Effective reading strategies range from visualizing and questioning
to pre-reading and decoding. Reading strategies are used to help students become
efficient readers. Many of
these reading strategies are foundational and must be taught and mastered by the
student before other strategies can be effective. Decoding is one of the most important
foundational reading strategies. If students are unable to decode words, they cannot
apply other reading strategies or comprehend what they read. Teaching students proven
decoding strategies provides them with a strong foundation to ensure reading success.
Decoding is the process of translating print into speech by rapidly
matching a letter or combination of letters (graphemes) to their sounds (phonemes)
and recognizing the patterns that make syllables and words. There is an area in
the brain that deals with language processing and does this process automatically.
Unfortunately, about 30 percent of students do not access this part of their brain
and therefore must be taught decoding strategies very explicitly
and systematically. This means that we start with the simplest sound/letter concept
and build to the more complex. This method of phonics instruction has been proven
to be the most effective in helping students gain decoding skills.
Decoding is important because it is the foundation
on which all other reading instruction builds. If students cannot decode words their
reading will lack fluency, their vocabulary will be limited and their reading comprehension
will suffer. Teaching higher-level reading strategies to students stuck at the word
level is ineffective. We might as well be banging our head against a wall.
Explicit, systematic and multi-sensory phonics instruction produces effective
decoding skills. Phonics can be taught both implicitly or explicitly.
Implicit phonics begins with a whole word and then looks at beginning sounds, ending
sounds and context clues. Explicit phonics does the reverse by building from a single
letter to a word. Because of poor results with implicit phonics, phonics instruction
has been given a negative connotation—phonics is not really effective unless it
is taught explicitly and systematically. Phonics taught any other way could be compared
to an alphabet soup of sounds. The way it is taught is what determines the level
of success, particularly for those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
Presenting phonics and instructing it in a logical sequence, in which one concept
builds upon the next, is another essential component of teaching phonics and decoding.
This systematic approach helps students master skills quickly and move to the next
concept seamlessly. Teaching phonics using a multi-sensory approach reaches all
learning styles in a classroom and gives those struggling readers the visual and
hands-on instruction they need. When phonics is taught according to these guidelines,
students will be able to find decoding success and it will quickly become an automatic
process for them.
Automatic recognition of individual words leads to fluent reading of strings of
words, which in turn leads to full comprehension—the goal of reading
instruction. When this process is automatic and efficient then additional reading
strategies can be taught to help the students glean more from what they read and
have a successful and fulfilling experience with text. What more could we want?