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USU Researchers: Core Reading Programs Could Do Better

Thursday, Mar. 20, 2014

USU professor Ray Reutzel

USU's Ray Reutzel, the study’s lead author from the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services.

USU faculty member Cindy Jones

USU co-author Cindy Jones.

USU faculty member Sarah Clark

Sarah Clark, USU co-author.

Explicit instruction has been proven time and again as an effective way to teach reading. But how well is it used in teaching materials?

A group of researchers from Utah State University and Dixie State University took a close look at core reading programs and their use of explicit instruction. Their conclusion: all of the programs were lacking when it came to transitioning learners toward working on their own.

An estimated 73 percent of schools nationwide purchase core reading curricula, said Ray Reutzel, the study’s lead author from the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at Utah State University.

“For the money, you’d think we could get a better product,” he said.

The research team found that explicit instruction, which guides a learner from direct instruction to independent work, is not being applied consistently in core reading curricula. Their content analysis study appears in this month’s Elementary School Journal.

The study evaluated the teacher’s editions of core reading programs for grades one, three and five in five widely marketed programs.

Angela Child, a co-author from Dixie State University, said the curriculum materials all lacked elements of a “gradual release” of responsibility from teacher to student. Instead, educators were often given a skill to teach and a worksheet to administer. The teachers who depend on the core curricula manuals may lack the guidance needed to help struggling readers.

Another challenge to teachers is the sheer volume of material available. Core reading programs may provide 40 hours of instruction per week, which the teacher must squeeze into 10 to 15 hours of teaching time.

The research team agreed that teachers need to be savvy about addressing the individual needs in their classes, but it’s challenging.

“My own students feel overwhelmed when they look at a core reading program and try to figure out what to use,” said Sarah Clark, a co-author from Utah State.

None of the researchers could say how much classroom teachers might compensate for what the core reading programs lacked. All agreed that new teachers need to be prepared to pick, choose and supplement the materials they’re given.

Cindy Jones of Utah State University was also a co-author on the study. Jones, Reutzel and Clark are all faculty from the School of Teacher Education and Leadership.

Related links: 

Contact: Ray Reutzel,

Writer:  JoLynne Lyon, 435-797-1463

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