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Five Buckets

What Works to Improve Children’s Literacy?

With our eight community indicators in mind, Read Charlotte analyzed the results of high-quality studies at the What Works Clearinghouse. Our review of over 300 early language and literacy (preschool through early elementary school) outcomes found that the typical early language and literacy intervention adds only 1.6 months of additional growth over routine instructional practices.

We scoured over two-dozen online databases and clearinghouses to find practices and programs that can do better. We found five practices backed by rigorous research proven to move the needle on one or more of our community indicators. We organized these practices into five “buckets.”

Bucket 1: Active reading with children (4.5 months of additional growth)

Shared reading with children (rather than just reading aloud to children) helps build oral language, vocabulary, and comprehension. Adults can be trained to use proven approaches to reading with children at home, the classroom, or extra-curricular programs. Active reading is a highly effective way to promote productive verbal interactions (“serve and return”) between children and adults. Average time to impact: six to eight weeks.

Bucket 2: High-quality structured tutoring (7.3 months of additional growth)

Adult one-on-one structured tutoring is one of the most effective ways to help struggling readers. (Small group tutoring with 2-4 children also helps under the right conditions.) Structured tutoring has a defined curriculum, materials, provides about 10 hours of tutor training, and offers about 30 hours of tutoring assistance each academic year. Effective tutoring can occur with trained volunteers, paraprofessionals, and educators. Average time to impact: one school year.

Bucket 3: Summer reading (3.5 months of cumulative growth)

The most impactful way to help children over the summer is to ensure they spend time reading. Summer activities at home or in the classroom with sufficient reading (4-5 books) can not only avoid the summer slide (2 months loss), but add 1.5 months of additional growth. This adds up to 3.5 months of cumulative gain. Research-based practices in classroom settings have the biggest impact. Overall, children in low-income households stand to gain the most from summer reading. Average time to impact: one summer.

Bucket 4: Include families in the process (8.4 months of additional growth)

Programs make greater impact when families are provided with knowledge and resources on specific things they can do at home to help their children develop their language and literacy skills. Including families to support reading interventions at home is a powerful lever for improving reading achievement. Average time to impact: one school year.

Bucket 5: Training adults to teach specific reading skills (12.2 months of additional growth)

Adults are most effective when they receive explicit instruction in specific literacy skills (e.g. letters, phonemes, phonics, comprehension, etc.). When students receive instruction that clarifies reading knowledge (e.g. letter sounds) and provides explicit instruction in reading skills (e.g. comprehension strategies) they are able to master the foundations of reading. This requires making sure adults are provided with the knowledge and resources needed to meet students’ specific needs. Average time to impact: one school year.