Introductory Challenge

Beginning readers use decoding a lot of the time because they frequently need to figure out the sounds and meanings of unfamiliar written words. But all readers use decoding from time to time when they come across new words.

Experienced readers decode automatically without giving it much thought. Less expe­rienced readers sometimes find decoding hard. Struggling readers may find decoding so difficult they try to avoid reading whenever they can.

As you progress through this unit, think about how you use sound-symbol clues when you encounter an unfamiliar word. What do you do when you come to a word you have never seen before? If you sound out the word, your reading instruction most likely had a basis in phonics. Try to remember your elementary school reading instruction. Do you recall learning how to sound out words? If so, what was that experience like? If not, what else did your teachers do to help you deal with the unfamiliar words you encountered when you were reading?

A Little Bit of History

In 1997, the United States Congress formed the National Reading Panel (NRP). The panel—a group of leading educators from across the country—surveyed decades of scientific research on reading to determine the most effective ways to teach young children to read. The NRP concluded that teaching phonics is one of the essential components of a strong reading curriculum (NICHHD, 2000).

The NRP also explained that phonics instruction needs to be both explicit and systematic. Explicit phonics instruction means that the teacher is clear and detailed in his or her explanation, while systematic instruction means that there is a clear plan and a logical sequence to the instruction.