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Selecting an Effective Reading Program for Your Child: Tools vs. Toys

by Alan Scalone, CNK Digital co-founder


Whether you’re home schooling your child or merely looking to improve your child’s reading skills in and out of the classroom, an effective reading program can deliver results and improve standardized test scores. Unfortunately, not all reading programs are created equally. Some programs are developed by individuals who see a “new way” to provide fundamental reading skills through untested theories based on a handful of studies, not to mention a large helping of flashy graphics and colors. Many of these programs are mere “toys,” designed to entertain and make reading fun while neglecting the vast amount of research on direct or explicit instruction techniques that are currently used in real classrooms. Unless these reading programs offer a curriculum based upon the National Reading Panel research and direct instruction model, they are simply less effective when it comes to teaching children how to read.

Why is direct instruction so important? First of all, since the beginning of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), US classrooms use the direct instruction model to meet standardized testing goals. It certainly makes sense to align your child’s supplemental reading programs with the way they are being taught in the classroom, not to mention the way they are being actually tested and evaluated at the end of the year. By using a reading program that doesn’t use the direct instruction model and does not directly align with the core curriculum instruction used at schools, your child will probably wind up confused and overloaded with conflicting information.

Secondly, direct instruction works. In a monumental 1997-1999 study conducted by the National Reading Panel (NRP), over 100,000 reading studies were evaluated for overall effectiveness [1]. NRP’s conclusion after reviewing all of this literature was that direct instruction was by far the most effective learning model in education. In fact, all current direct instruction models, including the Reading First Federal Initiative set by NCLB, are based upon NRP’s research.

Now that you know how important the direct instruction model is, you’re probably asking yourself “What exactly is direct instruction?” The direct instruction model was developed at the University of Illinois back in 1964, so it’s been with us for a while. There are three basic components to direct instruction: design, delivery and error correction. Here’s a quick breakdown of each component:


In the design component of a direct instruction model, all concepts are broken down into manageable steps so that students have appropriate pre-skills and prior knowledge by the time the information is presented. Clear and concise language is used so that all concepts are understood the first time. Model skills and steps are used to complete learning tasks and ensure understanding. Guided practice is used by the teacher to support learning, and multiple examples are used in a carefully planned sequence to build independence. Previously learned knowledge is constantly integrated to ensure progress, and student learning is continually assessed and monitored along the way.


Delivery is concerned with the way the direct instruction model is implemented. All lesson plans are followed exactly to ensure consistency from throughout the instructional program. Instruction is modeled and practiced. Quick pacing and interactive responses are used to keep the student engaged with the lesson. Planned correction procedures (see Error Correction below) are used to prevent errors from becoming learned habits. Finally, positive reinforcement is used to motivate students to excel.

Error Correction

Finally, error correction involves an immediate action plan when students make mistakes. When a mistake happens, the instructional program immediately models the correct response and then leads the student in repeating that response. The task is then repeated once again from the beginning to put the correct response into context.

These three components consistently lead to superior outcomes, according to the NRP studies. In addition, direct instruction is structured in a way so that students eventually become independent so they can complete lessons correctly without constant monitoring from teachers or parents. Many of the reading programs that do not implement direct instruction techniques lack that consistency, which leads to student distraction. These programs are so committed to making the lessons “fun” through the use of graphics and other visuals that the entire lesson is rendered completely ineffective. Direct instruction is direct, which means it delivers the vital information in a clear, concise and easy-to-absorb manner.

When evaluating effective reading programs for your child, you may be wondering which products offer direct instruction and which do not. It’s fairly simple to find out: merely look at the marketing information to see if the product is based upon the National Reading Panel research. Products such as ClickN READ Phonics [2] make it very obvious that direct instruction and NRP research forms the basis of the program. For instance, you can go to the website for ClickN KIDS and see how each lesson plan corresponds to a specific step in the core curriculum aligned with NCLB [3]. A reading program that does not utilize direct instruction will probably avoid mentioning direct instruction, NRP and No Child Left Behind.

In other words, an effective reading program that uses direct instruction is a tool to help your child master reading skills. It is not a toy for your child’s entertainment. Curriculums that do not use direct instruction are proven to be far less effective in teaching your child how to read. So my best advice to you is this: when it comes to you teaching your child to read, choose a tool and not a toy!

[1] National Reading Panel (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction: Reports of the Subgroups (NIH Publication No. 00-4754). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. http://www.nationalreadingpanel.org/

[2] https://www.cnkdigital.com/

[3] https://www.cnkdigital.com/Public/CoreCorrelations.php

This entry was posted in eLearning, Guest Blog, Online Reading Software, Product Review, Technology and Education and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Posted Saturday 12 July 2014 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Very good article! We will be linking to this
    great article on our site. Keep up the great

  2. Posted Tuesday 15 July 2014 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Hi! Would you mind if I share your blog with my myspace
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