What Essential Skills Do Students Need to Become Mature Readers? (page 3)
The National Reading Panel (2000) identified key skill areas that should comprise the reading curriculum for students who are at risk. These areas include phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. These skills are also essential for remedial readers. The only difference is that remedial readers will learn these skills later than their peers.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear the smallest units of sound in spoken language and to manipulate them. Students who are at risk are less likely to develop this important foundational skill naturally. Word play activities and language games often do not provide enough support. Because phonemic awareness is a critical foundational skill for learning to read, researchers examined whether teaching phonemic awareness skills to students who are at risk was effective. As a result of these studies, a considerable body of research now provides guidance for teachers informing them that teaching phonemic awareness skills to students who are at risk within a language-rich environment makes it easier for them to learn to read (Armbruster, Lehr, & Osborn, 2001). Although there are many different phonemic awareness skills, this book stresses the two that researchers have concluded have the most value in a beginning reading program: segmenting and blending. Segmenting is the ability to break apart words into their individual phonemes or sounds. A student who can segment says /f/-/i/-/sh/ when asked to say the sounds in fish. The ability to segment helps students strategically attack words they will be reading in text and break words into phonemes when spelling. Blending, the opposite of segmenting, is the ability to say a spoken word when its individual phonemes are said slowly. A student who can blend can say the word fish after the teacher slowly says the individual sounds /f/-/i/-/sh/. Blending enables students to read unfamiliar text by combining single sounds into new words.
Alphabetic principle is the understanding that there are systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds. Students who have attained alphabetic principle can identify and remember words accurately and automatically. The teaching strategy described in this text to teach the alphabetic principle is based on phonics. Phonics instruction teaches students the relationships between written letters, or graphemes, and the sounds of language, or phonemes. Although some would argue otherwise, the English language has more than enough regularity to merit the teaching of phonics.
The utility of teaching phonics has been clearly established, but not all phonics approaches are created equal. After identifying more than 100,000 research studies and submitting them to rigorous review, the National Reading Panel (2000) concluded that phonics programs that are both systematic and explicit are most effective for teaching students to read, particularly students who are at risk. In Put Reading First, Armbruster, Lehr, and Osborn (2001) summarized the key differences between systematic and nonsystematic phonics programs. To attain the alphabetic principle, students need to acquire skills in the following areas: identifying letter–sound correspondences, sounding out words containing letter sounds previously taught, and identifying words at sight. Spelling is also included here because of the benefits of having students spell words they are also learning to read. Teaching students the alphabetic principle involves some of the most difficult, precise teaching you will do. The aim of these chapters is to provide you with information and guides so that you can teach all of your students to break the code and move into more advanced reading.
Reading fluency is the ability to read text accurately, quickly, and with expression. Students who are able to read fluently can focus their energy on finding out what the text means. Conversely, students who read in a choppy, word-by-word fashion are so focused on getting the words right that they have little energy left for deciphering their meaning. Reading fluency is an important part of the reading curriculum for students who are at risk because they may not develop it naturally, even if they have attained the alphabetic principle. Unfortunately, teachers often omit teaching and assessing this skill, which prevents many students who are at risk from transitioning into fluid, expressive readers. Fortunately, there is a large body of research showing that assessing and teaching fluency improve students&rsglq; reading (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, & Jenkins, 2001; Wolf & Katzir-Cohen, 2001).
Vocabulary is the fourth key component of effective early literacy programs for students who are at risk. Vocabulary can be either receptive or expressive and oral or written. Oral receptive vocabulary involves understanding the meaning of words when people speak; written receptive vocabulary concerns understanding the meaning of words that are read. Oral expressive vocabulary means using words in speaking so that other people understand you; written expressive vocabulary is communicating meaningfully through writing. Whether students are reading, writing, or speaking, knowledge of the meanings of a wide variety of words is essential. Students who are at risk, including those in poverty, those having disabilities, or those who speak a second language, are likely to lag behind their peers in vocabulary development (Hart & Risley, 1995). Equally disturbing is that these vocabulary differences grow larger over time (Baker, Simmons, & Kame&rsglq;enui, 1997), due to a lack of exposure at home and failure to teach vocabulary extensively at school (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002; Biemiller, 2001). Hart & Risley (1995) estimate the gap in words learned per year between students who are at risk and their peers who are not at risk amounts to more than 2,000 words per year.
The extent of students&rsglq; vocabulary knowledge can have a significant impact on their early reading achievement. For one thing, reading is infinitely more meaningful and rewarding when students understand the meaning of the words they are decoding. Imagine what reading would be like if you were only reading nonsense words! A knowledge of vocabulary is also essential for reading connected text for meaning, the ultimate goal of reading instruction.
It is widely believed that most vocabulary is learned indirectly—either through speaking with others, being read to, or reading independently. However, many students who are at risk come to school with significantly less exposure to these naturalistic experiences. Clearly, for students who are at risk, vocabulary instruction is an essential part of teaching them to speak, read, and write adequately. Vocabulary instruction should have two key emphases: direct teaching of the meanings of important, useful, and difficult words; and strategies for figuring out the meaning of words independently using context, meanings of word parts, and the dictionary.
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