Five Pillars of Effective Reading Instruction

Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary and Comprehension 

five pillars of readingThe National Reading Panel (in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act) completed extensive research to determine the most effective way to teach students how to read. The research revealed that when the following five components are effectively taught, they lead to the highest chance of reading success (known as the five pillars of reading): phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

1. Phonemic Awareness:

Definition: The ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in spoken words.

Current research indicates phonemic awareness is the strongest predictor of reading success, even at the high school level. Training in phoneme identification, manipulation, and substitution is essential for early grades and is indispensable in deterring dyslexic tendencies. The basic fundamentals employed can easily be applied to older students.

Phonemic awareness, not intelligence, best predicts reading success.

How does Reading Horizons address phonemic awareness?

Reading Horizons products provide detailed lesson plans and assessment materials for teaching and assessing a student’s ability to identify initial, medial, and final sounds; rhyme; individual sounds within words; number of syllables in words; and number of words within sentences. Additional activities address manipulation and substitution of phonemes.

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2. Phonics Instruction:

Definition: Instruction in the ability to draw relationships between the letters (graphemes) of written language and the individual sounds (phonemes) of spoken language. This teaches students to use these relationships to read and write words.

How does Reading Horizons address phonics instruction?

Reading Horizons teaches students letter/sound associations through multi-sensory, direct instruction, and highly interactive student participation. A unique marking system is employed in the program, helping students examine and scrutinize the internal structure of words and identify their likely and unlikely patterns.

five phonetic skills

Students receive systematic phonics instruction in identifying blends, the 42 sounds of the alphabet, and the phonetic patterns used to form English words. They are simultaneously immersed in language development, sentence structure, spelling, and handwriting skills. As students move through this logical sequence of information, each step provides constant, positive reinforcement of previously learned skills. As Sally Shaywitz-member of the National Reading Panel-wrote in her book Overcoming Dyslexia, "Letters linked to phonemes are no longer meaningless marks on paper, but like Cinderella, have been transformed into something truly spectacular-language! Decoded into phonemes, words are processed automatically by the language system. The reading code is deciphered!" (Overcoming Dyslexia, 2003, pg. 51).

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3. Fluency Instruction:

Definition: Instruction in the ability to read text accurately and quickly, either silently or orally.

Neuroscientists are learning more about how fluency is developed. Fluent reading is established after the individual reads the word at least four times, using accurate phonologic processing (slow, accurate sounding out). Fluency is built word by word and entirely dependent on repeated, accurate, sounding out of the specific word. Fluency is not established by "memorizing" what words look like but rather by developing correct neural-phonologic models of the word. We now know fluency is not the apparent visual recognition of an entire word but rather the retrieval of the exact neural model created by proper repeated phonologic processing.

reading fluency

How does Reading Horizons address fluency instruction?

Our products teach accurate phonologic processing and then offer repetition and guided practice. Early in the course, the program takes great care to develop fluency. This is accomplished through the use of the slide: a blending process in which students are taught to pronounce words smoothly, left-to-right. Reading Horizons products also include Lexiled® reading passages that are used to further develop fluency and transfer decoding skills to written text. The students are given the option for word study, repeated practice, and guided reading within those passages. That, coupled with the repeated practice of phonological processing, is the key to fluency.

The 300 most common sight words (as defined by the Fry Word List) are also instructed in Reading Horizons software and direct instruction materials. These words make up 65% of all written text and automatic recognition of these words help students read at a pace conducive to effective fluency and comprehension.

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4. Vocabulary Instruction:

Definition: Instruction in the words necessary for effective communication.

A knowledge of word meaning helps with decoding and also improves reading comprehension.

How does Reading Horizons address vocabulary instruction?

vocabulary lessonReading Horizons incorporates vocabulary development immediately following the introduction of the first letter set. As new words are introduced, students simultaneously learn each word’s meaning and usage. Because most students (especially beginning and struggling readers) have a larger spoken vocabulary than written vocabulary, effective decoding skills allow students to properly identify the written words they typcially only recognize by speech. 

Reading Horizons also contains a vocabulary tool that may be accessed at any time and contains vocabulary relating to the skills that are being learned by the student. Students are able to hear words pronounced, defined, and used in sentences. There are illustrations for words where applicable, and they are able to phonetically decode each word as well as pronounce and record it in order to compare their pronunciation with the narrator's. The older version of the software includes a database of over 12,000 words that is available as a resource for students to search for words to help with building their vocabulary and to improve their reading comprehension.

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5. Comprehension Instruction:

Definition: Instruction in the ability to understand, to remember, and to communicate meaning from what is read.

Comprehension is accomplished only when the student has moved past the word level and has a strong vocabulary. If decoding is not an automatic process, comprehension will suffer - as highlighted in this video by Reading Horizons Director of Teacher Training, Shantell Berrett:

How does Reading Horizons address comprehension instruction?

Reading Horizons addresses comprehension in several ways: first, the systematic, explicit, multi-sensory phonics instruction helps create neural pathways to make the decoding process automatic; second, every word is used in a context sentence, and vocabulary is built throughout the program; and finally, the library component offers comprehension questions, which assess necessary comprehension skills and guided practice to ensure proper application of comprehension strategies.

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strategies for teaching phonics

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