Nov 29, 2023

What We Know about How Children Learn to Read

Best Homeschool Curriculum · Homeschool Language Arts · Homeschool Reading · Homeschooling Curriculum
What We Know about How Children Learn to Read

Phonemic awareness is key

A phoneme is an individual sound. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear an individual sound, recognize it and manipulate it. For example, the word cat contains three phonemes (sounds): /k/, /a/ and /t/. A child who has good phonemic awareness skills would be able to recognize each phoneme and verbalize it individually. If a child is asked to name a rhyming word that sounds kind of like cat, but starts with a different sound, the child might say “bat” and be able to separate out the “b” sound from the word. Developing strong phonemic awareness is the first step in learning to read. Development of this skill begins at birth.

Phonics comes next

Matching sounds to written letters is called phonics. For example, in the word “cat” the c makes the /k/ sound. The formal teaching of phonics usually begins in kindergarten; however, many children can begin learning phonics earlier. Phonics instruction includes teaching how certain combinations of letters create specific sounds. For example, the “ph” combination results in the sound /f/ and the “tion” combination creates the sound /shun/. Good phonics instruction provides an understanding of the patterns that create specific sounds. For example, a silent “e” at the end of a word usually means the vowel sound in the middle is long. We can see this in the words “fat” and “fate.” When a reader applies phonics skills to figure out a new word, we refer to it as decoding.

The direct teaching of phonics is critical for many students to become good readers. However, it is important to understand that phonics is not directly taught in some schools, in favor of the “whole word” or “whole language” method. Some elementary school teachers were not taught phonics as children and have not been trained in the teaching of phonics. Therefore, they will not be able to teach phonics to their students. This has caused great difficulty for many students who do not become good readers. Educators and policymakers have debated the inclusion of phonics in reading programs since the late 1800s. We know now that reading programs need to include both phonics and the effective parts of “whole language” strategies in order for all children to learn to read. It is estimated that currently about 68% of third graders are not on grade level in reading.

Good phonics instruction will result in readers who can read more naturally and spell with greater accuracy. The most effective phonics instruction will be very organized and systematic, with a sequence that moves from the simplest concepts to the most complex.

Phonics leads to Fluency

Once a reader can use phonics skills to decode words quickly, reading becomes automatic. Over time, with a great deal of exposure to new texts, a reader begins to develop fluency. This means that reading is smooth, natural, accurate, with appropriate expression. Speed increases along with fluency. Fluency is sometimes referred to as the bridge between phonics and comprehension. It is difficult to comprehend something if it takes a great struggle to read it in the first place. The key to becoming more fluent is lots and lots of practice until reading becomes very natural.

Fluency leads to Comprehension

Comprehension means the reader can understand what is being read. In the earliest stages readers can understand exactly what the author is saying. This is called literal comprehension. As readers mature, they develop the ability to interpret what they read or to understand what may be implied but not directly stated. This is known as interpretive or inferential comprehension. Once readers develop literal and interpretive comprehension skills they can advance to evaluative comprehension. This means they can make judgments and think critically about what they are reading by relating other information and background knowledge to the text.

It is important to remember that comprehension is greatly impacted by a reader's phonics skills. Readers who are still struggling with phonics have not developed adequate fluency and therefore cannot possibly develop advanced comprehension skills. It is not uncommon for educators and parents to mistakenly identify a reading problem as a comprehension issue when the reader is really struggling with phonics.

You can help your child gain the skills they need to be an effective reader using the Orton-Gillingham based curriculum Reading Horizons At Home! As their phonemic awareness and phonics skills improve, they will start to gain practice opportunities to read passages and decodable books that are on a variety of different topics, thus building their fluency and ultimately their comprehension.

We want to thank our friends at Reading Horizons at Home for sharing this valuable information.

Reading Horizons SquareReading Horizons At-Home is a dynamic online platform dedicated to empowering learners of all ages with the skills and love for reading. With a team of dedicated educators, researchers, and developers, we offer an engaging and personalized learning experience. Our adaptive approach, backed by research and best practices, focuses on phonics, decoding, and comprehension strategies, ensuring learners develop a solid foundation in reading. From young learners to adolescents and adults, our user-friendly platform and comprehensive curriculum cater to all, fostering growth, confidence, and a lifelong love for reading. Join us at Reading Horizons At-Home and unlock the power of reading for learners of all ages.

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