Can You Name The 7 Dwarves?
I am pretty sure I can’t.
I can, however, name the five key components of an effective literacy program.
To be fair, I should probably know both of those, because they both could be relevant in my work. Although I think knowing Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends names would be more relevant … I haven’t come across a kid who loved Snow White and the Seven Dwarves yet.
Anyway, I want to provide a little overview of yet another area I am passionate about. Literacy. This is at the front of my mind because I delivered some fantastic Literacy workshops this week in regional NSW.
I have worked with hundreds of children over the years who are struggling with their reading, and have used very specific programs, that are underpinned by scientific research, to ensure their success, and it is that scientific research I will be discussing today.
Three independent inquiries into the components needed in an effective literacy program were conducted between the 2000 and 2006, in Australia (The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy), The US (The National Reading Panel), and the UK (The Rose Report). Each of these independent reviews looked at all the research on teaching reading available and gathered information about what the research indicated worked. They all found that the same key five components that need to be present for a reading program to be effective.
Those five key components are:
1. Phonemic awareness – oral manipulation of sounds/words e.g. rhyming, syllables, oral blending & segmenting, breaking words into the smallest units of sound (phonemes)
2. Phonics – linking the letter sounds to their written form e.g. knowing that when we see the letter “m” it makes the sound /mmmmmm/
3. Fluency – the ability to read quickly and accurately
4. Comprehension – the ability to understand what you are reading
5. Vocabulary – understanding the meaning of the words you are reading
These five components, along with explicit and systematic instruction in phonics skills, as well as opportunity to practice these component skills in reading real text, will help to provide the best intervention for teaching students to read.
I find it is (relatively) easy to teach kids the foundational skills needed to be able to decode sounds and blend words and provide repeated practice so they remember them!
However teaching them how to remember what they have read, understand what they have read and make sense of it, is quite difficult. Looking back at the five key components, there is a kind of progression, moving down the list in regards to the skills. You need to be able to read accurately before you can read fluently, and once you start to read fluently, you can then spend more time and energy understanding what you are reading (comprehension), and trying to make sense of what you are reading, which ultimately, is the goal of reading.
It isn’t easy. Teaching students to read fluently to help with comprehending what they are reading, and then teaching students how to understand what they are reading, and increasing their vocabulary to help with comprehension, takes a lot of practice and repetition. There are a lot of different things you can do to help students learn different strategies to make sense of what they are reading. Reading aloud to students, or having them read aloud to you, and asking questions to check for meaning is one of the easiest ways to do this.
There are also Direct Instruction programs that teach comprehension explicitly. I have used theses programs with a few students over the years, and they are highly effective, teaching specific skills and giving students strategies to take meaning from what they are reading.
There is a whole lot more I can talk about on this topic, but I will probably make individual blog posts on those down the track. So I’ll leave you with the things I find are really helpful when teaching students who are struggling to read:
- a clear progression of teaching individual phonic sounds and skills,
- building on previously learned/mastered skills,
- explicit teaching of reading strategies, and
- opportunities to practice those skills in a supported situation while asking questions to check for meaning and understanding i.e. having them read aloud to practice.