References to ‘The Science of Reading’ are popping up all over the place. Globally there is a push to have the science behind learning to read brought into teacher training, classroom practices and professional development. This is because on an international scale we seem to be failing children in developing their literacy skills at a time when it has become more important than ever. READ MORE about how literacy is defined today and why it is even more essential than before by clicking HERE.
Reading fluency and strong literacy skills are developed in a child when there is cooperation between the school and home environment. For things to be optimal, both places have to play their part. Being able to read does not happen as a result of 30 minutes of phonics instruction per day. It takes much more than that – it takes exposure to books, storytelling and people reading in a child’s everyday environment as well as the opportunity to practice and access to reading material.
If a family shows an interest in books and reading then their children get the message that reading is important and not solely a school-based activity with little practical application in the real world. This message is very powerful to a young learner who may be struggling to learn to read.
The Science of Reading involves not just regular phonics instruction but instruction in all the types of knowledge that forms the foundation of skilled reading. It also advocates for exposure to language and text in a multitude of ways, both at home and at school.
Written language is a code
It is generally accepted that written language is a code for the sounds that we make when speaking a language. Letters, or letter combinations, represent our spoken sounds – they are pictures or symbols that represent these sounds. Mastering this code allows learners to read words. Reading words, however, is not enough as the reason for reading is to seek meaning. Therefore, the process of reading to learn goes beyond this. The Science of Reading stresses five keys to learning to read effectively.
The Five Keys to Reading
- Phonemic awareness
- It is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.
- Phonics is knowledge of the relationship between sounds and letters.
- Phonics instruction requires a good foundation in phonemic awareness.
- Phonics instruction, without sufficient phonemic awareness in place, results in slow progress, frustration and ultimately a disinterest in reading because it becomes too difficult.
- If children cannot decode what they see on the page, they cannot become fluent readers.
- Fluency is when they move beyond decoding and are able to recognize words automatically, accurately and quickly.
- When recognition and understanding connect it results in fluency.
- Children need to gain meaning from the words they read otherwise it is pointless.
- Reading vocabulary refers to the words that can be read AND understood.
- This refers to reading comprehension
- Reading comprehension is the sum of a child’s decoding ability, their vocabulary knowledge as well as their language comprehension.
There are two essential components of reading instruction:
- Instruction must be explicit
- Clear and straightforward instruction is necessary when exposing learners to the code.
- Direct modeling of skills making use of ‘I do’, ‘We do’, ‘You do’ practice to move towards mastery.
- Instruction must be systematic and sequential
- The presentation of sounds must be in a logical order.
- Easier skills must be mastered before moving on to more difficult ones.
- New learning must build on prior learning.
While learning phonics children make use of their working memory. This is a higher order skill and forms part of our executive function. Phonological memory is essential for learning phonics and decoding skills. Children need to be encouraged to expand the use of their working memory.
Children who cannot distinguish small changes in sounds tend to struggle with phonics instruction. When teaching reading it is often assumed that auditory processing skills are fully developed. However, this is not true for all children, especially those that are learning English as a second or third language. This often means that they have not yet had enough exposure to the English language and therefore their brains are not wired to process these sounds. In mixed classrooms, it would be wise to build in compensatory activities giving additional exposure based on the use of numerous information processing techniques.
Two sides of the same coin
When reading you decode and when writing you encode. They are two sides of the same coin using the same code. Improvement in one of these two skills usually has a positive effect on the other.
Links & references
How the Brain Learns to Read by Sousa, D.A
The Science of Reading Research by G. Reid Lyon and Vinita Chhabra
Lyon, G. R. (2002). Reading development, reading difficulties, and reading instruction: Educational and public health issues. Journal of School Psychology, 40, 3–6.
Moats, L. C. (1995). The missing foundation in teacher preparation. American Educator, 19(9), 43–51.
Moats, L. C. (1999). Teaching reading is rocket science. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.
Shaywitz, S. E. (2003). Overcoming dyslexia. New York: Knopf.
What is literacy by Lianne Bantjes
What is the Science of Reading by Timothy Shanahan
The Phono-graphix Reading Company
Develop a culture of reading in your home by Lianne Bantjes
Why you can’t skip reading to your child for 20 minutes per day by Lianne Bantjes
To explore working with Lianne online in Randburg / Sandton and other areas in Johannesburg, contact her for a consultation to discuss how she can assist you.