practices in the schools are not getting us there. But the evidence is very strong when researchers do look at that number. For years, I was saying that the achievable number of at least sufficient reading, perhaps not at the level that we would label proficient, the NAEP uses proficient as the highest level of reading outcome and then advanced and then basic. But that 95 percent is reaching a basic level of proficiency, and we aren't even there at all. So, we need to do something different when we know that we can. So, I was starting to say, I've been saying 90 to 95 percent for many, many years, but over just the last few years, the consensus is really narrowing as the science gets better and we have more research, the achievable number is 95 percent.
I hope that we can convince people that's true. I am absolutely convinced of it from the amazing body of research that folks are conducting. Then, we have to turn to searching for the answer to the question you've asked: How do we get there? And we do have some answers there too. It's a combination of answers. It's what does the brain need to learn in order to be able to read at a reasonable level, read, write, and spell? Because those three things are really almost a single unitary unit. In order to read well, you need to be able to write words and you need to be able to spell those words, and spelling requires good reading and all of that is together.
But we've learned a lot about what needs to be learned, the content of knowledge in order to do those skills, but also the how, how do we teach that? So, we could talk more broadly, but there's a lot of consensus around the report that came out in the year 2000 in the United States of the report of the National Reading Panel that focused on five key areas that, at that point, had strong research support of phoneme awareness, phonics and decoding, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension.
A related group went on to also talk about the all-important language development that needs to be part of reading and writing. So, we're pretty clear. There are other aspects that we could talk about when we talk about comprehension, that in itself needs to be unpacked around things like background knowledge and various things like that. But those are the big ideas. Every reader needs to acquire those skills and knowledges and abilities in order to become readers. Then, we're left with how. We're left with classroom teachers who have a lot of children with a whole variety of needs.
Some of those children may have the neurological challenge of dyslexia, other children or the same children may have the challenges of disadvantaged home preparations, their parents themselves aren't readers, so they haven't had access to literature or reading or high levels of vocabulary in their early childhood. They may have the incredible stressors of poverty or even more significant poverty along with needing to move frequently from your home or being displaced from war. It just goes on and on.
We've got all of those children in our classrooms, and we've got this body of knowledge they need to learn. Yes, we all struggle with the how, but what we know is in that, we know our children have differentiated needs, we know that starting as early as possible to build their language and start to acquire those skills of phoneme awareness and phonics and decoding and building their language, starting as early as possible as part of the how, providing as much repetition and practice as they need.
And that's one of the things that differentiates children across the spectrum. Some children, because of their background or their neurobiological makeup need very, very little explicit instruction and practice, some need a moderate amount, most of us do what might be a moderate amount. And then there's some that's going to need an extraordinary amount. So, we've got to figure out classroom organizations so that we are maximizing our time and not holding any child back, but not leaving any child behind to not quote a phrase there, but repeat an important one.
So, how we organize our classrooms, how do we manage small-group instructions? And how do we figure out how to provide the level of practice and repetition that some of our children need and deserve? And how do we inform teachers in easy, practical ways what their students need from them? How are your children differentiated? What are their language needs, their instructional needs? So, we do know the power of explicit instruction, systematic instruction, comprehensive instruction, intensive/focused instruction. Each of those things differentiated to the needs of students.
That's the work that a whole group of other researchers are working on and practical people who are helping translate that research to the real world where schools don't have and never will have enough time, money, or people to do that work. That's the reality. We don't wait until some kind of magical system happens. We take what we've got, we take the children we've got, we take the systems and manipulate them and adjust them and do the very best we can.
Wow. Such good information, Dr. Hasbrouck. I have to tell you, I just want to do a little bit of recap here.
That was a lot.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). It's good information. The percentage for students who can learn the basics, as you said, reading, writing, and spelling is 95 percent. That's the reality of what we understand.
That's correct. This is not a single researcher who is coming up with this number. There are now decades of research where the conclusions come back to around 95 percent. We're talking about human beings, so we can't be really precise about it. But researchers Vaughn and Fletcher and Moats and Hempenstall and Foreman and Torgesen and Mathes and Denton. It's just multiple studies have come to that conclusion. So, that's the number I'm really comfortable saying is what we should be aiming for.
All right. And thank you for once again, being that broadcaster to tell us what and how it can be done. And I love the fact that you talk about the varying factors that some students have, but that can't stop us and that can't stop students from learning. So, I love hearing you share that information, and also the method and the power of systematic explicit instruction, done with intensity. Thank you so much, Dr. Hasbrouck for being that broadcaster. I think you're just going to continue in that role forever.
Well, I did toy around with the idea of retiring. I certainly have worked long enough to think about that. And I was telling my adult children and grandchildren that I'm going to try to retire. And my son recently told me at a family gathering, he said, "Mom, I've watched you my whole life and watched you be very successful at just about anything you do," but he said, "But you're an epic failure at retirement."
I absolutely love it.
I had to agree and say, "Yeah, I don't think I can."
You provided earlier some information regarding what science tells us about students who don't learn to read effortlessly, do they need different instruction? Now, you began giving us some information. Could you expound on that?
I'm happy to do that. It is a big interest of mine. Somehow in my career, I was particularly drawn to children who struggle in learning to read. And that was before I became a parent. And years into that, realized that, whereas my elder, my first born, my son was one of those children who essentially taught himself to read, my daughter really struggled. And it was a while before we came to the conclusion that she was one of those people who has that brain that works differently than others that we would call dyslexic. So, I've experienced the range both as a parent, as well as a practitioner in the classroom.
So, I have taken a particular interest in children who struggle, whether or not they struggle because they do have a neurobiological challenge that they were born with, or that for whatever reason, and there are many, why children struggle to learn to read. So, I have looked at that a lot as a practitioner, and continue to look at, what is the research that tells us about what those children need from us? I would say, Pam, that originally, before we had really good research methodologies, there were some very brilliant people who also focused in on those children who seemed to have a particular difficulty learning to read.
And they speculated that those children really did need something quite different, and developed methodologies that were different from what was being used in typical classrooms. But now that we have better and more sophisticated research, some of those methodologies have been examined. And the general conclusion really is, and there's very recent research that underscores this, the more we delineate and identify what good instruction is, the more that we can be sure that we really don't need to teach children differently.
So, some of those early methods, and I'm thinking about the people who developed what is now called the Orton-Gillingham methods that have been used with children with dyslexia for a very long time, and those have been extremely extraordinarily successful with our children with dyslexia. When we pick apart what they were doing, it really is a lot of what have come to understand is good, effective instruction. They were focusing on the what, including phoneme awareness and systematic explicit phonics instruction in a way that was different than a lot of classroom practice.
And they were using methods that they originally called multisensory, that we have rebranded as multimodality, and found that multimodality instruction works to enhance the learning of all readers, whether or not they have dyslexia. Having at every step of learning, whether learning letter names or letter sounds or words or phrases, seeing the letters, hearing the letters, saying the letters, writing the letters, seeing a word, hearing the word, connecting the word to its meaning or its syntactic or semantic purpose, writing those words, that works well for everybody.
So, the current discussion around instruction is not, how do we do it differently for kids with different needs? But, how do we differentiate? In many cases, it's the amount of instruction, the amount of repetition, the narrowing of the focus that there are children who need one or two repetitions before they have mastered a concept or permanently orthographically mapped a word into their brain. There are other children who may need 20 to 25 exposures, and there may well be children who need 50 to 60 exposures, and possibly even more.
So, the basic answer is, do we need to teach children differently? No, but the amount of time and focus on the various components of reading may vary tremendously, and that leaves classroom teachers then with great challenges, if they have as many, most classroom teachers do, a wide range of needs in their classroom. We've got to get very smart about how we organize our time and figure out how to provide that varied level of need, respond to the varied level of need to children in a real-world setting.
Oh my goodness. Just hearing this information, it's all about identifying good instruction for all. Dare I refer back to what you said earlier? The power of systematic, explicit instruction that's good for all, right?
It's the intensity that varies.
It's the intensity and the amount of time I was just recently listening to, I think it was a fairly recent presentation by Mark Seidenberg, one of those neurocognitive researchers who’s informing the work of teachers enormously. So, whenever he has something new to say, I try to listen in and he was cautioning us to think really carefully about the amount of explicit instruction that we are doing in the classroom. And I was listening to this webinar podcast, whatever it was while I was out walking and I just remember thinking, "You know, Mark, I'm a big fan of yours, but it sounds like you're disparaging explicit instruction which has decades of evidence about its value, especially for struggling readers."
And then I thought more about it, and I actually re-listened to what he was saying. And he was not at all disparaging explicit instruction. What he was saying was something I do agree with is that we don't need to be doing explicit instruction, the I do, we do, you do type of instruction all the time with all of the children. There's a point in time of skill acquisition where explicit instruction is going to be the best way of providing that instruction to a novice learner, showing them what it is they need to do, guiding them through their practice and providing sufficient practice so that they learn it, and then doing that independent practice.
All of us benefit from that when we're at that early stage of skill acquisition, but we may have become a little too enamored of that and doing it too long, because what Mark is saying very correctly is that there's too much to learn in reading. There's too many words, there's too much vocabulary. There's too many variations in spelling for anybody to have the time to do it through explicit, direct instructions. So, we need to train our brains, we need to train the brains of our children to take notice of patterns and similarities and start teaching themselves the self-teaching hypothesis or the statistical learning hypothesis.
And so, there's another challenge for classroom teachers is to learn how to do superb, targeted, intensive, explicit instruction when necessary, but when children are ready to move from the acquisition stage into the automaticity and generalization stage, we need to change up our instruction. So, yes, all of that is important, but it's the dosage. That's another term that I hear a lot of my colleagues saying these days, it's we have to get much more sophisticated in terms of dosage. All of this is good and probably necessary for all learners, but the dosage is dramatically different.
So, if we are focusing on explicit instruction, a new or difficult skill such as when my 6 year old self learned to tie a shoe, I needed direct explicit instruction, but I don't need that anymore. I can do it with my eyes closed now many, many years later.
That's right. It's exactly right. Tying your shoe is a great example. I often turn to music, learning to play the piano, the early stages of putting the correct finger on the correct key, that's very inefficient to try to do that through discovery learning it, much better to have an expert teacher there to show you this finger goes here, this finger goes here. And then the slow and laborious process of learning how to form the notes and getting more skillful at that, but if you have a good enough teacher and you have a certain level of skill in that area, there’ll be a point when what's best for you is to spend as the most world-famous pianists do hours a day, practicing all by yourself. You no longer need direct explicit instruction, but you need to continue to practice to continue to develop your skill.
And that's a perfect tie in to my next question, because you've been noted as saying, “y'all do” when referring to the I do, you do, we do instructional model. Is there anything more you'd like to add in regards to this instructional model?
Yes. I do talk about the “y'all do” step and that is a cutesy term, if you will, for collaborative practice. So, if we think of the classic I do, we do, you do, decades of research in the value of that, it started off as theoretical ideas in the ’70s, and there has been much instruction to show that at that early-acquisition stage, the, I do step meaning that the teacher, the expert who has the knowledge, shows you what to do. So, I do is the teacher modeling or demonstrating, followed by the we do, the teacher working with the student and maybe ideally one on one, but often that's quite effective in a small group of students whose skill level is all at about the same level.
We work together, I'm right there as the teacher to make any corrections, to encourage students, to explain things, to motivate continued practice. And, then, when I think my students are ready, we can move to that third step of you do, all by yourself, go read this decodable reader or read this chapter out of a book, or write something independently. But there is some research that indicates that in some areas and some skills we could add a step and it would be added between the we do and the you do. So, I do doesn't go away, we do doesn't go away, but there could be a new step of collaborative practice that I use that term “y'all do.”
And I do want to give credit to my colleague, Doug Fisher, who I think he's the first one I heard use that term. Once again, it's not my own invention, but my translation. But when we allow students who have had sufficient experience and sufficient guidance to be able to practice with the benefit of doing it with their peers, and that “y'all do” step can be a mixed group in terms of more heterogeneous grouping. So, we may have some students in that group who are just still learning a skill, we may have some students who are more advanced in that skill, so they can be there to help their peers along the way. So, it doesn't have to be just the homogeneously group, we can mix kids in that heterogeneous.
And we find that for a lot of social, emotional reasons that can be a really good mixture, but it's just one more way to provide the level of practice that children need before we turn them to that independence. So, in a lot of cases, I find that very valuable even for very young children, but once we get to upper elementary, middle school, and high school, that's a period of real social learning, socialization, and if we can harness that a bit, the fact those kids like to talk to each other and they like to interact with each other, we can add that step. And if done successfully, kids really like it, and it does provide more engaged practice for them. So, I'm a big fan of the all do step.
Yes. I think I'm a fan of it as well. We are social beings and I can see the benefit of what “y'all do.” Students do learn from each other, and when you can teach something and talk through something, and you've own it, right, Dr. Hasbrouck?
Exactly. That's exactly right. You turn to your partner and explain what just happened. Oh, now that's a whole different level of just nodding and saying, "Yeah, I think I got it."
Definitely. Earlier, you mentioned the need for intervening earlier.
How can we help to prevent those problems and how can we effectively intervene later to address concerns?
That's a very important question, Pam, and very realistic that there is a great deal of focus these days because of the growing body of evidence that we have, particularly in the area of reading that the earlier we start with always age-appropriate instruction. So, when we're talking about laying the foundation for skillful reading with a 2 year old or a 3 year old, it's not going to be get those kids into a desk and bring out the worksheets. But what we know about that growing body of research, about early interventions, of course it has to be age appropriate, but we know that the benefit is there, the payoff is huge for a couple of reasons.
One is just the neurobiology of the brain. The earlier brains have higher levels of neuroplasticity. And as we discussed previously, the brain has to be changed, the brain has to rewire, the areas of the brain have to be repurposed to learn, to read, write, and spell. And the earlier we start that process, the better it is. So, we can start as early as 2 and 3 and 4 with activities. Early on, it's really just oral and verbal activities and language activities that we now know through the research of folks like Nadine Gaab, and folks that are doing work with very young children that we can, in fact, begin that process of rewiring the brain to make language acquisition and reading acquisition more likely.
So, neuroplasticity, doing activities that lay the foundation for future reading, writing, and spelling is very beneficial for children for that reason, for the neuroplasticity. But the other reason, there are maybe a couple of other reasons we want to start early, one is that notion of practice. Some of these children are going to need an extraordinary amount of repetition and practice in order to learn some of the skills that their peers learn easily. So, when we start early, we can start doing that practice, the practice is rewiring the brain laying those neuro pathways that allow for skillful reading. So, it gives more practice. And we could also say related to that, we're not having to rewire the brain because they learned it wrong.
And any of you, Pam, I don't know if you've worked with older children, but I certainly have, it is so, so much harder to unlearn some things than to learn it correctly the first time. So, working with junior-high-age kids who have learned to guess, who have learned to see the word were and call it where, or see the word because, and call it before, oh, it's just so much harder for those children. So, we want to learn correctly from the beginning, we want to start early so we can get all that practice, we want to start early so that we can start wiring the brain correctly, but we also avoid for children who if we don't start early, are going to struggle, we can avoid all of the negative, horrific consequences of being a struggling reader or writer.
There's a vast amount of research documenting the social, emotional impact of struggling with learning to read. A lot of that has been focused on children we would call dyslexic, but any child who struggles with reading and writing, there is an emotional, social, negative impact that can carry on through the rest of their lives. So, there's a whole lot of reasons and a growing body of evidence that we can in an age-appropriate way and should start as early as possible with the activities that will build a reading brain. But the second part of your question was the reality, that we're never going to do that perfectly, there will always be for a whole variety of reasons. People, children who come to us in the upper-elementary grades, middle school, high school, on into adulthood who did not learn those skills early and have either not learned any skills at all, or more likely, have learned some skills, but learned them incorrectly, inappropriately. So, the rewiring of those brains is so much harder because those people, those children, those adolescents, adults often are very angry, very discouraged, have beliefs about themselves that they can't learn to read. So, we're fighting all of that. We have to rewire the brain in a whole different way, which is just so much harder, and we have less time in school for doing that kind of work.
So, there's many good reasons. I wrote a book about dyslexia and in that book quoted Dr. Pamela Snow, who's a researcher in Australia, who wrote a blog about the importance of early intervention. And she used an analogy that providing early appropriate intervention to our children in reading is like building fences at the top of a cliff rather than parking ambulances at the bottom. And that really struck me as a powerful way to be thinking about this. And the evidence is very clear and it's a growing body of evidence that we can, and we should start early with our children.
Definitely. And that was a powerful image just now. You often think that school is where students get one of their first places where they have success. And that success or lack of success does affect students, and wiring that brain in order to get students ready for reading, starting early with those oral activities is a great way so that we don't have to, or there are fewer students who will need that rewiring from those faulty strategies they have. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, again, broadcasting away. You've been known to discuss and share the Hasbrouck-Tindal Oral Reading Fluency Norms. Can you tell us about those and how they might help our listeners?
Yes. So, you're talking about the work that I have done over actually a 25-year period with my colleague originally mentor, Gerry Tindal. He was a young professor when I began my career as a reading coach and was looking for some guidance about how to coach my teacher colleagues. And I connected with Gerry at that point. And early on, we did now a series of three different studies. The first one was a very small one, the second two have gotten the most attention. But what we did was look at data around the curriculum-based measure of oral reading fluency, where we listen to students read aloud from unpracticed text for one minute, and there is a standardized way of having them read aloud and scoring those.
And we did our origin study back in the early ’90s with a very small number of students, established the first norms for what those scores should be. It's one thing to say, "We have this way of assessing words correct per minute, and we know that's a valuable indicator of students reading ability." That's good, but if we don't have any way of determining how to interpret that number, is 43 words, correct per minute, really good? Is 127 words correct per minute better? There was no guidance, there were no norms that existed back then. So, we did the first study that established those norms. And then we replicated that in 2006 with a much larger group of students.
That was about a quarter of a million students from first grade through eighth grade. And then more recently, we were able to replicate that study one more time. Now, many, many people are doing that kind of study, so we had access to 6 million scores, and we have compiled those as guidelines for teachers. The original intent of that work was to provide guidelines for teachers so that they could make a judgment about where their children were across those various grades in terms of words correct per minute at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year.
And that's valuable because we now have close to 40 years of research where people have studied the value of assessing words correct per minute, and it has found that as one indicator of student reading performance. It is very valuable, it's accurate, has reliability, validity, and a great deal of utility in determining quickly in one minute, whether a student is on track for reading. And not just can they read the words, but studies have correlated words correct per minute with comprehension, which of course, is the reason we read. So, it continues to be a very valuable measure.
And actually, this morning before our conversation, Pam, I was listening to some other webinar where people were talking folks/researchers in Great Britain, actually, were talking about reading fluency, and they mentioned the Hasbrouck-Tindal Norms. So, I know that they have wide utility, many countries around the world use those. And I'm very proud to have been a contributor to our knowledge base in that very tiny, narrow little way, but it continues to be a very valuable tool.
Well, I thank you for educators everywhere for providing this fluency tool. That has been helpful.
Well, you're very welcome. I find it helpful too. That was really the impetus for the first study. I was working as a reading specialist, a reading coach in the schools, and I heard from Gerry Tindal about this then brand-new way of assessing students in one minute, and I was very intrigued by it, but without norms, I didn't see that it had a whole lot of usefulness. So, I really approached this from the beginning as, "Ooh, I could use this as a reading teacher, but somebody, somebody needs to create some norms." And Gerry wisely said, "Well, how about you do that?" And he helped me do that.
And the seed bears fruit once again, Dr. Hasbrouck, the seed bears fruit. We have had a wonderful conversation, but lastly, let's go over some research-supported approaches and classroom-proven approaches to successfully address the needs of students who are reading below grade level. Just some examples to share.
Yeah. Well, if I had a student in front of me that I had some concerns or some knowledge that they were struggling with reading, the first thing I would do as a practitioner is the same, exact thing I would expect a physician to do, which is to do some assessments. I have been working for a number of years with a wonderful physician who I generally see only once a year because I'm knock-on-wood generally, a fairly healthy person. So, once a year, I go to see her and I talk about how I'm feeling. And I know, she's very skillful and very wise and knows a lot, but if she simply said to me, "Everything looks fine, you say you're fine, I'm just going to let you go home," I would be a little disappointed in her.
Not that I love having my cholesterol checked or my blood pressure taken or all of those kinds of things, but I know that that kind of data can help inform her as my physician to do the best job possible in determining what I need to do to continue to be as well as possible. So, as a reading practitioner, that's the first thing I would do, that's what the research tells us we should be doing is as quickly, efficiently as possible, get a check on what these students need from us, because what we're talking about is very complex. This thing that we call reading is multiple factors. In the very broad picture, we know we've got the language component, they must understand language, they must have a certain level of language and linguistic comprehension.
Is that the problem? Is a deficit or weakness or some challenge in that area, the reason why this student is struggling with reading? Or is it possibly something from the other broad area of word recognition and decoding? Are they struggling with phoneme awareness? Are they struggling with phonics? Is that not the issue? They can decode words, but they really are not able to decode text with sufficient fluency or when they're decoding, they have gaps in their understanding of what the text means? So, the science about how, and the research-supported approaches starts with figuring out what this child needs.
And most children, in my experience, come with a variety of needs, but then we can, as folks in the medical world do, we triage and we prioritize, what's the first thing we should do, or should we be doing a couple of things at the same time? And then we turn to the best evidence-based practices we have for doing intervention in the identified area of need. Let's do explicit, systematic, intensive intervention around word acquisition, word reading, phoneme awareness and phonics if that's the area. Let's do focused, intensive intervention around language development if that's the area of concern, or if it's a couple of concerns, let's figure out how to do our best.
But the process of intervention using our best research always starts with figuring out to the best of our ability and as quickly as possible what the problem is, so we can appropriately target our very important work.
All right. I keep hearing need over and over again. So, you identify the need or needs. You prioritize the need, and then you use evidence-based intervention based on student need.
That's it. That's our best, most-effective way of doing that. So, we want to be helpful and supportive to teachers and administrators and specialists to understand what those tools are, what those processes are, how to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. And then how to turn that data analysis into well-designed effective instruction. And then data comes back into it because we have to then judge whether our teaching has been effective. So, we have to monitor our progress. And I say our, we monitor our progress as teachers through watching how our students are improving or not improving so we can tinker with the treatment or intervention that we're doing.
We're looking for effective teaching and learning, going both ways.
Oh, great. This has been a wonderful conversation, Dr. Hasbrouck. Thank you for joining us today. It's been a pleasure speaking with you. Please tell our listeners how they can learn more about you and how they can follow you on social media.
OK. Well, I would love to connect with people, it brings great joy to me. Perhaps the best way is on my Twitter feed, and that is @janhasbrouck with my strangely spelled last name, H-A-S-B-R-O-U-C-K, too many vowels, too many consonants, but my Twitter feed is 100% devoted to reading and reading acquisition and all of those related issues. And I have found it to be a superb way of connecting. I would also invite people to take a look at a website of a nonprofit organization I helped found that's called Read Washington.
So, if you do some kind of internet search for Read Washington, we are not based alone in the state of Washington, but that's where we started. But we are very devoted to this work of translating good scientific evidence to make it practical and useful for teachers. We have every year a series of workshops and webinars. So, if you check out Read Washington, you perhaps would find something there of interest and value to you.
Thank you again, Dr. Hasbrouck. This is Pam Austin, bringing the best thought leaders in education directly to you.
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