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Our American Education System’s Approach to Early Reading Comprehension…Is It Flawed?

Categories: Authors for Access, Books, Authors, & Movies, Curriculum & Access, dyslexia, Education & Teaching, Educators, Learning Disabilities, Professional Development, Reading Strategies for K-12, Student Centric Learning, Whole Child Literacy

“Building early reading comprehension skills in early learners is complicated,” shared Natalie Wexler at Learning Ally’s 2023 Spotlight on Dyslexia. Wexler is the author of The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System—and How to Fix It (Avery 2019), and co-author of, The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades (Jossey-Bass 2017).  Natalie Wexler

In her session, Wexler discusses significant ramifications for K-12 decision makers and teachers about the science of reading, and how struggling readers learn to read, especially those with learning challenges, like dyslexia. She began her presentation by questioning whether our American Education System’s approach to early reading comprehension is backed by science? 

“Science tells us that if we want students with dyslexia to become fully literate, we must change both foundational skills instruction and the dominant approaches we use for reading comprehension and writing,” says Wexler. “Beyond 5th grade, reading comprehension skills become vitally important for learning versus just having general skills knowledge. If we want to boost reading comprehension, we must teach children how to read comprehensively by helping them acquire as much academic knowledge and vocabulary as possible on a specific topic.” She points to studies that show fewer than 10% of eighth graders can evaluate complex syntax. “Syntax, (sentence structure) and vocabulary of written language is always more complex in text than what we use in oral conversations.” 

Wexler credits American schools and districts making the shift to a more comprehensive knowledge building curriculum. “Science says… as a child learns to read…‘knowledge building’ should begin in kindergarten, and connect skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing to ensure all necessary reading skills are taught, and fully mastered in order to become a successful learner and lifelong achiever.” 

Listen to her full presentation now on demand to gain an understanding of the research supporting the use of read-alouds, and writing instruction, to boost comprehension for students with reading difficulties. Learn what this approach looks like in the classroom, and actionable strategies for implementing it. 

About Natalie Wexler

Ms. Wexler is also a senior contributor at, and has spoken and written extensively on issues relating to literacy, cognitive science, and equity. Her articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The American Scholar, and other publications, as well as in her free Substack newsletter, Minding the Gap. 

Valerie Chernek writes about educational best practices through the use of technology and the science of reading in support of teachers, children, and adolescents who struggle with learning differences. 

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