Talking Ed: SMU Experts Connecting Science and Practice
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CAN READING FAILURE REALLY BE PREVENTED?

Patricia MathesPatricia Mathes, the Texas Instruments Endowed Chair in Reading Research and Professor of Education, spoke at “Plain Talk About Reading,” a conference on reading held March 27-28, 2006, at SMU. Professor Mathes is nationally respected for her work in research in early interventions for struggling readers. Following are some of the questions she answered during her presentation.

What causes reading failure?

There are three causes of reading failure – neurological, familial, and instructional. We know that 50 percent of reading variability is based on genetic causes. Some children have a genetic predisposition to be less talented in reading.

We know that instruction matters. For years we’ve used genetics and family life as excuses for reading failure. I take no excuses. These are challenges. It’s time to get past blaming the child or family and start working on the part we can control.

What role does teacher instruction play in reading success?

Teaching reading is a job for experts. With good core instruction, no more than seven percent of students would need additional help or intervention.

When students are singled out for reading intervention, we have learned that instruction and time matter. Don’t abandon intervention. Research shows many kids respond well after 30 weeks of intervention. Remember, there isn’t just one way to teach reading. A school district should have a menu of effective strategies.

How can a school select the best curriculum?

Choose a curriculum that has proven effectiveness. Look for a curriculum that doesn’t try to teach too much in one day. Be sure that the curriculum provides cumulative practice activities and integrates previously learned content.

So, can reading failure be prevented?

With good core instruction and good intervention, we can get the reading failure rate down to 2 percent or less.

Where could I learn more about your research?

Visit www.smu.edu/smunews/education.