Part 1 of a 4-Part Series
Reading is a fundamental skill for any age. If you read well, you can access and understand information on any subject, which can expand your opportunities for learning.
Nevertheless, fewer of our students are reading well. In fact, 65% of our students in 4th grade and 66% of our 8th graders are reading below proficiency according to this year’s findings by the NAEP (National Association of Educational Progress).
Yet there is remarkably little professional development instruction offered to teachers entering education on the specifics of how to teach reading, which is surprising because there is a wealth of new information available concerning how we learn. A large portion of that available information focuses on how we learn to read, in particular.
And neuroscience continues to add amazing insight daily, thanks to advancements in technology that have broadened our understanding of the brain and its functions.
Yet when professional development on reading instruction is offered, it is given in a terribly unbalanced way, being offered to early childhood teachers alone when the reality is that it takes years beyond early childhood for students to learn to read well. Sure, reading begins at age five for some, but for others, the dawn of early reading doesn’t even rise until second or third grade.
In addition, more professional development focuses on teaching with and using a particular curriculum than on instruction that is based on scientific research. In the confusion, many districts, schools, and teachers are left confused and students are left without the base they so desperately need.
In an effort to promote further scientifically sound, research-based instruction, we thought we’d offer some of the basics here in a four-part series, because more teachers need to know. We also think that teachers all the way through 12th grade should have access to this information.
Regardless of what we’ve been told for years, now we know that this information is important. We know it is vital.
Reading has been said by most to contain 5 components for years, but now we must expand upon that understanding to include 7 components. All educators should at least become familiar with these terms, just as we all must understand the scientific method, Bloom’s Taxonomy, multiplication facts, and who won the Civil War.
The more educators (and students) who understand this terminology, the more likely it is we will all use the knowledge it stands for.
Here are the 7 components:
- phonemic awareness
- orthographic awareness
- oral language skills, which consist of:
- morphological awareness and
- syntactic awareness
All of these elements must be represented in a balanced reading instruction.
“How,” you may wonder, “am I going to instruct students on these things when they all just sound like words this writer JUST made up?” First, if you are thinking that, thank you for assuming this writer can come up with such scientific terminology. 3,000 points to Gryffindor for you!
We would never throw such terminology around and not define it. That’s just rude. Let’s explore the vocabulary of the ideas above.
A phoneme is the term used for one individual unit of sound. The study of phonics is what many people refer to as children “learning their letters”, and what some people think is the only thing a child has to learn to be able to read.
There are about 44 phonemes (individual sounds) in the English language.
We know now, though, that phonics is just the tip of the iceberg of reading.
Phonics is the relationship between graphemes (the written representations of the individual phonemes) the phonemes themselves.
Phonics engages the eyes, ears, and processing aspects of the brain.
No, it’s not the same as phonics (that gets asked a lot).
Phonemic awareness is what we call the process involved in listening and speaking the phonemes. It’s basically a label for the invisible process happening in your brain as you hear, understand, form, and speak your own words.
“Aha! Finally!” All the science, math, and social studies teachers rejoiced. “Now you’re speaking a language we understand!”
Vocabulary words are absolutely vital to growing the reading abilities of students. Don’t stop teaching them! In fact, feel free to do more! Vocabulary absolutely should be included, tested, and even required to have correct spelling (within reason). Build those robust vocabularies! We’ve got this one handled, for the most part.
Fluency refers to the rate, speed, and accuracy with which one reads, processes, and comprehends text. Oral reading is comprised additionally of things like pitch, volume, rhythm, tone, smoothness, inflection, and pauses.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start.
Comprehension is the meat of reading. It’s the ever-important goal - the understanding of the text that can be internalized and understood to the point that the reader can interpret, remember, and discuss the content.
Text should be observed in relation to self, other texts, and the world.
There are elements of text to be observed that can build and expand comprehension.
Ortho means “of the mouth”. Graphic means “print, symbol, or communication through picture”. Orthographic awareness, then, is the awareness of both spoken sounds and print.
More specifically, it refers to systems within the language such as conventional spelling (both the recognition and production of), letter order, combinations, capitalization, hyphenation, punctuation, word recognition on sight, and directionality of letters (interestingly, this also applies to numbers).
By the way, remember those 44ish phonemes we mentioned above? Here’s why it’s such a challenge for kids to learn it all before 4th grade: we spell those 44 (give or take) sounds about 150 different ways.