How do we learn to read?
Speech and Language
Before we learn to read, we learn to talk and understand language. The ability to understand words, have a good vocabulary, and use speech sounds successfully have all been shown to be good indicators that a child will learn to read normally (although this is not always the case). Studies have shown that students with a family history of dyslexia, have better outcomes if they have develop good language skills. Difficulties with early speech and language development can sometimes be an indicator that the child will have difficulties with reading.
Early experiences with books
There is a lot of evidence that early exposure to books on a regular basis will help develop underlying skills needed for reading. These skills will include learning vocabulary, sound awareness, and an awareness of rhyme. Some children may even start to recognise some letters and a few sight words.
Children generally go through as series of stages as their reading develops:
The Logographic Stage
At this stage the child’s word recognition is based on a cues such as the first letter of the word or a picture clue, and they are unable to read many words. Spelling is based on a few small words learned from memory, and often writing is difficult to decipher.
The Alphabetic stage (around ages 5-8)
Once at school students start to learn letters and how they correspond to particular sounds. Once the child has letter-sound knowledge they progress to being able to decode simple words by blending the sounds together to form the word. They will also learn to segment simple words into sounds so that they can spell them. These early skills of blending and segmenting are a vital step to good reading and spelling. As their skills develop, students learn more complex letter strings such as th, ch, st, ar, ai, and some simple spelling rules. There skills allow them to work through different levels of reading books at school and they start to write short pieces of work.
The Orthographic stage (around ages 9-12)
As a student’s skills develop they will start to recognise whole chunks of words (syllables, prefixes and suffixes) and use analogy (if they remember how to read and spell “book”, this knowledge will help them read and spell a new word like “hook”). Students can now read and recognise words more quickly and they become more fluent readers. As reading becomes easier, they spend less energy trying to decode words, and put more energy into understanding what they are reading. At this point they are starting to read to learn, rather than learning to read.
Learning to read is not a rigid process of stages, it is a dynamic process, and there will be a lot of crossover as a student develops the skills in the stages mentioned above.
The mature reader
The mature reader is able to read quickly and accurately, and understand and examine text. They use strategies to try and comprehend more difficult texts. By this point readers have a highly developed “mental lexicon” of words which holds lots of information about each word which makes the reading and understanding of text easy and quick.
To become good readers students need good teaching, and to be reading and writing regularly as part of their daily school program.
Difficulties with reading
Unfortunately, some people have difficulties with reading. Some people have difficulties that are specifically related to reading called a specific learning difficulty, or Dyslexia. Not everyone with a reading difficulty has dyslexia, but with the right teaching and programs, reading and spelling difficulties can be improved for most people (at any age).
Can we do anything to fix reading difficulties?
Absolutely! With the right programs and practice everyone can improve their ability to read.
Learning to Read FAQS
What is Phonics?
Phonics refers to letter-sound knowledge and that letters are represented by sounds and vice-versa.
What are word attack skills?
Word attack skills refer to the child’s ability to sound out letters in a word when they cannot immediately read it, and the ability to recognise whole parts of a word and blend these together to form a word.
What is Decoding?
This the ability to see written words, recognise the letters and their corresponding sounds and blend these sounds (or groups of sounds) together to form words. This ability allows individuals to decipher new words that they have not come across before.
What is Encoding?
This is the ability to segment a word into sounds so that you can spell the word.
What is Reading fluency?
Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately and quickly. Fluent readers read aloud effortlessly and with expression. Readers who have not yet developed fluency read slowly, word by word, sometimes sounding out some words. Fluent readers recognize words and comprehend at the same time. Less fluent readers, however, must focus their attention on figuring out the words, leaving them little attention for understanding the text.
What is an evidence based program?
A program is evidence based if there has been studies on a number of people to prove that a program works. A lot of programs claim to be evidenced based, but some studies are more reliable than others. When several studies have been done for a reading intervention on a large population, and these studies show the same positive results it indicates that this reading intervention is likely to be effective. Be careful because some programs claim to be evidence based, but sponsor their own studies. Find programs that have been independently researched.
What is a structured reading program?
A structured program provides a framework and sequence of steps that a student can work through. Each step is revisited to provide cumulative learning and scaffolding, and help the student build links with previously learnt knowledge so that each new skill builds on learnt skills. For instance, a structured literacy program might involve learning sounds, and then blending sounds to form words – the learning of sounds creates an initial framework which can be used later when blending is introduced.
What does explicit teaching mean?
Explicit teaching refers to a way of teaching that involves setting goals for learning and describing to the students what you plan to achieve during the learning session. The teacher will also link new information with information taught in previous lessons, so lessons are sequenced and build on previous knowledge. The teacher will find multiple ways for the students to practice and consolidate their new skills.
What is a multi-sensory program?
Multi-sensory learning refers to the links we make between what we see, hear, say and touch. Repeated learning in this way helps make skills automatic. Using multi-sensory learning is an effective way of learning new skills. Our perceptual and cognitive mechanisms are designed to process multi-sensory signals and we use all of our senses to process information, so relying on one particular sense is not a natural way of learning. Students with dyslexia often have difficulty learning through certain senses, and by activating all senses they can compensate for the areas where they have weakness. For instance, a multi-sensory literacy activity may involve the student looking at a word (visual), hearing the word (auditory), saying the word (auditory, oral-kinaesthetic), writing/spelling the word (kinaesthetic, visual), and putting the word into a spoken sentence (auditory, oral-kinaesthetic, language – sentence formation).