Learning How To Read Well

By May 20, 2023 September 24th, 2023 Blog, Education

In recent months we’ve listened to American Public Media’s Sold A Story podcast about how children learn to read. We’re struck by its ability to translate a complex topic into compelling, accessible content. We’re also captivated by how accurately it represents the depth and breadth of our own  family’s paths learning how to read, and our perspectives working with children. We were riveted as we lived through the many voices woven into the podcast:  parents, students, teachers, school leaders and advocates, all sharing their powerful experiences.

We’re motivated to alleviate the burden educators experience in the trenches. We’re alarmed by the interdependence of habit, expense and time. While decoding is an element to prioritize (and the cueing system to curtail), we realize it will thwart progress if we ignore the many other influences in play for learning how to be good readers. Children need more resources for building background knowledge, expanding vocabulary, developing connection with a “love of reading” environment and access to high quality content across subjects including history, science, health, and the arts.  We realize an emphasis on writing skills can’t be lost, and early screening for dyslexia and reading readiness are key. We additionally find confidence in American Public Media Emily Hanford’s suggestion of conducting a “pre-mortem” process to alleviate the unintended consequences of massive policy change. Anticipating the many levers that could lead to failure while trying to improve the landscape in reading education seems more prudent than a broad-brush approach to adopting curriculum. We’re encouraged by the progress we’ve seen in recent years. As ExcelInEd’s Dr. Kymyona Burk stated, “there is a higher level of accountability placed on all of us who now know better to do better.”

As we develop our learning curve on the topic of “how to learn to read well,”  we thought we’d share the following resources as we build our frame of reference:

CNN segment in April 2023 covering national attention on effective reading instruction.

Two audio documentaries produced by American Public Media (requiring less time than Sold A Story):

“How A Flawed Idea is Teaching Millions of Kids to Be Poor Readers”  

 “Many Kids Struggle With Reading. And Children of Color Are Far Less Likely To Get The Help They Need”

Links to Other Helpful Information:

ExcelInEd – advances policy decisions within and outside the traditional system to increase learning, eliminate inequities and ready graduates for college and career.

ExcellInEd’s Comprehensive Literacy Policy – state-by-state analysis of fundamental principles.

National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) – published a 2023 report and a review of preservice preparation programs teaching early reading. It analyzes the five components of effective reading instruction that ensures teachers enter the classroom ready to teach children how to read.

Go Beyond Grades:  Resource for parents to understand the difference between report card grades and proficiency in math and reading.

Season 1 of the Knowledge Matters Podcast, Reading Comprehension Revisited. Covers topics such as why students from low-income backgrounds often score lower on reading tests. Why improvements in early grades fade out over time. And why substantial investments in ed reform haven’t delivered larger results. For a quicker listen, go directly to Episode 5, Episode 2 and Episode 6.


The Gamba Family Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit established in 2006 by John and Mary Anne Gamba with commitment to the power of education.