Teaching students to read is complex
Some educators erroneously profess that ALL students should learn how to decode or sound out words in the same way, and then read to learn in that sequence.
However, the process of decoding becomes more meaningful when it is not separate from constructing meaning from text. Yes, ALL students must acquire a decoding system, but for every child it may not be through an overt phonics methodology in which one learns by putting parts together to form a word. In other words, certified reading educators know that some children acquire a decoding system on their own or with minimal instruction; especially, if they have been exposed to a print rich environment in infancy and in the pre-school years.
Other children benefit from an overt phonics method; especially, if they have not been exposed to an abundance of rich language experiences prior to entering school.This approach also is most effective for students who have reading disabilities, and thus a controlled series at the start is beneficial.
We should not forget, though, that the ultimate goal of all reading instruction is the development of proficient readers who can communicate effectively what they have read through speaking and writing as well as having a life-long desire to read.
Most reading educators agree that students must acquire a system for decoding to advance in learning how to read. However, learning how to read should not be confined solely to a controlled reading series or basal. If reading instruction is effective, it should encourage students to be immersed as soon as possible in reading materials beyond a basal. It is advantageous for children to have access to materials such as an assortment of reading books, both fiction and non-fiction, found in the library, bookstores or on teachers’ shelves, as well as newspapers, magazines, and periodicals. In this way, children more quickly enjoy reading and learning a vast amount of information which not only helps them to succeed in school, but in becoming productive citizens.
Karen A. Costello is a former Connecticut Department of Education Education Consultant in Reading/Language Arts from Groton.