What type of instruction prevents and remediates reading problems?

Learning to read, like math and science, is a complex process. However, unlike math and science, very few people understand the complexities involved with learning to read. Because reading comes easily for some learners, including most teachers, many are unaware of the process required to learn to read - thus, few know how to explain it. This is one reason why teaching reading requires a knowledgeable, well trained teacher in order to provide effective systematic direct instruction to students.

For students who show gaps in sight word and decoding knowledge it is important that instruction include reading and rereading familiar texts where phonics rules can be applied and practiced. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) recommends the following key components:

  • Linguistics. Instruction should focus on assuring that the use of phonics patterns on the word and sentence level becomes fluent.
  • Meaning-based. An emphasis on comprehension and composition should always be the end goal of instruction.
  • Multisensory. During instruction and practice the simultaneous use of two or more sensory pathways (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, tactile) should be used.
  • Phonemic awareness. Offer students reteaching in how to detect, segment, blend, and manipulate “sounds” in spoken language.
  • Explicit direct instruction. Phonics instruction should be systematic (structured), sequential, and cumulative, and presented in a logical sequential plan that fits the nature of language (alphabetic principle), with no assumption of prior skills of language knowledge.

Students who do not initially receive systematic instruction in the sound structure system of English and letter/sound correspondences:

  • take longer to become fluent readers (Johnston & Watson, 2006)
  • are vulnerable to reading failure especially if they are not independently reading grade-level text by mid-first grade.
  • are not reaching optimal levels of reading proficiency (this is emphatically true for students in high-poverty areas).
  • are left to guess words from context which only works 10%- 25% of the time with content words (Foorman, 1995; Share & Stanovich, 1995) or memorize words by their shape, etc.
  • are more likely to struggle with content words encountered in grades 3-12, preventing them from attending to meaning.

The importance of explicit and systematic phonics instruction

We now know that learning to read requires instruction in five critical areas; phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. It has been recently discovered that oral language, concept of print, and writing are also important skills necessary for proficient reading. Unfortunately in the recent past, the essential role of effective phonics instruction has been misunderstood and severely neglected. In order for phonics instruction to be effective, it should be explicitly taught and systematically organized in a sequence that moves from simple letter-sound correspondences to more complex patterns and rules (NICHD, 2000). These basic skills must be taught, practiced, and mastered so students can quickly and accurately identify words. When this happens, the brain is free to focus on comprehending what is being read. Repetition and practice in the fundamentals of decoding are necessary elements of effective reading instruction. In fact, overlearning the basics is critical. Overlearning the basics of decoding allows those basics to become automatic and reduces the amount of mental effort required to read. The energy that is saved is then used by the brain to focus on comprehension.

The complexity of the English Language

If you have not said it before, you have certainly heard people say something like, “English is so complicated/confusing/inconsistent/crazy that it is amazing that anyone learns to read and write at all” or “There are so many rules and exceptions to the rules that it makes the teacher’s job difficult and just ends up confusing the students.” However, these sentiments are misconceptions. English, though it is a complex language, is not as complicated as people may think. There is order and consistency to the English language that becomes apparent with proper instruction. The problem is not with the language itself; rather the language instruction that the majority of students have experienced.

Louisa Moats (1995) pointed out that at least 20 sounds in the English language have spellings that are more than 90% predictable, and Steven Pinker noted that “for about eighty-four percent of English words, spelling is completely predictable from regular rules” (1994, p. 190). So the goal for teachers is to teach the very common letter-sound patterns and the history of as many irregular words as possible. When teachers and students understand the consistent patterns of written English, as well as the historical basis of words, they can better understand the regularities and the relatively few irregularities in English words (Henry, 2010).

Highly Effective Reading Teachers

A master reading teacher keeps up with cutting-edge developments in the field. They are constantly learning and somewhat dissatisfied even if they are getting good results in the classroom. They are constantly seeking out new ideas that are research-based that will help them support children in becoming strong readers. Decades of research has verified that basic skills must be learned in an approximate order. Master teachers know what those skills are and know when and how to teach them.

A master teacher of reading understands that skills must be taught directly, through hands-on, multisensory techniques. Additionally, they realize that teaching reading is not just skill based. Teaching reading also requires sensitivity to the child’s interests, motivation, and emotional responses.

A documented conclusion from a landmark report, Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission of Reading, way back in 1985, stated that the primary ingredient for reading success is a knowledgeable, skillful teacher who is articulate about their work. Since then, many other research projects have documented and verified this truth (Strickland et al., 2002; haskelkorn & Harrison, 2001; Ferguson, 1991; Rowan, Corretini, & Miller, 2002; Sanders & rivers, 1996; McCardle & Chhabra, 2004; Mosenthal, Lipson, Torncello, Russ, & Mekkelsen, 2004).

“An indisputable conclusion of research is that the quality of teaching makes a considerable difference in children’s learning." (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985, p. 85)

Learn how to explain the Reading Process to Students

One of our sponsors, Reading Horizons, provides 30-days of free access to an online training for teachers that reveals the underlying rules of the English language. The strategies taught in the workshop make providing systematic and explicit decoding instruction to beginning readers, struggling readers, and English language learners a simpler process. You can sign up for 30-days of free access by clicking here.