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Is your child learning reading the right way?

It's not just about learning to read. It's also about how your child is being taught to read. Here are the most popular approaches - one of these is likely used at your child's school.

By Linda Jacobson

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Learning how to read. . . after the war

Blessed be the child who is learning to read in this millennium. She managed to escape the great reading wars, which have largely been put to rest thanks to a 1998 National Research Council report. The report finally brought reason to the contentious debate by concluding that no one method of reading instruction is right for all children.

Before the National Research Council weighed in, parents, school boards, education experts, and policymakers had to choose sides in the reading wars: fighting for either phonics-based methods or whole language instruction. Phonics-based reading programs break words down into small parts and teach children to decode words. Whole language focuses on entire words and their meaning in context.

Today, as relative détente reigns in the reading instruction world, most experts endorse using a combination of strategies — including a hybrid of phonics-based and whole language instruction that's known as "balanced literacy instruction." These strategies are woven into a specific reading curriculum that, most likely, your child's school teaches. (Note: none of these programs are endorsed by any government body, but have been embraced by different schools and educators.)

So why should you care what kind of curricula is being used at your child's school? Maybe you're worried your child isn't learning to read quickly enough or you don't understand some of the lingo being used. Or you might be concerned that the teacher is drilling phonics and all you were taught was to love literature. By knowing which ready curricula is being used, you can better understand the method the teacher is taking towards literacy — and how to best support your child in this effort.

What follows are the most popular reading programs being used in schools today.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kaufman

Linda Jacobson is a freelance education writer who lives in Southern California.

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