Teaching the Schwa Sound in Unaccented SyllablesSchwa is one of those phonics concepts that can be really confusing to students as they learn to decode longer, multi-syllable words. The schwa sound is the most common vowel sound in the English language, accounting for 20% of all vowel sounds (Yule, 1996), and it often is the cause of spelling mistakes. The schwa sound is formed with a neutral mouth position, and it replaces a vowel sound in the unaccented syllables of multi-syllable words. It is sometimes called the “lazy” vowel.
What is Structured Literacy instruction?Keys to Literacy recently launched our new "Understanding Dyslexia" online course, and one of the major topics in the course is the importance of using a structured literacy approach to teaching reading to students with dyslexia. Structured literacy is a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction that research shows is effective for all students and essential for students who have difficulty with reading. This approach addresses all the foundational elements that are critical for reading comprehension. It is characterized by the provision of systematic, explicit instruction that integrates listening, speaking, reading, and writing. It includes instruction for multiple levels of language.
Phoneme & Letter-Sound LaddersOne of the most well-established findings in beginning reading research is the relationship between phonemic awareness and reading acquisition. Phonics is the system by which symbols (i.e., letters, also called graphemes) represent sounds (i.e., phonemes) in an alphabetic system like English. Some sounds are represented by just a single letter (e.g., b for /b/ as in tub) while some sounds are represented by two or more letters (e.g., bb for /b/ as in rubber). In order to learn this phonics system where "print maps to speech" students rely on their phonemic awareness ability to isolate, blend and segment sounds as they learn which letters/graphemes represent those speech sounds. This is why, of all the phonological awareness tasks, phonemic awareness is most closely associated with phonics and learning to read. One activity that can support both phonemic awareness and learning letter-sound correspondences is Word Ladders, sometimes called Word Chains.
High Frequency Sight WordsEducators sometimes confuse the following related terms: sight words, high frequency words, decodable words, irregular words. Sight words are words that are instantly recognized and identified without conscious effort. High frequency words are the words most commonly used in the English language. Because high frequency words are essential to learning how to read, teachers should begin to teach some high frequency words as sight words to children in primary grades at the same time children are being taught how to use phonics to decode words. Teachers introduce these words as soon as kindergarten if their students are ready.
The Role of Orthographic Mapping in Learning to ReadEvery word has three forms – its sounds (phonemes), its orthography (spelling), and its meaning. Orthographic mapping is the process that all successful readers use to become fluent readers. Through orthographic mapping, students use the oral language processing part of their brain to map (connect) the sounds of words they already know (the phonemes) to the letters in a word (the spellings). They then permanently store the connected sounds and letters of words (along with their meaning) as instantly recognizable words, described as “sight vocabulary” or “sight words”.
Systematic Phonics Scope and SequenceSystematic phonics instruction follows a sequential and planned set of phonics elements that gradually builds from base elements to more subtle and complex structures. Teachers follow a scope and sequence, as opposed to implicit phonics instruction that addresses phonics as it comes up in text. While there is no universally agreed upon scope and sequence, any logically ordered sequence begins with the most basic phonics concepts and progresses to more difficult concepts, with new learning building on prior knowledge (Carreker, 2011). Sequences vary somewhat among phonics programs. If teachers are using an explicit, systematic phonics program it is best to follow its sequence for the order of teaching. If this is not the case, or if the program is not systematic enough, Keys to Literacy has developed a "generic" scope and sequence.
Levels of Language & LiteracyQuestion: What role does knowledge of language play in reading and writing? Answer: A huge role! Teachers tend to focus on the “five components of reading” when thinking about what’s needed to teach students to be good readers (i.e., phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). But there is another model that should be considered: the seven levels of language.
Science of Reading in the NewsAs the number of articles, podcasts and blog posts related to the science of reading grows, I've been updating a list I started for our Keys to Literacy trainers to share. We have been getting so many requests about the list, that I decided to make it the focus of this post.
We Need to Pay Attention to the Science of Reading!
The scientific evidence base on how we learn to read and how to best teach reading has been growing and converging over 40 years. This includes brain imaging studies that show how our brains learn to read and underlying causes of why some students have difficulty learning read.
Sadly, teachers often do not have access to this evidence base. Many teachers report that their preservice education in college did little to prepare them for teaching reading. Many veteran teachers report a lack of quality professional development once hired that could help them improve their reading instruction. And for too long, the reading wars have confused teachers and administrators. These wars started in the 1990's when whole language advocates succeeded in convincing too many schools that learning to read comes naturally without the need for explicit instruction in decoding skills. Even today, there are many reading "experts" that say they promote a "balanced" approach to beginning instruction, but what that actually represents is a little bit of incidental phonics thrown in on top of the same approaches to reading instruction that have not worked for the past 25 years. The latest scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation's report card, were just released—and things aren't looking good for the country's young readers.
Why are we still teaching reading the wrong way?“Scientific research has shown how children learn to read and how they should be taught. But many educators don't know the science and, in some cases, actively resist it. As a result, millions of kids are being set up to fail.” This is a quote from Emily Hanford's September, 2018 podcast and article published APMreports by American Public Media. Her piece highlights the lack of teacher knowledge about science-based reading instruction, due in part from not being taught reading science in teacher preparation schools, and in part from incorrect beliefs about how children learn to read.
Multisensory Teaching by Emily GibbonsThis post was written by Emily Gibbons, a dyslexia instructor. Emily provides suggestions for using multiple senses when teaching foundational reading skills. Multisensory teaching is not just crucial for kids with dyslexia, it is good solid teaching for ALL students. Using a variety of senses helps with memory and retrieval and allows students to support their areas of weakness with their areas of strength. Incorporating multisensory learning tools into your classroom lessons will not replace intervention services, but it will make classroom lessons more accessible to students with learning differences.
Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, and LetterlandLast year, Keys to Literacy decided that it was time to offer a phonics program and literacy professional development for phonemic awareness and phonics instruction in the primary grades. We knew it had to be up to the quality, high standards that educators have come to expect from Keys to Literacy. That is why we chose Letterland!
Resources for Fluency InstructionEven though Keys to Literacy professional development programs focus on comprehension, vocabulary, and writing, we are often asked about resources related to fluency – what it is, why it’s important, and how to teach it. This blog entry is devoted to identifying fluency resources.
I decided to start with the work of Jan Hasbrouck, a friend and colleague who I believe knows more about fluency than any other educator in the country. Together with her colleague, Gerald Tindal, Jan developed the first set of national norms for oral reading fluency performance in 1992. They updated and presented the norms in 2006 in an article: Oral Reading Fluency Norms: A Valuable Assessment Tool for Reading Teachers...
Good Resource for Literacy WebinarsEarlier this winter I delivered a literacy webinar for Voyager Sopris Learning, and discovered that they offer a number of complimentary, one hour webinars delivered by nationally-recognized literacy experts. And, they archive the webinars in case you are not able to participate in the live sessions.
Here is a link to my archived webinar titled “A Best-Practices Instructional Routine for Writing in the Content Areas”...