The Big Five in
friends have a third-grader who struggles with reading. They say they wish they
had paid more attention to building the foundational skills for reading with
him when he was in preschool and kindergarten. What are these foundational
the five basic skills that work together to produce a good reader:
1. Phonemic awareness
- the ability to hear and remember the order of the sounds that the letters
make in words.
- the ability to match the sounds the letters make to the written symbols on a
page, and to decode them as words, quickly and accurately.
3. Comprehension -
the ability to understand and remember the concepts read.
- the English language has more than 750,000 words, yet many people have a
working vocabulary of just a couple of thousand words. The bigger your
vocabulary, the easier it is for you to read and understand, and the farther
you'll go in life, because a big vocabulary is the No. 1 correlate of success
in life - more tied to success than having rich parents, a big-spending school,
experienced teachers, etc.
- the quick, efficient and accurate decoding of words, read rapidly and with
expression with little conscious attention to the task, and high automaticity.
skills work together. If you want to have good reading comprehension, you need
to have a good vocabulary so that you can understand the words you are reading
right off the bat. If you have good phonics skills, you can take on unfamiliar
words more readily and that will increase your fluency in reading, without
having to think about all the steps it takes to attack a new word.
the most deficient skill among American schoolchildren is, sadly, the first and
most important one, phonemic awareness. It's adorable when a 2-year-old asks
for "pasketti" for dinner. But when that child is 8 and still can't hear, say
or read the syllables right, it's a big problem.
The reason for
this is that most schools today try to teach reading with a number of strategies,
instead of sticking with the most effective one, which is phonics-only reading
instruction. After a few years in a school system that ignores or minimizes
phonics, kids simply can't "hear" the sounds the letters make in words any
more, and their spelling, pronuniciation and reading comprehension suffer as a
About a third of
the students in this country will not become fluent readers unless they receive
direct, systematic instruction in all the letter-sound combinations and how we
put them together or pull them apart in order to read and write.
parents and teachers do to promote phonemic awareness? Here are some familiar,
but practical, suggestions:
the TV/video games/computer time of any child under age 12 to one hour a day.
They are too passive and fail to build the necessary prereading and reading
skills your child needs.
aloud to your child a half-hour per day from the earliest the child can sit in
your lap, until about age 12.
as much time as you possibly can each day talking with your child, preferably
face to face, so that your child's experience with listening, responding and
interacting can build phonemic awareness and all the other basic skills of
a really good interview with Bob Sweet of the National Right to Read Foundation