October 2009 Number 345
TEACHING CHILDREN TO READ
Reading is the gateway to learning; without it, children cannot access a broad and balanced curriculum. Dyslexic difficulties are associated with negative educational, employment and economic outcomes, making reading-related issues relevant to various policy domains. This POSTnote explains the reading process and the underlying basis of specific reading difficulties. It also summarises different methods of reading instruction, and examines their use in the context of current and possible future policy directions. Box 1. The Simple View of Reading2,3,4 The figure below depicts reading comprehension as the product of two necessary components: decoding and linguistic comprehension. Although decoding and reading comprehension are related, they are founded on different oral language skills (in addition to other cognitive skills).5 Decoding is dependent upon speech-sound information (phonology), particularly appreciating that a spoken word is made up of individual sounds (phonemes). Once a word has been decoded, comprehension depends upon broader language skills such as vocabulary, grammar and making inferences. Variations in decoding and linguistic comprehension result in different reading profiles (see figure), which relate to different reading difficulties: • Children with dyslexia have primary difficulties in decoding, typically because of weaknesses in phonology. Children whose reading profiles fall into either the upper or lower left quadrants (poor decoding coupled with either good or poor comprehension) are likely to be experiencing dyslexic difficulties. • Children with reading comprehension impairment can decode print, but have comprehension difficulties that are often related to weaknesses in vocabulary, grammar, and making inferences. Their reading profile falls into the lower right quadrant.
Reading Development and Difficulties
The goal of reading is to extract meaning. This is referred to as reading comprehension, and can be viewed as the product of two necessary components (see Box 1): • decoding – converting printed words to spoken words; • linguistic comprehension – understanding the meaning carried by spoken language. Deficits in these components are linked to different forms of specific reading difficulty. Government statistics for 2008 showed that 16% of children failed to achieve expected levels of reading by the ages of 7, 13% by age 11 and 31% by age 14.1 Though the underlying causes of low literacy attainment are many and varied, a number of these children are likely to have specific developmental reading difficulties. These may include (see Box 1):2 • dyslexia – affecting an estimated 3-6% of children; • reading comprehension impairment – affecting an estimated 10% of children.
There has been a long-standing debate about the best methods for teaching children to read. Central to this has been the importance of phonics, a strategy that teaches children to link sounds with letters and to use these correspondences to decode words. In particular, focus has been on how much emphasis should be placed on phonics, and on how explicitly it should be taught.
Source: Identifying and Teaching Young Children with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties, Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2009.
postnote October 2009 Number 345 Teaching children to read Page 2
Box 2. Key Elements of Reading Instruction6
The following are key elements of balanced reading instruction (listed purely in alphabetic order): • Comprehension – understanding the meaning of words and sentences, integrating this meaning across texts, and making inferences beyond the printed words. • Fluency – reading accurately and with sufficient speed. • Phonics – linking sounds with letters and using these correspondences to read words. Teaching phonics takes account of the fact that there is not always a one-to-one correspondence between letters and...
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