Early reading skills are the foundation for strong reading ability later, in much the same way that a solid building foundation supports a skyscraper - the stronger the foundation, the higher the building.
T he National Reading Panel developed a list of the early reading skills called “The 5 Pillars of Reading” after a two-year study of all the scientifically based reading research. Learn more about the importance of Early Literacy from our other resources on the subject.
Phonemic Awareness is the first and most fundamental of all the reading skills because research indicates that future reading skills are dependent on it’s development. Phonemic awareness, the ability to identify the smallest units of sound in the English language, has been shown to be a very powerful predictor of later reading achievement (Juel, 1988). Phonemic awareness is closely associated with phonological awareness - manipulating and substituting phonemes.
Phonemic awareness: cup = /c/ /u/ /p/
Phonological awareness: “what is the last sound in cup?” /p/ “Change the last sound to /t/. Now what is the new word?” Cut
Phonemic awareness applies only to verbal speech but provides the foundation for the next instructional step of associating individual sounds with written letters, commonly known as phonics.
The second pillar of reading is Phonics Instruction. Phonics is the instructional method that transitions learners from oral language to print and transforms meaningless marks on a page into letters of the alphabet that represent the sounds of English. Phonics instruction and strategies provide the basic skills that enable learners to decode the words they read and to spell the words they write.
Phonics provides the explicit connection between individual sounds (phonemes) and letters (graphemes) and an understanding of the alphabetic principle, the predictable and systematic relationships that can be used to recognize, read, and spell words. Phonics is especially important for beginning readers and English language learners. Research indicates that approximately 40% of readers will need explicit Studies have shown that “systematic and explicit phonics instruction is more effective than non-systematic or no phonics instruction”. (Source)
The ability to read text quickly and accurately is called fluency. Fluency is the third pillar of reading instruction and is based on a) the reader’s understanding of the alphabetic principle to accurately decode words, and b) a collection of common sight words (words that cannot be “sounded out”). When readers are able to decode with automaticity, they can focus attention on the content and meaning of what they are reading.
Effective strategies for improving fluency include providing opportunities for students to read and re-read the same text aloud. This can be done initially with an adult or reading partner who models and provides guidance as needed. Reading records can also be used to identify initial miscues and oral reading fluency rates and improvements after re-reading.
Vocabulary is the collection of words that are known and understood by the learner. In many cases, vocabulary is first developed orally as students hear and repeat words and associate meaning with objects in their environment. As they begin to decode, learners create associations between spoken words and the corresponding text. It is therefore much easier to introduce written words that are already part of the student’s spoken vocabulary. Vocabulary instruction generally moves from common, more concrete items (car) to subject-specific and more abstract items (molecule). Adding new words to vocabulary is important in order to develop comprehension.
Comprehension is the fifth and last pillar of the 5 Pillars of Reading Instruction and is often identified as the goal of reading. Learners who decode text but gain no meaning from what they read are unable to use or store the information available in print. Text comprehension strategies assist in developing skills that promote reading for understanding and include identifying the purpose and structure of the text, connecting to prior knowledge and personal experience, questioning, and summarizing.
"O ne of the most compelling and well-established findings in the research on beginning reading is the important relationship between phonemic awareness and reading acquisition" (Kame'enui, et. al., 1997). Phonemic awareness is the first pillar of reading instruction because it is a critical pre-reading skill. Why? Because phonemic awareness in young children is the basis for word reading and comprehension and helps students learn to spell.
R eading research shows that phonics is an essential component of reading development and that “explicit and systematic phonics is superior to nonsystematic or no phonics” (Cunningham, 2002). Teaching phonics to emergent readers is important because it begins the transition from verbal language to print.
F luency is the ability to read text rapidly and accurately, either silently or aloud. Because fluency depends on the ability to decode words quickly, mastery of basic phonics skills is necessary for fluency development. Fluency for early readers is a task essential for establishing comprehension.
C omprehension is the ultimate goal of reading and is the 5th pillar of reading instruction. Early reading comprehension means that emerging readers are able to decode the words and understand the meaning of the text. A common adage regarding reading instruction is that children learn to read until third grade and read to learn for the rest of their lives. Comprehension is the necessary reading skill that will allow students to access the curriculum and obtain information.