What is Reading?
For fluent readers, it seems almost instinctual. Words are instantly recognized; stories come to life easily. But for those just learning how to read, it is a complex process that is anything but automatic.
The process of reading involves many visual and mental processes. In order to read and understand, students need a variety of different skills. These skills begin at the most basic level of associating letter symbols with sounds. Next, readers must recognize or decode whole words and understand the meaning of the words within a sentence. Readers must then string words together to understand a complete sentence within the larger context of a paragraph.
All of these processes occur at the same time and understanding can break down at any point in the process.
How can reading problems be addressed?
Students who struggle with reading often complain that they dislike it. Young readers often mask their difficulty with it by saying things like, “Reading is boring!” “This book is too easy!” “This is a baby book!”
The latest research about struggling readers, such as dyslexic students, states that these types of students need systematic, explicit instruction in order to build their sound and symbol recognition. Orton-Gillingham based approaches such as PAF are created to to help these students build vital, basic reading skills. Many explicit literacy programs such as these use simply illustrated or unillustrated texts so that students can fully attend to the print on the page, instead of relying on pictures for help. Programs like these can turn a student’s entire school experience around by helping them to build skills and confidence to tackle these decodable texts.
While explicit instruction helps students build confidence and skills, these students need powerful literacy experiences (such as read alouds) to supplement their instruction in order to build basic motivation to learn to read. Students need to learn that reading is a pleasurable and rewarding experience, and decodable texts are sometimes not enough to teach students this valuable lesson. These students also need to be exposed to literature that is more complex, advanced and in line with their personal interests in addition to working on decodable texts. Read alouds (at any age) help build fluency, comprehension the motivation to keep progressing. Book discussions about these read alouds help students think critically and develop an interest in reading.
Many factors can contribute to reading problems including a lack of background knowledge, phonics issues, trouble with comprehension, vision problems, processing delays, lack of vocabulary, or limited sight word vocabulary, among others. The more parents and educators understand the complexity of reading, the more adept we are at targeting our support to teach children to read.
By Joanna Brown, Reading Specialist