The Conventional View & The Read Right View
In 1997, the Federal Government responded to the reality of far too many adults, teens, and children being unable to comfortably and easily get information from print by convening a National Reading Panel charged with conducting a review of research to discover the best way to instruct reading. The panel’s final report was published in 2000 and became the basis for the No Child Left Behind legislation which made federal funding for reading dependent on whether the district followed the dictates of the panel.
- The report advocated:
- Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness (the concept that words in spoken language are composed of individual phonemes, or sounds)
- Systematic instruction in figuring out what the words are (using decoding, word-attack, and sight word recognition)
- Employing methods to improve fluency (typically, by asking students to read as fast as possible and timing their words per minute)
- Instruction designed to improve vocabulary
- Improving reading comprehension by teaching specific strategies and by asking pertinent questions
The field of reading sees the acquisition of reading ability as a somewhat linear process in which each of these five skills must be mastered to read effectively. Each skill depends on mastery of the previous one: you can’t figure out what the words are if you don’t have phonemic awareness; you can’t read fluently unless you can quickly and accurately identify each word; you can’t quickly identify words that aren’t in your vocabulary; you can’t comprehend if you can’t read fluently.
Read Right’s view is that reading is a unified, multi-faceted, primarily implicit process and that any attempt to separate the cohesive, integrated components and explicitly teach them as disconnected entities will not be successful because the necessary interrelationships will be removed. The cognitive act will be changed. The foundational skill for reading is not the ability to quickly and accurately identify words. Rather, it is anticipating the author’s intended meaning. Technically, the brain must create anticipatory sets* relative to the author’s message, and, because doing so operates implicitly, the brain must figure out for itself how to create those sets.
Read Right constitutes a paradigm shift in the field of reading. As such, it is not surprising that our views about “basic reading skills” differ from that of the National Reading Panel. These differences are delineated below.
Brains need to have phonemic awareness in order to produce speech. Students come to pre-school with phonemic awareness. The reading field seems to believe that converting this implicit knowledge to explicit knowledge will have a beneficial effect on decoding ability. Research does not bear this out. Students who are explicitly taught phonemic awareness do better on tests of phonemic awareness, but they do not do better on word identification or readubg comprehension tests. Nor does it make a difference in later reading achievement.
“Children who, after phonological intervention, could sound out new words or nonwords were not reliably improved relative to comparison groups in their word identification and text-reading skills.” Lovett, M.W., Steinbach, K.A., & Frijters, J. C. (2000). Remediating the core deficits of developmental reading disability: a double-deficit perspective. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33 (i5), 334-58.
The foundational piece and main event of reading is word identification, accomplished through decoding, word attack, and sight word recognition. The task for the reader is to translate written symbols into oral language and then to “go through” the oral language to get to the meaning.
Vocabulary development is conceptualized as a reading skill because it is felt the student will not be able to identify a word if it isn’t part of his speaking or listening vocabulary.
Fluency (the ability to read smoothly, easily, and comfortably)
Once word identification is mastered most students will be lacking in fluency. The belief is that slow reading undermines reading comprehension. Poor fluency, it is thought, is caused by weak word identification skills. The skill of fluency is most frequently “taught” by strengthening word identification skills so the words can be identified faster and by timing students as they read and encouraging them to push for speed.
Comprehension cannot be assured until readers are producing fairly fluent reading, so it is the last skill to receive focused instruction. Both literal level and higher-order comprehension are classified as reading skills. The most common approaches to teach comprehension are to ask and correct questions (sometimes to discuss answers to questions) and to explicitly teach comprehension strategies.