Reading Strategies

Effective Reading Instruction Includes Research-Based Reading Strategies

The English language is complex. This statement won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has taught emergent readers or English language learners and attempted to explain the structure of our language. Unfortunately, many adults also struggle with understanding and explaining English and sometimes resort to telling students that memorization is the only way to hold on to all those confusing words.

Learning to read is challenging for many students and is even more so when the process is unclear. Without effective reading strategies, many students struggle and a large percentage will be left behind when they are unable to acquire the skills necessary to read grade level materials.

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Noah Webster's American Spelling Book
Past is Present by the American Antiquarian Society blog

In America, approaches for teaching reading strategies have existed since the 1600s when the New England Primer was published for the American Colonies followed by Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book in 1783. Strategies for reading have existed for almost as long but without agreement as to the most effective methods of instruction.

There are now so many types of strategies that it’s common for teachers and parents to feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, there has been a great deal of research, as well as substantial evidence from classrooms, to identify the reading strategies and instructional components that produce the best reading outcomes.

Reading strategies is the broad term used to describe the planned and explicit actions that help readers translate print to meaning. Strategies that improve decoding and reading comprehension skills benefit every student, but are essential for beginning readers, struggling readers, and English Language Learners. Within the last two decades, significant progress has been made in determining the most effective strategies for reading instruction.

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Essential Elements of Reading Instruction

Teaching Reading Strategies

In 2000, the findings of an analysis of more than 100,000 reading studies was published by the National Reading Panel (NRP).This panel concluded that there are five essential elements of effective reading instruction, commonly known as the “Five Pillars of Reading”. These pillars include phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension strategies.

Learn more about the importance of foundational phonics skills for elementary students >

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Learn more about teaching phonemic awareness to college students

These elements are called pillars because the research identified them as the foundations for building strong reading skills. The NRP also included recommendations for effective reading strategies which included:

  • Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness
  • Systematic phonics instruction/word study
  • Tips for improving fluency and increasing comprehension

Components of Reading Instruction for Struggling Readers

dyslexia in children

Significant contributions to a greater understanding of effective reading support have also come from science. With fMRI and PET technology, researchers now have the ability to compare the brain functions of struggling readers with those of good readers. The results of many neurological studies reliably show that the brains of those with dyslexia and other print-based disabilities often do not process language as efficiently and require specific reading strategies to “wire” the brain for print.

The approach that has proven the most effective for struggling readers is called Structured Literacy and includes some of the same elements identified by the National Reading Panel. Structured Literacy is guided by several main principles: instruction is systematic, cumulative, and explicit, and the instructor adapts instruction to meet the needs of the student.

The core components of Structured Literacy include:

  • Phonology (Sound structure) - Phonological awareness involves the ability to recognize, produce, and manipulate the sounds of speech including rhymes, segmentation, and deletion.
  • Sound-Symbol Association (Phonics) - The alphabetic principle is the understanding that letters and letter combinations represent the sounds of spoken language and that letters are blended to form words.
  • Syllable Instruction - Each of the six basic syllable types is taught explicitly to determine the sound of the vowel in the syllable and where multisyllabic words should be divided.
  • Morphology - Instruction involves the study of base words, roots, and affixes to help students build knowledge regarding the meaning of words should be divided.
  • Syntax - The sequence and function of words in a sentence that convey meaning including grammar and language conventions
  • Semantics - Instruction includes the comprehension of written language through the study of word meanings and phrases.

Using evidence-based reading strategies provided by a trained and knowledgeable instructor has been demonstrated to be the most effective method of supporting instruction and intervention. Implementing these strategies can make a tremendous difference for readers and those who are committed to improving reading outcomes.

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