Many components have to come together for reading to happen. For many, learning to read starts at school. A knowledgeable teacher, enough time, and the right resources should be all most need to flourish. To get the free learning to read poster, go here.
Learning to read is not natural. It does not just happen.
When we teach any new skill, it is often the subskills that need training before mastery and brilliance occur. It would be lovely to think that surrounding children with great books, plenty of time reading with a connected adult and time spent on bookish activities is enough. It just isn’t! If we want children to become literate quickly, we need effective structures.
Learning to read is only a walk in the park for a few.
For most, it is a hill to climb, and with the right instruction, they might get a bit puffed out and have tired days, but on the whole, it is not an ordeal, and as adults, they can’t even remember the event. For some, though, the hill quickly turns into a mountain. It gets steeper every year a student lacks quality instruction or intervention, and they never reach the top.
Our Foundation classrooms should be the powerhouse of the school. It is in these rooms that students get their first taste of school. The instruction, care and intervention students receive in these classrooms set them up for later years. Suppose a student didn’t receive the right instruction in Foundation and goes on to year one and starts to sink without a note about their strengths and weaknesses or a red flag that says they may need intervention. In that case, it isn’t the student’s fault, and if it carries on by the end of year three, it becomes hard to know if the student has an actual learning difficulty or is it just a lack of instruction if they didn’t get the required instruction in the beginning? Addressing the lack of consistent instruction in every classroom would improve the lives of all children.
All children should be taught the initial sounds of the alphabet through a systematic scope and sequence that is explicit and cumulative. As students learn sounds in groups, they can build, write, and read words in increasing length by being taught to segment words to write and blend to read. Teaching segmenting and blending through manipulation creates words and a context for learning. This type of instruction that promotes decoding as the only strategy for reading doesn’t promote the non-skills of guessing, looking at the first letter, looking at the picture or skipping a word.
It is hard work initially — many students will stare any which way but the words. Little by little, teaching eyes on print encourages students to look all the way through a word to blend to read. It catches on, especially if lots of modelling happens. To get the free learning to read poster, go here.
Time and repetition
Time and repetition are crucial elements that often need to be better planned in a crowded curriculum that is also loaded with other events. Learning how to segment a word into sounds and how to blend to read is crucial, and this can take many repetitions. All students need lots of repetition of concepts and skills to become proficient. Some will need more repetitions than others. Teachers often underestimate the time it takes for beginning readers to become skilled at blending to read. A considerable amount of skill is involved in making repetition enjoyable. In my clinic, there is a lot of the same but different instruction, so it all doesn’t become a chore. We switch it up with minimal pairs lists, decodable sound-spelling sentences, books with the same sound-spellings and plenty of games and playful practice. To read more about playful practice, go here. Play is a loaded word — true play is child-led. A playful practice is about all students actively participating in their learning.
To read, we must take the print off the page and make meaning, but that doesn’t happen instantly. To do this, we must first tip the scales towards decoding and integrate the teaching of letter-sound knowledge with the skills of blending, segmenting and phoneme manipulation.
Word building integrates the skills and knowledge needed for all students to kick-start decoding. The typical child starting school knows a lot about language already, but what they don’t often know is that words are made up of sounds. When we teach decoding first and link the speech bits to the letters through integrating phoneme awareness activities with print, we help the learning stick. The more repetitions our students get at linking print to speech, the stronger the links, and they are on their way to fluency.
Many Foundation classrooms integrate the learning of other curriculum areas, so vocabulary instruction and oral language activities have a real context. Integrated knowledge-rich instruction helps to develop the meaning and comprehension skills needed for later years. Suppose other years followed the same approach and added daily read-together time that integrates learning. Add to this rich book talk about words and their structure, sentence work, and lots of oral language activities— it could be a recipe for a literate future!