In the Netherlands, forty thousand children leave primary school every year with the reading level of a year-six child. In special primary schools, the average child achieves a reading level between year four and year five of primary school. Once a child falls behind with his or her reading, it becomes very difficult to catch up and this has led to 250,000 functionally illiterate adults in the Netherlands. Not learning to read properly at the beginning of their schooling is associated with serious problems during the rest of school and with functioning as part of society.
Many reading problems can be prevented by early intervention and intensive instruction. Reading is not a natural process. Most children need dedicated and systematic instruction. How dedicated and intensive this needs to be and how much time they will need to develop good reading skills varies greatly between children.
When it comes to preventing reading problems, the teacher plays a central role. It has been found that the quality and intensity of teaching and the attitude of the teacher towards his or her pupils has more influence on student performance than the methods used or how the school is managed. At the same time, substantive renewal will not be successful over the long term unless certain conditions are met (for example, planned implementation and control, continuous professional development, responsiveness to the views of stakeholders, sustained focus on encouraging learning outside school).
The research group focuses on translating the knowledge about reading problems into teacher training and teaching practice, with the goal of achieving functional literacy for all pupils. This can be achieved when:
- What we know about the process of learning to read is directly linked to the instruction that is needed from teaching staff.
- Improving teaching methods is done within the context of improving the school as a whole.
- The school improvement is placed within a policy context.
We distinguish between a number of lines in the research programme:
- The institutionalization of approaches that have proven successful in the training and continuing education offered by the Faculty of Education;
- Research into the opportunities to prevent reading problems in less structured and guided situations;
- Research into improving reading levels in special education;
- Research into the effects of data-driven teaching and data-driven decision making.
The past fifteen years have seen great strides in understanding of the process of reading and what causes reading problems to emerge. This study shows that almost all children can learn to read fluently, provided they are given sufficient time and teaching. When insufficient progress in made with reading, this is almost always the result of educational neglect.
The research programme for the period 2007-2011 includes two research lines:
- Is the prevention of reading difficulties also feasible where there is a less structured and supervised situation?
- Is it possible to improve the reading abilities of children in Special Education?
The results of research in this period are (a) publicizing findings among practitioners, policymakers and scientists, and (b) thinking through the implications of the findings for the Faculty of Education.