Essential Components of Reading Instruction (ECORI)
Phonological and Phonemic Awareness
Phonological Awareness is critical for learning how to read any alphabetic writing system (Ehri, 2004; Wrath, 2001; Troia, 2001). When children enter Kindergarten, they tend to focus on the meaning of what is said, and not notice the speech sounds in words. Reading and spelling require a level of sound awareness that is not natural or easily acquired. When children become accurate phonological processors, they are able to recognize, sequence and manipulate sounds in words. The highest level of phonological awareness is phonemic awareness, in which children can identify, blend and segment individual phonemes, or sounds, in words. This skill is critical as a foundation for decoding, and students who struggle with this skill will struggle with learning the alphabetic principle and how to code and decode words accurately. Instruction in phonological and phonemic awareness reduces and alleviates reading and spelling difficulties. Teaching speech sounds explicitly and directly accelerates learning of the alphabetic code (Moats & Tolman, 2009).
Phonics, or sound-symbol association, is the skill that involves the ability to coordinate a sound to its corresponding letter or letter combination. For reading, students must be able to read/say the right sound when they see letters in addition to blending sounds. In spelling, students need to be able to spell/write the letter when they hear the sound. Written language can be compared to a code, so familiarity with the sounds of letters and letter combinations will support students ability to decode new and novel words. The National Reading Panel has specified that phonics instruction should be explicit, systematic, direct and sequential. Phonics instruction should begin as soon as children can identify two or three phonemes in spoken words and when they know their alphabetic letters. Typically, this is during the last half of Kindergarten. It should continue until students know all the major sound/symbol correspondence and syllable types and can make a good attempt to decode any unfamiliar words.
Syllable instruction involves teaching how words are broken into parts consisting of one vowel sound or pattern. By the end of second grade, students should be familiar with many of the six syllable types in English. These syllable types include closed (bat, will, mash), vowel-consonant-e (rope, safe, lime), open (he, go, my), consonant-le (middle, table), R-controlled (bird, star) and vowel digraph-diphthongs (beat, toad sweet).
Fluency represents a level of proficiency that allows readers to move from surface-level decoding to deeper comprehension processes. When young readers begin to learn to read, a complex set of networks that underlie many perceptual, cognitive, affective, and linguistic processes are activated. Eventually, with much exposure and practice, these processes become connected and form the reading brain circuit. Within 280 milliseconds of encountering a word, the fluent reader not only recognizes visual symbols (orthography) and their associated sounds (phonology), the reader also activates all associated word meanings (semantics) and knowledge of text structure (syntax) (Wolf, 2016). In addition, the reader’s morphological knowledge of the roots and affixes of words (e.g., prefixes and suffixes) become a multi-cue system that reinforces quick (that is, more fluent) recognition of common letter patterns, as well as rapid cues to grammatical function and word meaning (Burani, 2010).
Students' vocabulary refers to the breadth and depth of their knowledge of word meanings (Lehr, Osborn & Hiebert, 2004). Vocabulary knowledge is essential to the development of reading fluency and comprehension. Explicit instruction in vocabulary development can be crucial for struggling readers for several reasons. First, simultaneously activating all aspects of word knowledge, including word meaning, supports the development of fluency (see above; Wolf, 2016). Secondly, because of their challenges, struggling readers often read significantly less material than their typically performing peers which restricts their conceptual and semantic knowledge (Stanovich, 2009). In turn, students with limited vocabulary knowledge are less efficient at using multiple cueing systems, and struggle with comprehension. Explicit and systematic vocabulary instruction previews words, activates students' background knowledge, offers explicit definitions, and illustrations of the word's use (Beck, McKeown & Lucan, 2002).
Reading Comprehension Strategies
Reading comprehension is the ultimate purpose of any literacy experience. For mature readers, reading becomes the most efficient and effective tool for learning, but developing skills that allow readers to understand the structure of sentences and passages of fiction and non-fiction text does not occur naturally for all students. Readers need explicit instruction in research-based strategies that build foundational skills such as awareness of text structure, identifying and summarizing key information, and monitor their understanding before and after reading. Multi-sensory language-based techniques, including visual cues and graphic organizers can be used to enhance understanding, associations and memory for students struggling with comprehension.