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How Children Learn to Read

 This post will be decidedly more technical than most of our articles but we feel it’s a vitally important subject area for parents and teachers to understand despite it’s complexity so pardon the jargon (we’ve tried to explain terms throughout for you)!
Learning how to read requires several skills working together in a complex, harmonious dance. There are many challenges children face as they learn how sounds are connected to print, as they develop fluency, and as they learn to construct meaning from what they read. The primary challenge is the complexity of the task at hand and the number of different skills that can affect reading development.
Three primary skills are fundamental to successful literacy development: sounds to letter links; reading fluency; and reading comprehension.
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Sound to letter links

In English,  individual letters on a page are abstract and meaningless by themselves. They must be linked to equally abstract sounds (speech pathologists call these “phonemes”), then blended together and pronounced as words and then ultimately connected to word meanings.

To learn to read English, the child must figure out the relationship between sounds and letters. A beginning reader needs to learn the connections between the approximately 44 sounds of spoken English (the phonemes), and the 26 letters of the alphabet.

Research has taught us is that in order for a beginning reader to learn how to connect or translate printed symbols (letters and letter patterns) into sounds, the would-be reader must understand that our speech can be segmented or broken into small sounds (phoneme awareness) and that the segmented units of speech can be represented by printed forms (graphemes). This principle is at the core of phonics teaching. The understanding that written spellings systematically represent the phonemes of spoken words (termed the alphabetic principle) is essential for the development of successful word reading skills.

Why is phoneme awareness and the development of the alphabetic principle so critical for the early reader? Because if children cannot perceive the sounds in spoken words – for example, if they cannot “hear” the at sound in fat and cat and perceive that the difference lies in the first sound, they will have difficulty decoding or “sounding out” words accurately.

This awareness of the sound structure of our language seems so easy for us as mature readers that we take it for granted. But many children do not develop phoneme awareness easily.

We have evidence that the language systems in the brain and not the ear works out that a spoken word like cat is divided into three sounds and that these discrete sounds can be linked to the letters C-A-T.  Therefore it’s not a hearing skill but rather a separate set of skills called “phonological awareness”.  Phonological awareness includes a number of skills including: differentiating same/different sounds; segmenting (breaking sounds apart); blending (joining sounds together); and sequencing (working out which sound is first and last). In some youngsters, the brain seems to have an easy time processing this type of information. However, for many children that skill is only learned with difficulty. For these children they need to be taught directly and explicitly how to perform these tasks and then given lots of opportunity to practice.

We know that therapy to address phonological awareness difficulties can be effective and makes a significant impact on the reading development of children. Research also clearly shows that the development of these early pre-reading skills is enhanced when children are read to at home. So if your child is struggling with these sound to letter links we recommend an assessment by a qualified speech pathologist.

The development of phonological awareness, an understanding of the alphabetic principle, and the translation of these skills to the application of phonics in reading and spelling words are non-negotiable foundational reading skills that children need in order to understand what they read and to learn from their reading experiences.

The development of phonological awareness and phonics, although essential, are insufficient for learning to read so that meaning can be derived from print. As well as learning how to “sound out” new and/or unfamiliar words, the beginning reader must eventually become proficient in reading at a fast pace larger units of print such as syllable patterns, meaningful roots, suffixes, and whole words. In other words, they need to become a fluent reader.

 

Reading fluency

While the ability to read words accurately is a necessary skill in learning to read, the speed at which this is done is also a critical factor in ensuring that children understand what they read.

Children vary in the amount of practice that is required for fluency and automaticity in reading to occur. Some youngsters can read a word once and are then able to recognise it again with greater speed; others need 20 or more exposures. The average child needs 4-14 exposures to be able to automatically recognise a new word. We recommend those exposures are also across a variety of contexts e.g. flashcards, in early reading books and in longer more complex text an adult reads to them. When learning to read, it is critical that children read lots of text at their independent reading level (95% accuracy or higher), and that the text provide specific practice in the skills being learned. It is also important that they are exposed to a wide variety of harder and more simple texts as well to enhance the ability to translate skills learned to new reading activities.

One thing many people don’t know is that spelling instruction fosters the development of reading fluency. Through spelling instruction, children receive many examples of how letters represent the sounds of speech. It can also alert the young reader to the fact that written words are made up of larger units of print (like syllables). Once a developing reader knows that word recognition can be accomplished by reading words in larger “chunks” rather than letter-by-letter they can then do this “decoding” of the reading puzzle more rapidly and accurately.

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Reading comprehension (understanding)

The ultimate goal of teaching children to read is to enable children to understand what they read.

The ability to understand what we read appears to be based on several factors. Good comprehenders have good vocabularies. Without a good understanding of oral language children cannot comprehend written language. Oral language skills preceded literacy.  Children who comprehend well also seem to be able to access relevant background knowledge while reading – they can relate what is on the page to what they already know and have experienced.

Good comprehenders are able to summarise, predict, and clarify what they have read, and they frequently use questions to guide their understanding. Additionally they use information from the sentence structure within the text to enhance their comprehension.

Generally, if children can read  accurately and fluently, they will be able to construct meaning at two different levels. At the first level, literal understanding is achieved. However, constructing meaning from what we read requires far more than just literal comprehension.

A child must eventually actively guide themselves through text by asking questions like, “Why am I reading this and how does this information relate to my reasons for doing so?,” “What is the author’s point of view?,” “Do I understand what the author is saying and why?,” “Is the text internally consistent?,” and so on. It is this second level of comprehension that leads readers to reflective, purposeful understanding of the meaning of what they have read.

Often reading comprehension is treated as something that “just happens” and it is assumed that children can either understand what they read or they can’t understand it. However, we have assisted numerous students to learn how to understand what they read and how to use specific strategies to enhance their comprehension. It is important for children to be encouraged to discuss the highlights of what they have read as well as any words or concepts they are having trouble with.

 

Factors that influence learning to read

 

So we now understand the role that reading fluency and reading comprehension play and how they develop.Learning to read is a lengthy and complex so what other factors can help these skills to develop?We know that children who are exposed to positive book reading and literacy experiences from birth onward have an edge when it comes to vocabulary as well as print and literacy concepts.

Children who are frequently read to at very young ages are exposed to the rhythm of spoken language and to word and language play activities that serve to provide the foundation for the development of phoneme awareness. As children are exposed to literacy activities at young ages, they also begin to visually recognise and discriminate letters. Children who have learned to recognise and write letters as preschoolers will not only have less to learn upon school entry but will be able to gain more information from the literary world around them as they enter formal schooling.

Ultimately, children’s ability to understand what they are reading is directly linked to their background knowledge. Very young children who have been provided lots of opportunities to learn, think, and talk about new areas of knowledge will gain much from the reading process. With understanding comes the clear desire to read more and to read frequently, ensuring that reading practice takes place.

So, if you want your child to read more successfully and enjoy the process more then read with them every day and discuss what you read in a variety of ways.

 

Mum-and-Kids-Reading

Reference: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/how-do-children-learn-read

December 15, 2015 This post was written by Categories: LanguageLiteracyUncategorized 2 comments

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