Even though some may find it rather easy, learning how to read isn’t as easy as you may think and kids actually need various complex accomplishments for doing it.
Whether your kid encounters some difficulties in learning how sound is connected to print or you want to know about the steps into learning to build the meaning from print, scroll down to learn yourself about the process, as first step into helping your kid how to read.
Sounds are connected to print. But how?
Let’s start with the basics and that is that you need to know that in an English alphabetic system the individual letters on paper seem useless and with no meaning whatsoever, in and of themselves. It’s essential for them to connect to sounds that are as abstract as them (these sounds are known as “phonemes”), to combine with each other and then pronounced as words. In the end, the meaning is completed.
For a kid to learn how to read English, it’s important for him/her to realize the relationship between sounds and letters. Ultimately, a kid should be able to understand and learn the links between all the 44 sounds of spoken English (more or less) and the 26 letters of the alphabet.
There are many studies about this process and one of the main resulted ideas is that any beginning reader that is just learning how to link or translate the printed symbols (they are in fact the letters and the letter patterns) into sounds, finds out that English speech is in fact divided into small sounds (this is known as the “phoneme awareness”) and that all the segmented units of speech may be put into printed forms (named “phonics”). The whole process of understanding that written spelling is in fact the representation of phonemes of spoken words is essential for creating precise and fast word reading skills (we talk about the “alphabetical principle”).
Why do phonemes count so much?
Getting conscious about phoneme and about the alphabetical principle is fundamental for any kid when learning how to read. Children aren’t able to realize the sounds in spoken words and giving you a simple example is going to help you too. For instance, if a kid doesn’t really “hear” the “ad” sound in “mad” and “dad” and observe the difference that comes from the first sound, he/she’s going to have some challenges in decoding or “sounding out” words in a fast and precise way.
Getting aware of the sound structure in English may look so easy for an adult, but there are many kids out there that aren’t able to develop phoneme awareness- and this is difficult to understand by adults at the moment too.
Even the long time studies have shown that it’s not the ear that perceives that a spoken word like “mad” is in fact split into three sounds and it’s the three subtle sounds that are connected to the letters M-A-D.
Surprisingly for many, it’s the language system in the brain that does this understanding. This is why some kids manage to do it faster and easier than others.
As we talk about the majority of children and not about the exceptions, we need to talk about the difficulty of this process that needs to be taught directly, clearly and by the experienced and well-trained teacher.
The difficulties of grasping the whole connection
The development of these fundamental early reading-related abilities (the phoneme awareness and phonics) begins when you’re reading to your kid at home, in the early childhood. We talk about the years when he/she’s finding out about letters and number names, as you teach them about the concepts of prints and develop some literacy activities. Obviously, you’re not using these terms with them, but these are the scientific words for your efforts.
Some may think that this means a kid has some challenges into getting that spoken words are made of subtle individual sounds that he/she may connect to letters because of some kind of brain dysfunction.
But it’s not at all like that though and it’s only that the neural system that perceives the phonemes in English isn’t as productive for the kids with some difficulties.
It’s fundamental to understand that the development of phoneme awareness and the one of understanding the alphabetic principle, along with the translation of these skills into applying the phonics per say when reading and spelling words are essential for the readings skills. No kid is ever going to learn how to read if he/she doesn’t understand these processes and connections.
This doesn’t mean though that once a kid gets this understanding, he’s also going to be able to read instantly. Along with understanding how to “sound out” the new or not familiar words, a child is also going to have to master the faster reading of larger units of print. Now we talk about the syllable patterns, suffixes, meaningful roots and entire words.
How does fluent reading develop?
It’s not enough for a kid to be able to read words precisely, but he/she also needs to get a higher speed while doing it as this also tells about his understanding on what he/she’s reading about.
Don’t get scared if your kid is slower into the whole process as kids may need various amounts of time for practicing, getting to the fluency and automaticity that you’re used to as adult. There are kids that only need to read once a word and be able to recognize it easily every single time he/she sees it afterwards. This is going to give him speed on reading, for sure. But there are also kids that need more than 20 times and the average is 14 exposures to automatize the recognition of a new word. The tips on this:
- Any kid needs to read a large amount of text, on their own (we’re talking about 95% precision), but the text should be adequate so that he/she may really develop the learning abilities.
- Don’t forget about the importance of spelling on the progress of reading fluency. The spelling instruction is useful as a kid is getting many examples on how letters are related to the sounds of speech, but he/she’s also beginning to understand that written words are built with larger units of prints (syllables are a good example). This is the best way for anyone to understand that a word recognition is made so much easier when using larger “parts” and not letter-by-letter.
How is meaning built from the print?
What you want at the very end of learning how to read process is for your kid to really understand what he/she’s reading.
There are several things that seem to count when it comes to understanding what we’re reading. A kid that fully gets what he/she’s reading is able to activate an important background knowledge while reading, so he/she actually links what’s on the page with something he/she already knows.
- An efficient comprehender has a gift for predicting, summarizing and clearing up what he just read, using constantly questions to better understand
- A good comprehender needs to have a great vocabulary as it’s very challenging to understand something you’re not able to define
- An efficient comprehender doesn’t typically have problems into getting the sentence structure inside of a text in order to understand the text
As a common rule, when a kid is able to read the words on a page precisely and cursively, he’s going to build meaning at two levels:
- The first level is when the literal understanding is achieved. Keep in mind though that building meaning needs a bit more than literal comprehension.
All kids need in the end to actively lead themselves through the text by using specific questions: “Why do I have to read this and how is the new info connected to my reasons of reading?”, or “What does the author feel about the matter?”, “Do I really get what the author is trying to say?” and so on.
- The second level of comprehension takes the reader to the reflective, deliberate understanding of the meaning of she/he’s reading.
Some new studies have shown that a teacher has to create opportunities for his students to talk about the main ideas of what they just read and to detect their difficulties into doing so.
Guidance during comprehension strategies is always a good thing and discussions, activities that cover a great variety of literacy genres, from fiction to non-fiction, has to be very common for a kid while in school.
What makes a good reader good?
First thing first, it’s important to know that efficient readers aren’t that often to be seen, but there are many things that you could do in order to help your offspring to get better of reading. Learning how to read doesn’t just happen overnight and it actually begins earlier in a child’s life, before formal schooling.
An efficient reader is able to decode and recognize words almost automatically and this is also because of his/her great vocabulary, grammatical skills and efficient syntactic. He/she’s constantly relating what is being read to his/her background knowledge, using various methods.
- Give your kid stimulating literacy experiences even from birth so he/she may develop the vocabulary, get the whole process of reading, developing an understanding of print and literacy concepts.
- Read to your kid as often as you can from a young age as you’re going to expose him/her to interesting ways to the sounds of English, the fun of rhyming or any other word and language play that is going to create the very foundation for the progress of phoneme awareness later in his childhood.
- The more you’re exposing your little one to literacy activities, the more he’s going to be able to recognize and identify letters. There’s no doubt that all children that have learned to identify and print most letters during their preschool years, are going to have less to learn by the time they enter the school. Memorizing the letter names is essentials as the name of many letters include sounds they represent in most cases, which helps the kids understand early the alphabetic principle or how letters and sounds link to each other.
Last but not least, a kid’s ability to understand what he’s reading is fundamentally connected to his very own background knowledge. A kid that had the chance to learn, think and discuss about the new zones of his knowledge has so much more to win when it comes to the whole reading process. The understanding is related to the wish to read more and on regular basics, sustaining thus the whole reading process.