Education Researcher Creates Free Summer Reading Program for Parents

Georgetown’s Chad Aldeman explains why he created Read Not Guess after seeing his 8-year-old son’s bad reading habit

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Reading is freedom. It opens up the world. 

In my day job as an education researcher, I know that too many kids never learn to read well. Kids who don’t learn to read fluently by 3rd grade will struggle as the material gets more complex. 

That fact hit home this spring when I noticed my 8-year-old son had picked up a bad reading habit at school. When he came to a word he didn’t recognize, he would guess

Rather than sounding out the word and breaking it down into parts, he looks at the first letter or considers other context clues and then tries to guess. Sometimes he looks to me for confirmation and takes his eyes off the page. If I step in to tell him he got it wrong he’ll just try again, without even looking back down. 

As a parent, this process drives me crazy. You can’t read without looking at the words! I also know this guessing strategy is not going to serve him well as he encounters more challenging texts. 

My wife and I are working with my son to slow down, sound out unfamiliar words and use his finger to track his reading. He’s getting better. 

But these problems are not unique to my kid or his neighborhood school in suburban Virginia. Many schools across the country continue to rely on literacy programs that encourage these practices. Meanwhile, reading scores were declining even before COVID-19 hit, and school closures only made things worse

All this led me to start a new initiative to help parents establish positive reading habits from the beginning—before bad habits have time to take root. I’m calling it Read Not Guess

Read Not Guess will start with a 30-day challenge to help parents get their kids ready to start the next school year strong. It’s free and open to all, and parents who sign up will receive a daily email with a short lesson. The lessons, which run from July 18 to Aug. 19, are meant for busy families and should take only five to 10 minutes to work through. 

I designed the Read Not Guess summer learning challenge to serve parents who want to help their kids but don’t know how or who just need some extra guidance. It will combine the best of a good phonics instruction book plus friendly nudges and regular encouragement, delivered in bite-sized lessons over email. 

Chad Aldeman (readnotguess.com)

By the end of the challenge, children will understand that English is read left to right, be able to identify and sound out the most common phonemes (letter sounds), begin blending those sounds into words, and start reading complete sentences. Parents will gain a deeper understanding of phonics; practice talking to their child about reading; and learn tools, games and assessments to monitor their child’s reading progress going forward.

Why should parents do all this work? Can’t they just rely on the schools to teach their kids to read? It’s been hard to be a parent through the pandemic, and it might be tempting for parents to take it easy this summer. 

But with many schools still in various stages of upgrading their reading curriculum, some classrooms may still be teaching legacy programs that encourage guessing, even though the evidence suggests good readers can sound out difficult words. Parents do not need to shoulder the full burden, but they can play an active role in building good habits and monitoring their child’s progress. Even relatively light-touch parent interventions can lead to big literacy gains for children, especially the most disadvantaged. Skills-based parental supports — like what Read Not Guess will offer — have even more promising results. 

Summer is a time for barbecues and swimming pools. But while school is out and the kids are at home, summer also presents an opportunity for parents to step in and help their children learn to read — not guess. It’s too important to leave to chance.

This article was written and published while the author was with Edunomics Lab at McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.

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