Dr. Conway: It was that phonology – that you’re perceiving the sounds, being able to say sounds, so that our first reading skill should be – can you sound out words? Can you sound it out using that phonological system? As that system gets strong, then you get better at actually being able to memorize words, that’s where you get to be able to actually drive that sight word knowledge and begin to memorize those words as well.
Dr. Conway: As that grows along, then we know now you need vocabulary. Why? Why do you need vocabulary to read? What’s the purpose of reading? To understand or learn something, but if you don’t know the meaning of words, you’re not going to understand the meaning. You’re not going to get some content from words themselves. We now know that when these three skills are working really well, we’ve built a solid foundation for reading that we want every child to have. And when that happens, our next product is reading fluency. Now they’ll be better able to sound out the words. How do we know this – we studied it.
Dr. Conway: This was another five-year study we did – the question was do we actually have to do fluency training? Do we actually have to do repeated readings, choral readings, chunking, phrasing, there’s all these common practices how to help a child become more fluent in reading. But the other theory was – kids who don’t have reading problems, guess how they get their fluency? What do they do? They just read. So maybe it is that the more efficient this system is here, the better you can quickly sound out words. That’s going to drive that fluency skillset. So we did a study testing it out, and that’s exactly what we found.
Dr. Conway: You can do lots of fluency instruction, but if you actually just made this system become much more efficient, much more automatic, you automatically got fluency even when you didn’t need fluency instruction. It was a natural by-product. Here’s another way to think about that – the average 5th grader who has reading problems – guess how many words they’ll read in one school year? How many words does a 5th grader read in one school year? Counting the same words more than once, give it your best guess. [1000, 2000, 3000]
Dr. Conway: Try 600,000 to a million. Because we’re counting the same words more than once. They might see ‘the’ a thousand times. They might see ‘a’ five hundred times. They’re going to read about 600000 to a million words in one school year. How many words do you think a child who has a reading difficulty and struggles with reading – how many words do you think they’re going to read in a whole 5th grade year?
Dr. Conway: Try 50,000. That’s our current estimates. 50k vs 600k to a million. Which brain is getting more practice? The brain that is doing 600k to a million. We have ten times difference in the practice. That is a phenomenal effect on learning. This is why I started this discussion by talking to you about intensity, frequency and specificity of instruction. We just hit a really key element, which is – how much practice are you getting. If you are only reading ten times fewer words, that, in and of itself is causing a gap to grow in developmental skills.
Dr. Conway: But this isn’t enough – this is not our core reason for reading. What is our real reason for reading? What did you say it was? You are reading to learn what? Content, information. So it’s really about comprehension. Our goal for teaching reading is so that kids can comprehend science, social studies, english, math, literature, that’s our primary goal. But we won’t get here if these skills down here [sounding out/sight words/vocabulary] aren’t strongly developed.