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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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Direct Instruction

Grades covered: K - 5 (for reading)

Developed by Zig Engelmann in the 1960s, Direct Instruction (DI) is used in thousands of schools throughout the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia. DI is a structured, top-down approach with teachers conveying information to students in a carefully controlled environment.

DI has four reading programs distributed by McGraw-Hill Education; the most popular is Reading Mastery. DI can be used as a supplemental intervention program or as a core reading curriculum. Those who favor more progressive reading models have criticized Englemann’s heavily scripted, teacher-led approach. Nevertheless, DI consistently earns high marks from researchers for its effectiveness. The American Federation of Teachers even chose DI as one of six promising programs for raising student achievement.

What it looks like: Teachers who use the DI approach follow detailed instructions for everything from the way students should hold a book to which words to emphasize. Reading Mastery covers the essentials of reading and uses orthography, a technique that alters some letters and letter pairs in the alphabet to help students understand how they are pronounced. As children grow more comfortable and confident in their reading, the special letter symbols are removed. Don’t expect routine evening homework if your child's school uses DI. Engelmann views homework — especially for children in the primary grades — as ineffective and unfair, particularly for disadvantaged children who may not get homework support at home.

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

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