Improving Systems for Reading Instruction
Using the Reading MATTERS Framework
Reading, the bedrock of literacy, is the foundational skill necessary for all academic progress. Designing high-quality primary grade reading programs is essential to ensuring a pipeline of students who remain in school, achieve educational success, and contribute to economic growth. Because reading is a skill that must be carefully and explicitly taught, designing such programs is complex.
Frameworks for reading program design, including the “5 Ts” framework, have contributed to significant gains in reading outcomes across many contexts and have revealed a need for analytical tools that permit greater understanding of local systems. In many countries, reading achievement has been inequitable with readers in the lowest quintile of reading outcomes continuing to fall behind their peers in school. From these experiences, USAID identified the need for a tool that builds upon the 5 Ts to more effectively adjust for context and sustain results for all.
USAID designed the Reading MATTERS Conceptual Framework as a tool to guide contextual analysis, identify where the gaps are, and develop more targeted interventions to improve reading outcomes for all students — especially the most marginalized and vulnerable. Because so many of the factors that influence reading outcomes fall outside the scope of the school or education system, the framework also includes elements of child-well being.
Reading MATTERS identifies four interconnected layers of outcomes that must exist within a system to ensure that all children can learn to read:
- Reading MATTERS components
- Elements of child well-being
- Host country capacity and commitment
- Research and Adaptation
Reading MATTERS Components
MATTERS is an acronym that stands for the critical components identified by the evidence to foster reading acquisition for all children: Mentors, Administrators, Teachers, Texts, Extra Practice, Regular Assessment, and Standards.
Each MATTERS component encompasses multiple reading-specific sub-factors, all of which must be considered based on context and must be coordinated coherently within a system for all students to learn to read.
Mentors: Evidence shows that ongoing support through effective coaches and mentors is critical for teachers to effectively implement what they learn in training programs and to improve reading outcomes for all students.
Administrators: School leaders and district/regional-level education officers should provide quality administrative support and supervision to ensure oversight and monitoring of teacher and student attendance, safety, and quality of reading instruction in schools.
Texts: All children learning to read need their own high-quality texts and materials at appropriate levels and in languages that they use and understand. Systems must have a strong book supply chain that makes texts more available, affordable, accessible, appropriate, and actively used. USAID participates in the Global Book Alliance to support strong local book supply chains.
Teachers: For effective teachers and classroom instruction, the system needs clear linkages between pre- and in-service training, and teachers must implement the evidence-based practices they learn from professional development in their classrooms.
Extra Practice: Family and community members can provide extra practice outside of school by supporting language development and daily reading skills practice. Reading materials should be available for children and their families for reading practice outside of school.
Regular Assessment: Regular assessments refers to not only national or end of year summative assessments, but also the formative day to day teacher assessment of students that informs instruction; this is essential to reach all students.
Standards: Education systems should have evidence-based standards, norms, and policies around the 5 Ts: appropriate language(s) of instruction (Tongue); national curriculum with sufficient time for reading in schools (Time); books and materials for all students (Texts); teacher education, oversight, and incentives (Teaching); and appropriate reading standards, benchmarks, targets, and an assessment framework for screening the needs of all students (Tests). In the ideal system, evidence-based standards and policies are in place, providing an implementation blueprint for the other components in the framework.
It’s well understood that factors outside of the school environment impact a child’s ability to learn. For this reason, Reading MATTERS is designed to show the dynamic relationship between the components of high-quality reading instruction and additional, essential elements of child well-being that catalyze learning. Students who feel safe at home, and who are protected from traumatic stress can better focus in school. Likewise, children who are in good health can attend school more regularly and be active participants. Studies have demonstrated a clear link between nourishment, especially in regards to the prevention of stunting, and later academic ability.
Host Country Capacity and Commitment
The framework highlights the importance of host country capacity and commitment to high-quality reading instruction for all students. Development practitioners and educators must understand the political economy — political will and commitment — and the host country's capacity to sustain the system before designing an activity around these components.
Research and Adaptation
For a system to be self-reliant, it needs mechanisms for collecting and using data to continually improve on existing activities and identify when there’s a need for adaptation. Key stakeholders and institutions should continually collect and use data on reading outcomes, classroom instruction in reading, teacher knowledge/behavior, school environments and materials, and access to reading materials for extra practice outside of school, including identifying differences in subpopulations. By analyzing this data, they learn what strengths and gaps exist in the Reading MATTERS system in their context, so that they can adapt programming to assist all children to learn to read.
How Can You Use the Reading MATTERS Framework?
Effective reading is a necessary precondition for skill development in all academic areas. Countries only stand to benefit by investing in high-quality primary grade reading programs. USAID’s Reading MATTERS Framework can be used by national, regional, or local governments, or by donor agencies and their implementing partners, to inform the planning, execution, and evaluation of reading and literacy instructional programs for primary grade students and youth. Using the framework as a starting point, development practitioners and educators can identify the strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in reading instruction in any education system. They can conduct targeted analysis and develop context-appropriate reading interventions that advance USAID’s education priorities in all types of learning environments.