Becoming a skilled reader
Updated: Feb 15, 2021
Becoming a skilled reader requires developing three abilities:
Decoding - the ability to sound out words
Fluency - the ability to read quickly and accurately
Comprehension - the ability to understand what you read
Decoding words depends on a) identifying sound components in words and b) mastering phonics rules which tell us how letters are used to make up sounds. Both abilities depend on phonological processing and procedural learning systems. For the effective phonological processing, first we need to split words into their component sounds, which is known as sound segmentation. Then we need to discriminate these sounds from one another. A lot of students with dyslexia have difficulty with one or both of these processes. A child might have difficulty distinguishing that ”hat” has three sounds (h-a-t) rather than two (ha-t). They can also find it difficult to substitute sounds to see what words might be formed (h in hat for b). They might substitute t/d, m/n, a/o, i/e in similar sounding words. The good news is that brains with the weak segmenting and discriminating skills can be reprogrammed and retrained with phonics instruction based on the Orton - Gillingham method.
Reading fluency is made up of reading speed and accuracy and it comes with reading practice. To start building reading fluency focus on recognising individual words quickly and automatically. Engage in guided oral reading - the student reads a passage aloud simultaneously with the teacher, parent or an audiobook. While working with this reading approach, the student is given passages of appropriate difficulty. They then practise the passage several times until able to read it accurately and fluently. I monitor my students' progress by keeping a chart of timed readings before and after practising each passage. As their reading fluency improves, they are given more difficult passages to read and higher reading goals to achieve. It is also important to practise reading for context and overall gist where they avoid getting stuck on words they can't recognise immediately. This type of practice is useful for building interest in reading and problem-solving.
In order to understand written texts, a reader must understand not only individual words but also how they relate to each other at the sentence level and how meaning is affected by language features, genres, explicit and implicit elements and metaphorical language. They also need good working memory to keep all this information whilst processing the text and not spend all of their mental capacity on decoding the words. Having access to recorded texts or text-to-speech recognition tools can make a huge difference to students' comprehension and learning outcomes. Although a small number of students with dyslexia have very strong abilities in making analogies, understanding metaphors, symbolism and different perspectives, for a big proportion of learners with dyslexia developing the above skills takes a lot of time and practice. One of the key principles in aiding understanding is to link what they are reading to their previous experiences. This will help them think ahead as they read and use their imagination and analytical skills.