Project Follow Through Findings

These principles have been distilled from the findings of more than 30 years of research studies under two very expensive federally funded programs: the $200 million in studies conducted under the direction of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and the $1 billion Project Follow Through Study. The research indicates that, to be most effective, these principles should be taught in sequence:

  1. Teach phonemic awareness directly in kindergarten. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of elementary speech sounds.
  2. Teach, explicitly and in isolation, the single speech sound-spelling represented by each letter or letter combination. Provide practice in recognizing these speech sound-spelling relationships in decodable text.
  3. Teach frequent, highly regular speech sound-spelling relationships systematically progressing from easier to more difficult, and provide practice reading them daily, first in isolation and then in the context of words and sentences.
  4. Teach students directly how to sound out words by blending the words’ speech sound-spellings together sequentially from left to right, and then provide practice using words composed of only those speech sound-spelling relationships that have been systematically taught.
  5. Provide connected, decodable text for students to use to practice the speech sound-spelling relationships they have learned.
  6. Teach reading comprehension using interesting teacher read stories that include words most students have not yet learned to read, but which are part of their spoken vocabulary.
  7. Teach decoding and comprehension skills concurrently but separately, until reading becomes fluent such that comprehension skills learned through teacher-read literature can be applied to the students’ own reading once they become fluent decoders.

Project Follow Through Analysis
edited by Dr. Bonnie Grossen, University of Oregon
Winter 1995-96 issue of Effective School Practices, Volume 15, Number 1

The $1 billion federally funded Project Follow Through study lasted from 1968 to 1994. “Follow Through was intended to help kids, from kindergarten through the third grade, continue the progress they had made in Head Start. But the Feds also wanted to find out which instructional methods delivered the most bang for the bucks. So they funded 22 vastly different educational programs in 51 school districts with a disproportionate number of poor children. Standardized test results were collected from almost 10,000 Follow Through children, as well as from kids not in the Follow Through program,” as Billy Tashman pointed out in his New York Newsday article of November 14, 1994. The result: children taught to read with direct instruction in intensive, systematic phonics vastly outperformed other children. You can read the Project Follow Through analysis online at the Effective School Practices site.

Overview of NICHD Reading and Literacy Initiatives
a statement by Dr. G. Reid Lyon, Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development before the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources on April 28, 1998.
Since 1965, $200 million in studies have been conducted under the direction of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Since 1985, Dr. Reid Lyon has directed the work of more than 100 researchers in medicine, psychology, and education, who are conducting reading studies at 14 different research centers across the nation. The results show yet again that children need to be explicitly taught each sound-spelling pattern (phonics) and need connected, decodable text to practice the sound-spelling patterns they learn. Decodable text is text that can be sounded out based on the sound-spelling patterns children have already learned.

Dr. Lyon’s testimony provides an excellent overview of NICHD Studies. He writes: “The NICHD has supported research to understand normal reading development and reading difficulties continuously since 1965. During the past 33 years, NICHD-supported scientists have studied the reading development of 34,501 children and adults. Many studies have been devoted to understanding the normal reading process, and 21,860 good readers have participated in investigations, some for as long as 12 years. Significant effort has also been deployed to understand why many children do not learn to read. To address this critical question, 12,641 individuals with reading difficulties have been studied, many for as long as 12 years. In addition, since 1985, the NICHD has initiated studies designed to develop early identification methods that can pinpoint children during kindergarten and the first grade who are at-risk for reading failure. These studies have provided the foundation for several prevention and early intervention projects now underway at 11 sites in the U.S. and Canada. Since 1985, 7,669 children (including 1,423 good readers) have participated in these reading instruction studies, and 3600 youngsters are currently enrolled in longitudinal early intervention studies in Texas, Washington, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, and Washington, D. C. These studies have involved the participation of 1,012 classroom teachers, working in 266 schools and 985 classrooms.”