All Kids Can Learn to Read: Believe it or not?

Lots of teachers say they believe that all kids can learn to read, but are we acting on that belief as much as we can?  How many of us are putting forth our best effort to make literacy happen for each and every kid in our classroom?  Or do we make excuses for some kids:

*His parents don’t speak English, so he’s always going to have problems with reading.  There’s no one at home to help him.

*She came to us from another school where the instruction was not good enough for those first few years.  Now how am I supposed to catch her up for all that lost time?

*My struggling readers get pulled out for so many things that they are never in my room when I need to meet with their group.

*He qualified for LD, so there’s not too much I can do as his classroom teacher.

*Her older brother was a slow reader.  She’s just like him.

And on it goes.  Instead of thinking of reasons why this child will never be a proficient reader, let’s start participating in the problem solving.

Recently I read an article that Katie recommended to me, “What At-Risk Readers Need” by Richard Allington.  You can find it in Educational Leadership, March 2011.  I highly suggest that everyone read it.  He lists several things that are NOT working, such as, sending the hardest-to-teach kids out in the hall to read with paraprofessionals, computer programs, and overreliance on core reading programs.  He mentions a few things that schools should be doing so that every student can learn to read by the end of first grade, such as more Reading Recovery (recommended by the What Works Clearinghouse) for first graders, high quality kindergarten intervention, and lots of high-success reading experiences (time spent reading books that students can read.)  “At-risk readers need more expert reading instruction than we have been providing.”  When Allington spoke on this topic at the recent IRA convention he refuted the complaint that there’s not enough money available to do all that needs to be done by saying, “The money is there; we’re just not spending our money in the right ways.”

I’ve been thinking about this article and Allington’s sessions at IRA a lot this week.  Please find that article and share it with some teachers and administrators at your school and let us know your thoughts.


  1. I love this post! As a teacher of upper elementary, I had a defining moment this year as I learned firsthand that all are capable of learning to read by teaching a 50 yr. man to read. He taught me to be responsive to him as a reader; to seek out what works in teaching reading. (Marie Clay/Allington)

    Education failed Robin in the 60’s; we are still doing that in 2011 because we are not empowering teachers to be expert reading teachers as Allington states. No computers, no pull-outs, no programs…just face to face time being responsive & knowledgeable.

    Robin is my icon for RTI. I look at non/low readers; see Robin years ago calling out for someone to teach him to read. He had to wait 45 yrs. to show the world & educators that he has always been capable of reading.

    My sadness is that it took 21 yrs. of my career to experience this belief that all can read. But my joy is that I will spend the remainder of my career empowering teachers with this belief and by offering strategies to make it happen.

    Debbie Bagwell
    Literacy Coach
    Lyman Hall Elementary
    Gainesville, Ga.

  2. Three cheers for Dr. Allington!!!! I, too, got to sit in on one of his sessions at IRA. He was GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The entire crowd cheered and clapped for his comments. I loved the one about taking all the copy machines, worksheets and workbooks OUT of schools….loved it!!! And how money spent on that stuff could buy so many BOOKS!!!!! If we are all applauding…what is wrong with our schools??!!!! We were FORCED to use the basal this year…and I quietly put it aside as the year went on because it was NOT helping my struggling readers. I could just cry for our children, our education system is a mess and in Florida…well lets just start building more prisons….what will it take for politicians and the greedy publishing companies to get out of education…
    sorry for the vent. But Allington was awesome.
    I am planning on sharing that article with my principal because I have had enough of having to do things that do NOT work.

  3. Hi Pat,

    Friend from the past – Josie. Loved your book Catching Readers Before They Fall. I am a Literacy Teacher at a school in Colorado. My friend follows your blog and we would love the article that you referred to in this post. Unfortunately no one at my school takes that publication and we were wondering if you could send it to us so we can spread the good news of teaching our kids.

    You’re the best (and famous)

  4. Mrs. V –
    Thanks for alerting everyone to Allington’s book “What Really Matters…” with your post. It’s a very powerful statement that every teacher should note. I can see why that book is in it’s third edition. Yes, both Katie and I have read it, but thanks for the reminder — revisiting it is always a great idea.
    Pat J.

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