Reading Expert: Michael Maloney

Susie McGee
Michael maloney

Michael Maloney, a National Literacy Educator award winner, was kind enough to share some of his insights regarding the importance of encouraging and developing good reading habits and skills for kids. Michael has been teaching kids to read for almost 40 years and has written 30 books on the subject, including the bestseller Teach Your Children Well.

What Are Some Common Practices That You Suggest Teachers and Parents Use in Teaching Reading?

First and foremost, I suggest that they develop the practice of becoming more sophisticated consumers of educational products and/or services. Most parents and teachers have no real idea as to whether or not the program they have chosen has ever been shown to work with kids. Fortunately, about 65% of kids will learn to read using almost any program with almost any teacher. It's the remaining 35% who are going to present problems that most reading programs simply don't solve.

Parents know a lot more about selecting a new TV than they do about selecting a reading program. They need to learn to look into the research to determine the effects of any reading program. Mostly they base their choice on marketing pitches which are completely unscientific and serve only the marketer.

If you have a child who is being challenged to learn to read, you need to know what works and what doesn't. Unless you know that, you can waste a lot of time, money, emotion and patience trying to teach a child to read using a nonfunctional approach.

How Can We Help Students Who are Considered At-Risk Develop Better Reading Habits?

Teach them what they need to know in order to become competent readers. How do we accomplish that? First, find out which reading skills are missing or weak:

  • What aspects of reading can they not do? Or at least not do well?
  • Do they know the sounds that letters and letter combinations make?
  • Are they stumbling over these sounds and either hesitating or guessing or making lots of mistakes?
  • Can they blend those letter sounds together to make a word?
  • Can they learn to do that well enough that the word becomes one that they can read on sight? After all, all words are sight words for fluent readers.

Once you know what the specific difficulty is, you can begin to remediate it in a step-by-step fashion. If you cannot pinpoint the problem, you are shooting in the dark. Any good reading program would assist you to isolate each specific reading problem and then provide you with a proven solution.

How Can Teachers and Parents Encourage Reading for Children of All Ages?

  • Learn Reading Skills-First and foremost the child has to learn the skills involved in reading. Without these skills no amount of encouragement is going to help, because the child cannot engage in reading if they do not have the skills. That means that a child should be able to read aloud a passage appropriate to their age or grade level at the same rate at which they carry on a conversation. If they cannot do so, then there is something on that page that is holding them back. We need to fix that first.
  • Encourage Reading-Once the child can read, they can be encouraged by having interesting books around. A library card becomes a ticket to the universe. Seeing others read and sharing reading also helps. Being read to can be fun, but it doesn't help the listener to become a better reader. Lots of poor readers manipulate their teachers and parents to do their reading for them.
  • Reading Times-Set aside quiet times for reading. Have a special chair or couch where the child can read without a TV blaring. Go to bookstores that let you read their books without purchasing them, and browse. Buy kids books if you can afford them. If you have only a little money, go to yard sales and second-hand stores. They always have a ton of books for very little outlay. Public libraries often sell off used books for a quarter.

What Influenced You to Start Quinte Learning Centre?

I was a special education specialist with my local school district, as well as a teacher and principal. I worked with behavior management problems. Every time I found an off-the-wall kid, I found a child with academic deficits that I could drive a truck through. I started to look beyond getting them into their seats and started to look for successful reading and math programs. I found the research that clearly showed that Direct Instruction programs that were created by Zig Engelmann consistently got great results with kids at risk.

I became a Direct Instruction trainer and set up a lot of DI remedial reading programs. Within three years, our special needs students were outperforming the regular ed kids. The parents were asking to have their normal fifth grade kids transferred into our special ed classes because our students were better at reading , writing, spelling and math. The next year the school district refused to renew our contracts, so I started my own school.

What Learning Models Do You Suggest Parents and Educators Follow?

I recommend that parents follow Learning Models that have proven themselves effective with thousands of children in applied empirical research that is reported in peer-evaluated journals. There are three such dominant models:

  1. Behavior Analysis/Behavior Management-The first is Behavior Analysis /Behavior Management to get the students in their seats and paying attention. That model was developed by B.F. Skinner and his associates at Harvard University. Behavior Analysis has literally thousands of research studies to support it.
  2. Direct Instruction- The second model is Direct Instruction, created by Zig Engelmann at University of Oregon. Direct Instruction is a powerful teaching method which led all others by miles in comparative studies of half a million children across the nation during a 20 year research project called the Follow Through Project.
  3. Precision Teaching-The third is Precision Teaching, a measurement system originated by Ogden R. Lindsley at the University of Kansas. This system allows you to measure academic progress of specific skills in a minute a day. It, too, has a ton of research to demonstrate its effectiveness with hundreds of thousands of children over several decades.

The three methods combined into a single one is what we suggest to parents and teachers. It is the method we have used to successfully teach 50,000 children at risk of school failure to succeed. If a program lacks this kind of verification with a wide range of learners, the parent cannot be sure that it will be a solution for their child's learning needs. Too many times, schools have adopted untested programs which are determined 10 years later to be ineffective, hurting a generation of students who were subjected to them. When a new program is being considered for adoption, parents need to ask the hard questions about its proven effectiveness before the adoption, not years later when its failure becomes obvious.

What Kind of Success Have You Seen From These Models?

For the past 30 years we have used Direct Instruction, Behavior Analysis/Management and Precision Teaching to teach thousands of children and adults to read, write, spell and do math competently. Each of these methods has a long and illustrious research history with their own journals and conferences. Each of these methods has provided consistent success for kids at-risk for over 40 years. When integrated into a single program, the power to change student behavior triples. We have a money back, no hassle guarantee with our products and services. We have almost never had to refund money or provide service for free because these methods accomplish what we need to do to help children and adults learn.

What Are the Main Obstacles That Children Encounter Today Concerning Reading Skills?

  • No Accountability-The main obstacle is that there is no accountability in schools that ensures that every child learns to their potential. No one gets fired if one third of the kindergarten class does not know their sounds and letters. Nobody loses a promotion or a year of seniority or a salary increase if one-third of the first grade kids can't read at the end of grade one. Teachers are only expected to operate on a "best efforts basis". They do not have to get results. When they fail, the child or the parents or both get the blame.
  • Limited Information-A second obstacle that children face in learning to read is that their teachers and parents are not well informed about effective versus ineffective reading programs. The child gets placed in a reading program that has no consistent data for success. The child fails because the program failed. Teachers are rarely taught Direct Instruction approaches to reading when they are given teacher training. Most educational training institutes do not like these methods despite their continued success. They continue to flog methods with no data and rely on their beliefs about reading rather than empirical research. Teachers are not taught the methods and therefore cannot implement them. That places another reading obstacle in front of the at-risk student.
  • Labeling-Children become too quickly labeled as "learning disabled" and are then not expected to succeed to normal standards. That is a cop-out by school districts that refuse to implement better programs selected on their proven successes. Labeling the student places the problem firmly inside the child's head and allows teachers and administrators to avoid the responsibility to teach them well.

What are Some Reading Skill Suggestions That You Can Offer Home Schooling Parents?

  • Select a Program-First, select a good program by reading about its history. Use the Internet for your research. Don't buy anything for which the publisher will not provide at least a yearlong complete money-back guarantee.
  • Learn the Program-Secondly, learn the program so that you can teach it well.
  • Keep Data-Thirdly, keep some kind of real data. Have the child read the same passage each day for a minute. Write down the number of words read correctly and the errors. Keep doing so until the child can read 200 words per minute with no more than two errors. Do the same with word lists so that the child can read 80-100 words in the list per minute with 2 or fewer errors.
  • Practice-Fourthly, practice. Any skill worth learning is worth practicing.

What are Some of the Characteristics You've Noticed in Poor Readers?

The first thing you notice is that they avoid reading. When they do read they do so slowly and with great effort. They make many mistakes and may be prone to guessing. They may have behavioral problems in class or when someone tries to teach them. Some will fake illness to avoid reading. They often refer to themselves as "stupid" because they cannot do what seems to come so easily to others. They do not show a lot of confidence, choose to sit at the back of the class, never volunteer and remain as invisible as possible.

What Kind of Changes Should Schools Make to Improve the Reading Skills of Students?

  • Take a Scientific Approach-Most importantly, schools need to become more scientific in their approach to learning. Medicine was not always as rigorously scientific as it is today. It also went through its periods of potions, and practices that had little if any validating data. They turned themselves into a more scientific discipline with consistent procedures and practices based on results and experimentation.
  • Train Teachers-Secondly, train the teachers. It is completely unfair to expect a teacher to produce sterling results with flawed tools and ineffective methods.
  • Create Accountability-Hold everyone in the system accountable to have every child reading fluently by the end of second grade. Put the money, time and expertise into this objective because children who are in school and who cannot read are doomed to failure on many levels. The solution has been demonstrated in the Follow Through research. It's time to implement what has been proven to work.

What are Some Common Reading Strategies That Anyone Can Benefit From?

Read a passage for one minute. Then give yourself another minute to write down as many ideas as you can from what you can remember about what you read. Check the passage to see if what you wrote was accuracy. You should be able to write between 20-30 words about what you remember in a one-minute memory test. Now try to put those ideas in order of time or importance.

Where Can We Read More About You and Your Programs?

I am essentially a teacher who has been taught three very successful methods by the men who created them. I have been using these methods for almost 40 years and have taught more than 50,000 at-risk children to read. The record speaks for itself. My colleagues who also use these methods have had the same success that I have enjoyed. Anyone who wishes to know specifically about our materials can check out our website.

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Reading Expert: Michael Maloney