Science shows us how to learn to read better: how do we apply it in the classroom?

Science shows us how to learn to read better: how do we apply it in the classroom?

Science shows us how to learn to read better: how do we apply it in the classroom?

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Nuria Calet Ruiz, Universidad de Granada; Gracia Jiménez Fernández, Universidad de Granada and Marta Ferrero González, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Evidence-informed education consists of incorporating the main scientific findings into the work of teachers in the classrooms. It is not about replacing their judgment, nor about prescribing what they should do, but offering them pertinent information that helps them make educational decisions and improve student learning results.

But integrating research results into the teaching experience and the context where it is applied is not usual. The case of teaching to read is an example of this.


Learning to read: what recent research says

To achieve competent reading is one of the fundamental educational objectives due to its academic and social importance. International reports show that Spanish students and students from other Spanish-speaking countries have low reading performance.

At the same time, we already know what practices are effective for learning to read. For example, the importance of working on phonological awareness (ability to identify and manipulate the sounds of words) or other oral language skills are strategies whose effectiveness has broad consensus in the scientific community. However, they have not been systematically incorporated into the classrooms of our country.


Rush to teach the alphabet

In classrooms, however, there is usually an interest in starting to teach the alphabetic code early in the Early Childhood Education stage, without having first worked on a series of prerequisites. Among them, phonemic awareness. This may be a mistake because it is important for children to mentally represent the sounds and be able to say that the first sound they hear in the word “salty” is /s/, and then go on to make the letter-sound connection (that the sound /s/ goes with the letter “s”).

Although it is true that many boys and girls end up learning to decode (or convert letters into sounds) in any way, for many others it can become an arduous process that affects their motivation and reading comprehension. Furthermore, those with certain difficulties or social disadvantage can be seriously affected in the correct acquisition of reading if practices with proven effectiveness are not applied.


A gap between theory and practice

The gap that exists between research and educational practice is an international problem in wich different reasons may be involved:

  1. Scientific articles are frequently written in excessively technical language that’s unfamiliar to teachers, and are also housed in databases and repositories that are not easily accessible to the educational community.
  2. In Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries there are fewer transfer mechanisms such as the foundations that exist in other countries. This may partly explain the paucity of actions being taken to translate scientific findings into valuable educational information for teachers.
  3. Some school practices and materials, whether self-made or published by publishers, contain proposals that are not in line with what the research results propose. For example, in the 1st grade materials texts are often excessively long or complex for beginner readers who are still learning to decode.
  4. Initial and continuing teacher training includes little or no content on how to access and interpret scientific research or on the importance of linking scientific findings and educational practice.


To build bridges

The complexity of the gap between the academic and educational communities requires the adoption of measures in different fronts. The following stand out:

  1. Create common spaces that encourage communication between teachers and researchers (conferences, seminars or workshops).
  2. Promote foundations or organizations that synthesize research results and that can offer more practical guides on reading so that educators could apply them in their classrooms. Anglo-Saxon countries have a long history in this area with institutions such as What Works Clearinghouse or Education Endowment Foundation, which periodically publish guides on practical recommendations based on rigorous studies so that educators can apply them.
  3. Promote collaboration between teachers and researchers in research work (through laboratory schools or incentives for teachers to collaborate in scientific studies). In this way, there would be a mutual exchange of information, since the creation of evidence-based practices is not just a one-way path.
  4. Complete the initial and continuing training of teachers with basic content on how science works and the main research methods, so that this group increases their confidence in science and can understand and use scientific findings in their daily practice.
  5. Provide incentives to the scientific community in the form of institutional support and funding to conduct more applied research. Encouraging meta-analysis studies and reviews is also necessary.
  6. Promote strategies that allow the transfer of scientific findings to the work of teachers in the classroom, such as the creation of the figure of the intermediary, who can be in charge of this and other tasks.
  7. Facilitate to teachers acces of educational resources that have evidence. An example of this is the NELI program (Nuffield Early Language Intervention), a program by researchers at the University of York and Oxford in the United Kingdom that has been proved to be very effective. Since they’ve been proved to work, the United Kingdom government has made it available to educational centers so that all boys and girls can take advantage of this resource.


Resources to find evidence

Although they are not yet as many as it would be desirable, there are increasingly more research-based resources that teachers can apply to inform the teaching of reading. We present some of them:

  1. Educaixa offers on its website a toolkit on educational practices evaluated by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). It also contains a guide on improving literacy skills, carried out by the EEF and adapted to Spanish.
  2. The Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT), within its Evidence-Guided Education project, offers entries and debates on the acquisition of reading competence and other relevant educational issues based on what science says.
  3. The informative event Las pruebas de la educación, organized by the Chair of Scientific Culture of the Basque Country, the Promaestro Foundation and Educaixa, has addressed the acquisition of reading from scientific tests in several of its editions.
  4. The Jaume Bofill Foundation, through its project What works in education, reviews the evidence generated by research on policies and programs that improve learning.
  5. Various active teachers and academics in our country offer in their respective blogs adapted syntheses of scientific articles relevant to the educational community on the development of reading competence. They stand out, to give just a few examples: Evidence-based reading comprehension, Specific learning difficulties or _Mcguffin Effect.
  6. The scientific council of national education of France has prepared the document translated into Spanish Teaching methods and manuals for learning to read: how to choose them? to help teachers make decisions about how to work on reading acquisition based on what scientific research says.
  7. In Spain, the Teacher Centers (CEP) of each autonomous community carry out training courses by specialist speakers in various educational fields, which keep the teacher close to the most effective educational practices in reading.

We hope that more connection mechanisms between researchers and teachers will be encouraged, so that evidence-informed educational practices can be incorporated into the classroom. All of this will have benefits for the educational community, whose purpose is to achieve success in the reading learning of our boys and girls.

Nuria Calet Ruiz, Professor of the Department of Evolutionary and Educational Psychology. Universidad de Granada; Gracia Jiménez Fernández,, University Professor in the Department of Evolutionary and Educational Psychology, Universidad de Granada and Marta Ferrero González,, Teacher, researcher and vice dean of research and transfer at the Faculty of Teacher Training and Education, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.

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