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News from the National Academies
Date: Jan. 7, 1999
Contacts: Dan Quinn, Media Relations Officer
Dumi Ndlovu, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

EMBARGOED: NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE BEFORE NOON EST THURSDAY, JAN. 7

Publication Announcement

Guide Describes What is Needed to Support Reading
From an Early Age

Millions of American children cannot read well enough to excel in school, a situation that is fueling a vocal debate in local school districts about the best ways to teach reading. Often lost in arguments over teaching methods, however, is a clear understanding of the basic concepts and skills that children need to master before they can read effectively.

To help clarify these issues and improve literacy in the United States, the National Research Council has developed a guide that explains how children learn to read and how adults can help them. Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children's Reading Success, provides ideas that parents, educators, policy-makers, and others can use to help prepare preschool children for formal reading instruction; outlines important concepts about language and literacy for beginning readers; and addresses how to prevent reading difficulties in early childhood and the primary grades. The book includes 55 activities that are based on an exhaustive review of research contained in the 1998 National Research Council report Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children.

"In our society, reading is essential for creating a healthy mind and for building the capacity needed for a lifetime of learning," says Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council, and his wife, Betty, in a foreword to the book.
Learning to read in elementary school requires that students master three skills, the book says: understanding that letters of the alphabet represent sounds in words, reading for meaning, and identifying words swiftly.

The book groups literacy concepts and skills by age, from infancy to the primary grades. Parents and caregivers should immerse children in language and literacy long before they arrive at school, it says. From a young age, children should be encouraged to learn the names of objects, which builds vocabulary and pronunciation. Songs, nursery rhymes, and word games help spark awareness of language and sounds. Parents should talk with children frequently about their daily experiences, read with them, and nurture awareness of the sounds that children encounter in words. Parents also should make sure that their child's preschool or day-care settings are stocked with high-quality books for them to read.

In kindergarten, teachers and parents should focus on helping children understand that words have letters and that letters relate to sounds, as well as the basic purposes and mechanisms of reading and writing. Kindergarten should stimulate verbal interaction and help children build their vocabulary. Parents and teachers should try writing down stories that children dictate to them, and encourage children to write their own stories or shopping lists, thereby cementing their understanding of the purpose and techniques of writing. In school, children can make their own dictionaries. They should become increasingly comfortable with recognizing and naming all uppercase and lowercase letters of the alphabet, which can be reinforced with fun games like "I Spy."

In first grade, children should be taught to identify words using their letter-sound relationships. Reading sessions should include plenty of time for discussion and activities that help their comprehension and vocabulary skills. They should practice reading familiar texts, sometimes aloud, to achieve fluency. Beginning reading instruction should integrate attention to letter-sound relationships with attention to the construction of meaning and opportunities to develop fluency. Choice of instructional activities should be part of an overall, coherent approach to supporting literacy development.

The guidebook was funded by the U.S. Department of Education. A list of key contacts is attached. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, non-profit organization that provides advice on science and technology under a congressional charter.

Read the full text of Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children's Reading Success for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).


NOTE TO TELEVISION REPORTERS: A video news release will be transmitted via satellite on Thursday, Jan. 7, at 2 p.m. EST on Telstar IV, Transponder 1, downlink frequency 3720 V; and on Friday, Jan. 8, at 2 p.m. EST on Telstar IV, Transponder 20, downlink frequency 4100 H.


Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children's Reading Success
National Research Council

Key Contacts -- Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children

        Catherine Snow (chair)
        Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Education
        Graduate School of Education
        Harvard University
        Cambridge, Mass.

        Barbara T. Bowman
        President, Erikson Institute for Advanced Study
        on Child Development
        Loyola University
        Chicago


        Dorothy Fowler
        Early Childhood Specialist
        Fairfax County Public Schools
        Fairfax, Va.

        Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar
        Jean and Charles Walgreen Professor in
        Reading and Literacy
        School of Education
        University of Michigan
        Ann Arbor


        RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

        M. Susan Burns
        Study Director