Dr. Virginia Mann's recent Scientific Learning webinar, "Language and the Reading Puzzle – Part 1" focused on the way families, schools, researchers, and technology can work together to create a "circuit for success" by helping students attain the goal of fluent reading (reading at the right speed, with few or no mistakes and good expression). The information in Dr. Mann's webinar is extensive, covering both the research data on the barriers to fluent reading and the various solutions parents and educators can employ to demonstrably improve reading readiness and fluency.
Here are five steps that can help steer beginning readers and struggling readers of all ages towards fluent reading:
1. Identify barriers.
Most readers begin as "hearers" of language, and written language is fundamentally a transcription of spoken language. Dr. Mann identifies poor oral/spoken language skills as a common barrier to fluent reading, a barrier that involves a lack of phoneme awareness and morpheme awareness (the subject of a separate webinar to be covered in a future post). She also dispels any lingering belief in the myth that visual "reversals" in writing or reading (e.g., mistaking a b for a d, confusing bad with dad) are a predictor or cause of poor reading skills in any way. Identifying the real barriers to fluent reading is the first step in determining how to best assist struggling readers.
2. Build phoneme awareness.
The data Dr. Mann presents in this webinar tell us that phoneme awareness, which develops with age and exposure, is directly related to reading ability. Activities which promote phoneme awareness include learning the ABCs (especially the letter sounds), matching and sorting words by phonemes (e.g., noting that the beginning sounds of cat and cup match, while the beginning sounds of cat and dog do not match), and manipulating phonemes (e.g., substituting an s for the c in cat to create a new word with a new beginning sound—sat). Understanding how the letters c-a-t spell the aural word cat takes a kind of “mental surgery” which can only occur with strong phoneme awareness.
3. Enrich vocabulary exposure and oral language skills.
Research shows us that students with weak oral language skills in kindergarten have a substantially more difficult time learning to read or reaching the appropriate reading level for their age group. A difference of 5.2 years between age and reading level is not uncommon in young people who begin kindergarten with deficient oral language experience. A great way to support and build on a strong foundation of phoneme awareness is through cumulative oral language experiences, which provide new and struggling readers with incremental exposure to letter sounds and vocabulary, laying the groundwork for better language comprehension and reading.
4. Encourage literacy activities.
A powerful example of a literacy-oriented activity that can boost phoneme awareness and reading readiness is dialogic reading, a practice that encourages interactivity over passive listening when engaging with the written word. The main technique when practicing dialogic reading is the "PEER Sequence," which asks the adult reader to:
Dialogic reading is an active, dynamic workout for hearing, speaking, critical thinking, and working memory skills, which all play a part in building a better reader.
5. Use technology.
In the fast-moving 21st century, technology has an important role to play. Today, cutting-edge educational tools can help accelerate reading acquisition, with enormous benefits for learners and busy educators. Educators will benefit by embracing the available technology that produces better readers who can learn more effectively in the classroom.
Fluent reading is a significant goal: a challenge for beginners, and a persistent problem for some struggling students. These five steps are really just a glimpse of what Dr. Mann covers in her presentation. Click here to view the full webinar!
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