A Review of Helping Students Read

The first unit—”What is Reading?”—explored what’s known as the simple view of reading. As you probably remember, this equation explains that reading is the product (that is, a result of things being multiplied) of recognizing words (decoding) and attaching those words to their meanings (comprehension). When we decode, we link patterns of letters to the sounds that they denote. As we get better at this, it becomes automatic and we no longer need to decode most words. Similarly, as our comprehension improves, we learn to read more strategically.

The second unit situated reading within the language development process. Most children learn to speak naturally, just by growing up in a language-rich environment. But people don’t learn to read naturally; reading must be taught. Fortunately, there’s a strong relationship between speaking skills and reading skills. Often, the better your oral language skills are, the easier it is to learn to read. Importantly, the time between birth and age 13 is the key period for learning oral and written language. Children with disabilities like deafness or autism spectrum disorder, however, can struggle with learning to speak and therefore to read. These students often need alternative ways to communicate, like sign language or picture communication boards.

Unit 3 examined a key part of the language development process: phonemic awareness, or the ability to recognize and reproduce the units of sound in language (phonemes). Importantly, phonemic awareness is an auditory skill. This means it relies on what you hear. Some students develop phonemic awareness just by being around spoken language, others need more explicit instruction. Often this instruction involves segmenting and blending the phonemes in words.

Building on phonemic awareness, Unit 4 explores the best way for teaching students to decode words: phonics. Phonics emphasizes connecting language sounds to the spelling patterns that represent those sounds. When students understand those connections, they can learn to read by decoding words to reveal their sounds sequentially. In this way, English and other phonemic languages present the reader with a kind of “code.” Breaking the code reveals words once the sounds are recognized. Exercises like phoneme-grapheme mapping that emphasize sound-symbol clues are one example of the ways parapros can use instruction to improve decoding skills.

Of course, if we had to decode every word letter-by-letter, reading would be tedious. Unit 5 considers the more advanced phonics skill of decoding by structural analysis. Words are made up of individual units of meaning called morphemes. By recognizing morphemes, good readers can decode words faster than if they decoded phonetically. This unit provides several techniques for learning structural analysis (morphology). And, with enough practice, most words become sight words. That is, readers recognize them without needing to decode.

Unit 6 brings together the three preceding units on phonemic awareness, phonics, and morphology. Together, these skills make up reading and lead to fluency (reading effortlessly and accurately). Fluency is crucially important because reading effortlessly and accurately (as opposed to stopping to decode or figure out words) frees up more of the brain for reading comprehension—or understanding the meaning of what you read. Parapros can use techniques like guided oral reading to help students build fluency.

With fluency comes the ability to work on comprehension. After all, the purpose of reading is to understand a text. Unit 7 deals with several strategies for improving comprehension. These involve recognizing the characteristics of written language, specifically vocabulary, syntax, textual features and structure, and cohesion and coherence. These skills reinforce one another. Understanding vocabulary and syntax helps readers notice the cohesion and coherence of a text. And readers can use their knowledge of these elements to improve understanding.

Unit 8 reviews more advanced comprehension strategies related to strategic reading. Strategies enable people to read with purpose, perhaps to learn factual information or perhaps to perform the steps of a process. Techniques like drawing inferences can be employed as reading strategies. When people draw inferences, they use what they know to make informed guesses about something in the text that is implied but not said outright. Parapros can help build this skill and others with activities like guided silent reading (supporting comprehension with before-, during-, and after-reading exercises).

Unit 9 considers ways to teach reading that benefit as many students as possible. In most cases, the best way to teach is to design flexible lessons that work for all students, including those with complex needs. This is what’s known as designing (or teaching) to the edges. Research shows that it’s the best way to help all students, not just those with more significant struggles or complex needs. This is because other methods often design instruction around an “average” student. And an average student does not exist in real life. In real life, students have diverse characteristics.