FIRST STEPS IN HOW CHILDREN LEARN TO READ – 2015
FIRST STEPS IN HOW CHILDREN LEARN TO READ
Molly de Lemos, Past President, Learning Difficulties Australia
Robert Sweet, President, The National Right to Read Foundation, U.S.
This statement summarizes the basic facts about how children learn to read, and how best to teach them, as supported by current theory and scientific evidence on the processes underlying the acquisition of reading skills. It is based on an article published in the LDA Bulletin, Volume 45, No. 2, 2013.
- The purpose of reading is to gain meaning from written text.
- Reading is not a natural process, like learning to speak, but rather a skill that needs to be taught.
- A competent reader should be able to read and comprehend what they can talk about and understand.
- The goal is to develop independent reading ability both for pleasure and for learning by the end of first grade.
- English is an alphabetic language. The ability to convert written text to the spoken word is dependent upon understanding that written letters represent speech sounds.
- Beginning readers have an oral/spoken vocabulary of ten thousand words or more. Comprehension of the written word depends on the ability to link the written word to the spoken word in their oral vocabulary.
- Acquiring knowledge of the association between the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they represent is essential for ALL students.
- Scientific evidence confirms that the most effective approach to teaching reading is direct, systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, synthetic phonics, vocabulary development, fluency, and comprehension.
- Students should first be taught the 26 letters of the English alphabet, the 44 sounds those letters represent, and the multiple ways to spell them.
- Foundational reading skills, including the letter/sound correspondences and decoding using decodable texts, should be mastered in kindergarten and first grade for most students.
- These reading skills should be followed by the use of increasingly more complex texts to add vocabulary, increase fluency, and improve comprehension skills.
- Even students who have difficulty learning to read respond to this approach to reading instruction, and almost all of them will become proficient readers.
- Teaching students to guess at words that they do not immediately recognize is never acceptable.
- Students who need additional instruction in reading should be given an appropriate assessment, and the skills that are lacking should be taught.