Everyone is at it. It is a wonder how we ever really learn to read.
(My) Simple View of Reading; For a start, I am wondering if we are in danger of overcomplicating things, with a focus on the teacher rather than the needs of the learner. I do have a relatively simple view of reading, which can be summarised as, in through the eyes, churned around in the brain (which we can’t see) and out through the mouth, if you want to extend to performance, with this latter often casing children evident discomfort as they are very much on display and can suffer from the equivalent of stage fright.
However, we need to take a step back even from that phase, as a child will have lived a few years before learning to read, so will have developed some oral language which hopefully is sufficiently sophisticated to interact with storylines as they develop. We cannot legislate for pre-school experiences within families, nor the quality of oral interaction, but it is to be hoped that there will have been some learning of nursery rhymes and songs, with some simple poetry and that picture books have already been introduced and shared. Hopefully visits to places of interest which stimulate talk will have happened. I know it won’t be the same for each child and this can become significant variable, with teachers making assumptions about what their children might have experienced.
In this phase, a number of learners will begin to associate the squiggles, the black shapes on the page, as writing, with the adult reading the squiggles. If they are introduced to the concept of writing their name for example, they may well see their name in all sorts of places, usually as a result of seeing the first letter. Children will often as what something “says”, which shows an insight into reading.
So the idea of the squiggles “saying” something is an important step.
Phonic knowledge (sound and spelling) Identifying the squiggles as letters provides deeper insight, and develops visual and oral skills, with recall an essential aspect. Just saying the alphabet does not equate with knowing the letters.
The learner begins to pick up combinations of letters, which together subtly change the sound to make a new sound. Just learning the sounds does not make a child a reader. The sounds have to be recombined into the words, which in themselves embed concepts.
For example, tree, requires some juggling as the single sounds would not be helpful. T-r-e-e brought together as tr-ee, to make the two sounds (three in SSP; t-r-ee), supports successful articulation. If a child has an image of a tree, that supports learning, as the concept matches the word. Nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives can fall into this category. You can picture it, draw it or act it out in some way.
Phonics is important, whichever approach suits the learner, as far as I am concerned. It is one skill in building a complete picture of what makes words.
Word recognition: Quite a number of words which support a broader concept of reading either are not all phonetically simple, nor do they necessarily embed an image. Articulated clearly within the Ladybird Key Words research, they included the following:
a and he I in is it of that the to was all as at be but are for had have him his not on one said so they we with you about an back been before big by call came can come could did do down first from get go has her here if into just like little look made make me more much must my no new now off only or out over other out right see she same their them then there this two up want well went who were what when where which will your old
Extracting the 25 most common words, which make up one third of reading, increases the urgency to know these particular words efficiently.
the of and a to in is you that it he was for on are as with his they I at be this have from
I like to think of some of these as narrative words, part of the language that supports linkage of ideas. Rapid recall of words aids fluency, while fluency aids understanding, as the words are put together into sentences. It is the basis of many early reading schemes.
In a written form this is articulated as cloze procedures, where words are erased from a text and the reader asked to find appropriate words to make sense of the text being read.
The little …… was on ….. bike in the ……..
There are lots of possibilities, rather than one correct choice for each space. This allows for a teacher to check grammatical understanding.
Fluency, to me, is the ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with expression. Fluency is important because it provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension. When fluent readers read silently, we have to assume that they recognize words semi-automatically. They group words quickly to help them gain meaning from what they read.
Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate as much on decoding the words, they can focus their attention on what the text means. They can make connections among the ideas in the text and their background knowledge. In other words, fluent readers recognize words and comprehend at the same time. Less fluent readers, however, must focus their attention on figuring out the words, leaving them more limited attention for understanding the text.
Reading fluency encompasses the speed or rate of reading, as well as the ability to read materials with expression. Meyer and Felton defined fluency as "'the ability to read connected text rapidly, smoothly, effortlessly, and automatically with little conscious attention to the mechanics of reading, such as decoding" (1999, p. 284).
Determining a child's reading rate
A child's reading rate may be calculated by dividing the number of words read correctly by the total amount of reading time. If you count out 100 words in a passage and then time the child as (s)he reads the passage, you can get a view on the speed.
Miscue analysis: If the 100 word passage is also marked for any miscues, the teacher can also support a diagnosis of the specific needs of the child.
Performance: Eventually the early reader is encouraged to perform as a reader, often using the teaching level book, sometimes within a Guided reading session, where there is a larger audience. All reading aloud is performance, whether adult or child. Reading aloud is likely to cause some internal tension, as it is, for the child, a test situation. This is not always considered by adults, who use it as a means of ascertaining the child’s current reading skill.
The performance is often judged by additional criteria, beyond accuracy, with elements such as fluency and expressiveness being highly regarded. If a child is reading an unprepared passage, or at a challenging level, it is likely to suffer from reduced performance.
Fluent readers read aloud effortlessly and with expression. Their reading sounds natural, as if they are speaking. Readers who have not yet developed fluency read slowly, word by word.
Fluency is one reason why I have always favoured colour coded reading schemes as the basis for reading, especially independent reading; a variety of schemes graded according to challenge, with an associated reading age. This allow for a number of challenge levels, the main two being teaching, where a book can be read with some support and guidance, and fluency, which essentially is any colour beneath the teaching level. If children are able to select widely and change their books as needed, they can enjoy reading for themselves, but also can explore performance based on an enhanced fluency. Going above the teaching level can allow some to become frustrated, but the challenge might demonstrate to some that they are better readers than they think.
If children can learn to ride a bike and skateboard once some early support has been given, through personal practice, why can’t we let them do the same with reading?
Can children really fall off a book and hurt themself? Why shouldn't they have a book and have a go? They might make a few errors, but that's not necessarily completely wrong. They will still need specific coaching and guidance and interest being shown, but there is a real need to enhance overall reading skill as reading impacts on the whole curriculum.