Results from the latest Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) reading assessment have indicated that a quarter of Ontario’s grade 3 students are failing to meet reading standards for their age group. Erin Panda, an assistant professor in the Department of Children and Youth Studies at Brock University, is a cognitive neuroscientist who studies the link between reading skills and associated anatomical changes in the reading areas in the brain. 

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Panda believes that Ontario has failed its children as most teachers follow the “three-cueing method” for teaching children how to read (based on what is recommended in curriculum). This strategy assumes that children can learn how to read simply by increasing their exposure to literature. The method focuses on context, image, and cueing as go-to techniques. But it arguably lacks structure that many children typically do well with, and may contribute to unwillingness to learn to read, and to low self-efficacy.

Research has confirmed that phonics instruction is a much more effective method, as it provides more predictability and order, factors that are favourable for students who need consistency and self-confidence. Phonics instruction emphasizes building connections between what letters look like, how they sound, and what they mean. By teaching children how to read in this way, it becomes an active process that facilitates active thinking and active restructuring of the brain in ways that build links between images, sounds and meanings. 

By introducing interventions that enable teachers to take a more proactive individualized approach to screening, this should allow for detecting reading and literacy issues as children develop (typically between 3-7 years old) and thus timely resolution and ultimately increased self esteem. At present, often most students with a language learning disorder are not detected until they are in grade 3 or beyond. At that point, it may no longer be as effective to bring in those individualized solutions compared to the case where the problem was targeted earlier on. Children may be more prone to mental and sociobehavioral concerns associated with feelings of self-consciousness in their reading skills.

Ontario’s Right to Read inquiry pushes all educators to follow evidence-based methods for teaching students how to read through direct and systematic instruction. Educators are to commit themselves to ongoing development of skills to help students who are just starting to learn how to read. There needs to be collaboration between researchers who study effective evidence-based strategies of reading, and those who teach those methods to their children – a breakdown of silos.

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This post was written by Linda H