Giving Compass' Take:

• Contrary to long-prevailing opinion, student's reading skills are best served by learning a wide range of topics rather than by focusing solely on reading itself. 

• How can educators use this information to better serve their students? At a policy level, how can tests be formed to encourage better practices?

• Learn about the National Assessment of Educational Progress

The long-standing view has been that the first several years of elementary school should be devoted to basic reading skills. History, science, and the arts can wait. After all, the argument goes, if kids haven’t learned to read—a task that is theoretically accomplished by third grade—how will they be able to gain knowledge about those subjects through their own reading?

Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia who writes about the science behind reading comprehension, explained that whether or not readers understand a text depends far more on how much background knowledge and vocabulary they have relating to the topic than on how much they’ve practiced comprehension skills. That’s because writers leave out a lot of information that they assume readers will know. If they put all the information in, their writing would be tedious.

But if readers can’t supply the missing information, they have a hard time making sense of the text. If students arrive at high school without knowing who won the Civil War they’ll have a hard time understanding a textbook passage about Reconstruction.

The implication is clear. The best way to boost students’ reading comprehension is to expand their knowledge and vocabulary by teaching them history, science, literature, and the arts, using curricula that that guide kids through a logical sequence from one year to the next.

Read the full article about teaching reading by Natalie Wexler at The Atlantic.