The content and teaching methods used in the Reading Upgrade course are based on recent scientific research. The 50 lessons in the program bring together results from research on struggling readers, adolescent and adult literacy, and learning disabilities.
In particular, the program is based on the landmark report of the National Reading Panel, April 2000. The panel studied over 100,000 research papers on the teaching of reading and provided detailed recommendations on how to teach reading. The panel found that for children to be successful readers, they must be taught:
1. Phonemic Awareness Skills: the ability to manipulate the sounds that make up spoken language. The Reading Upgrade course has numerous lessons clearly showing how sounds make up words, and activities that require students to identify and manipulate sounds. For example, on Level 15 students listen to words with common beginning blend sounds and then visually match the correct beginning blend text to the ending text for that word.
2. Phonics Skills: the understanding that there are relationships between letters and sounds. The course teaches all the letter sounds through songs, videos, and games. The course also teaches word decoding and sound blending skills and requires students to sound out and identify a variety of words. For example, on Level 13, students learn the “Silent E” long vowels in a song-video. Then, they listen to a word and select the short or long vowel text version: “can” or “cane”.
3. Fluency: the ability to read fluently with accuracy, speed and expression. The course through a game metaphor motivates students to read and comprehend words, sentences, and passages quickly. Students must actively read and understand text and answer comprehension questions throughout the program. For example, on Level 40, students receive written directions to a surprise party. The student must quickly read each direction sentence and identify choices on maps.
4. Comprehension: to apply reading comprehension strategies to enhance understanding and enjoyment of what they read. In the course, students learn key comprehension strategies and must actively read passages and answer questions. For example, in Level 47 students learn through a song-video about the “main idea” of a passage, and then must read five passages and answer over 20 multiple-choice questions including identifying the main idea of each passage.
Other key aspects of the panel report that were integrated into the program are:
Motivation: the panel repeatedly laments the absence of motivational techniques in the 100,000 research papers reviewed and strongly recommended the use of engaging and entertaining techniques to motivate students. The Reading Upgrade course grabs the attention of students through pop music, animated videos, and engaging games. Even students with attention deficits and behavioral problems, and students in the difficult teenage age groups, have completed the program with only limited supervision.
Technology: The NRP concluded that credible and experimental qualitative research on the uses of technology in teaching reading is lacking. Reading Upgrade is filling this gap. Since this course provides comprehensive reading instruction that can be measured using standard tests, schools can show and have shown (see case studies) that technology can help struggling readers.