Language teaching/Teaching reading

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

"If you can read this, thank a teacher" -Anonymous

There are many considerations that need to be taken into account when teaching an individual to read.[1] It is estimated that the average child comes to school with a speaking and listening vocabulary of 24,000 words [2](Adams, 239), so teaching an individual to read should be easy if you just need to help them match spoken words which they already know with letters to create a visual meaning. However, this is not normally the case. Children between the ages of 3 and 5 begin school and their abilities vary greatly, anywhere from gifted, to at risk of a learning disability. Some may speak a few different languages, some may be slow learners, a child may be gifted and find it boring to read or listen to books that are at a level suitable for the rest of the class, others might be the youngest in their class and be expected to perform at the same level as children almost a full year older. With such diversity in the school system, one needs to ask what is the best way of teaching reading to students who are just learning to read? There is a century-old debate over the efficacy of teaching reading through phonics (sound-based) versus the whole-word method (meaning-based)(McGunness, 2004).[3] Since reading is a great way of increasing one's knowledge and vocabulary[1] it seems reasonable that there should be guidelines for teachers to follow as they teach students to read. The curriculum is a good indicator of what a student should know or learn during a specific grade but since research is always advancing how is one supposed to stay upto date with the newest learning styles. Teaching reading is difficult because a teacher must adapt their teaching style to the student and figure out the best way to teach. This disscussion brings us to a very widely debated topic: What is the right way to teach reading? Good teaching enables students to learn to read and read to learn.[1]

Methods of Teaching Word Recognition[edit | edit source]

Synthetic Methods (Sound-based)[edit | edit source]

The Alphabet Method[edit | edit source]

This method is one of three synthetic methods and it was thought of as one of the earliest attempts at teaching reading. First children need to learn to recoginize the letters and then gradually begin to recognize words. The New England Primer (1690) and the Webster's American Spelling book (1793) were both based on this method. The Greeks and Romans appear to have used the alphabet method as well. Studies have shown that people who learn to associate a name with a letter are learning how to discriminate different visual forms (an A is differnt from a D) as well as associate a sound, name and meaning with that symbol. The weakness of this method is that sounds of the letters do not always indicate the sound that needs to be pronounced(Dechant, 209).[4] an example of this in the english language can be seen below. Often if parents do not want their children to know information they spell it out, so can a child really learn to read by pronuncing letter names? if we take a look at a line from from the Webster's American Spelling Book we can see how unneccessary complicated it is to spell out the words in order for the individual to read.

No man may put off the law of God.

Using the alphabet method one would be taught to say it like this: "En-o, no, emm-ai-en, man, emm-ai-wy, may, pee-you-tee, put, o-double-eff, off, tee-aitch-ee, the, ell-ai-double-you, law, o-eff, of, gee-o-dee, God." It has been said that the alphabet method did nothing more then teach children how to spell, however, many people claim they have indeed been taught to read by the alphabet method. In this method children learn to identify letters, they do not learn to read the word (Anderson, 205).[5]

The Synthetic Phonic Method[edit | edit source]

The phonic method is the second synthetic method used by teachers. This method was introduced in 1782 by Noah Webster. This method focuses on the phonetic sound of letters. This method has a few problems associated with it because various letters can suggest many different sounds. For example, the "ou" can be found in words such as, sour, pour, would, couple, and sought, all of which have varied pronouncation of "ou".[4](Dechant, 209). The general idea of phonics it that the student learns to read by their prior knowledge of the sounds and names of the alphabet. From their knowledge of the sounds the individual is encouraged to read by sounding out the word.

The Syllable Method[edit | edit source]

The syllable method is the third synthetic method. In this method, syllables are combined to form words. It is used in some African languages such as Sundanese Dinka. A syllable approach is an essential part of today's reading programs since the structure of words is based on syllable analysis. Gleitman and Rozin (1973) advocate the use of the syllable as a unit of reading, whereas Goodman (1973) rejects this approach and suggests that the syllable is a complex relationship between morphology and dialect. He believes that the syllable method does not consider reading as a psycholinguistic process[4](Dechant, 209-210).

Analytic Method (Meaning-based)[edit | edit source]

The following three methods for teaching reading are called analytic methods because they begin with the word, phrase or sentence and are then broken down into basic elements[4](Dechant, 210).

The Word Method[edit | edit source]

The word method is the most commonly used analytic method used in teaching. It is also termed the sight or configuation method, although often in error. It was introduced to Europe in 1648 in a book written by Comenius. There are various ways of teaching this method which include:

Analytical Phonics
Kinesthetic Method-Fernald (1943)[4](Dechant, 210).

The Sentence Method[edit | edit source]

In the 1990's, this method of teaching reading was emphasized by Huey[4](Dechant, 210-211). Huey put forth the idea that the sentence was the true unit in a language, not the word or letter, and therefore the sentence as a whole was the true unit in reading.[6] The problem with this idea is that those who are just beginning to read need to identify the basic units of the sentence inorder comprehend what they will read[4]

The Phrase Method[edit | edit source]

This is the third method which is mentioned less often then the other two methods. In this method the student would learn to read parts of sentences instead of the whole sentence.

Which is the Best Methodology?[edit | edit source]

Although there has been lots of research done, there is no research that provides a definite answer[7]. Therefore the techniques that a teacher uses to teach depends on their philosophy of teaching (Schickedanz,) Teaching is very different from what it used to be in the 1980s. Technology is evolving, classrooms are becoming more and more culturally diverse, which in turn widens the range of intelligence levels. It is nearly impossible for a teacher to teach reading in a large classroom setting in a way that will foster each child's individual learning styles. Students vary in many ways, some individuals learn better in a group environment where they can interact with others, some especially those with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) get distracted easily when working around others, some children need it to be quiet in order to concentrate, others are hands on learners while others learn best by listening[8]. A lot of books talk about teacher observation as one of the roles a teacher is expected to do. Smith et al (2008)[9] state, "the potential for professional development lies in learning from students." This illustrates the idea of student observation: that teachers can observe students' individual reactions to styles of teaching and choose the methods that work best for each student.[10]

Assessing Reading Ability[edit | edit source]

There are two ways a teacher can assess reading ability of a student. The first is to find out how well the student learns and provide feedback to assist the learner. The second way is to measure the progression that is being made. Essentially the teacher is measuring word fluency and comprehension. Another way that psychologists use to test reading abilities is through the Weschler Scale which can be used to diagnose learning disabilities.

Comprehension[edit | edit source]

Comprehension is the active process of deriving meaning from the text. It involves word knowledge as well as thinking and reasoning. Good readers are aware of how well they understand the text they are reading. A good way to assess comprehension is to ask higher order questions, questions about the main idea and view points, not the minor details. Readiing comprehension is the idea of combining prior knowledge with the knowledge learned in the text. Prior knowledge therefore is related to a persons life experiences.[1] This is where tests such as the Education Quality and Accountability Office testing also known as the EQAO test which is a Canadian provincial wide testing [11]. The EQAO testing can fall short and a wide variation of results can be found from year to year. When a reading comprehension question talks about underground transportation and tickets, children in rural areas may not have prior knowledge about needing a ticket to take public transportation. Similariy, students that live in cities may have no knowledge or limited knowledge about living on a farm and thus the reading comprehension scores will be lower when given stories about this topic than if they were asked about public transportation.

Fluency[edit | edit source]

The goal of reading instruction is to ensure individuals learn to read accurately and fluently. Fluency in reading means being able to read text accurately, quickly and with expression. If a person is fluent in reading a language, it means that they can focus on the meaning of the text because they do not have a problem with word recognition. Fluency in reading is important because it is closely related to comprehension (McGuinness,189)[3]. Repeated reading and partner reading are examples of promoting fluency through practice.[1] “The fluent reader sounds good, is easy to listen to, and reads with enough expression to help the listener understand and enjoy the material.”- Charles Clark

Coping Strategies for People With Reading and Learning Disabilities[edit | edit source]

Technology[edit | edit source]

The growth in technology has a huge impact on students with learning disabilities but specifically reading disabilities such as dyslexia, slow readers, problems with reading comprehension or other types of struggling students. Programs such as Kurzweil, electronic storybooks are used to help students overcome learning challenges. Some problems with these types of technology is the high cost[12], currently Kurzweil costs about $1500.00, although for the most part the Canadian government give students with disabilities funding towards these types of programs. Word processors such as Microsoft Word are also thought to aid students in both reading and writing.(page 89)[13]

Reading Programs[edit | edit source]

There are many programs worldwide that are designed to enhance and develop reading skills of individuals of any age at any level. Some of these programs and products include Kumon[14], Hooked on Phonics[15], Sylvan[16]

The Effects of Early Intervention[edit | edit source]

Schools should work together with parents and teachers to create an environment to foster learning. Parents and teachers can do many things to help students one of which is to act as a role model.

Parental Involvement[edit | edit source]

A meta analysis of 14 intervention studies representing 1174 families showed that parental involvement does have an impact on a child's ability to acquire reading skils. The studies showed that parental intervention for children in kindergarden through to grade 3 showed similar results. Studies show that parents are most helpful when they are trained to teach specific skills to their children. Training parents to listen to their child read also had a similar effect. [17]

Teacher Involvement[edit | edit source]

It is necessary for teachers to assess children that are at risk of having a reading disability and to keep records of progress so that the parents stay informed and also in case documentation is needed to diagnose a student with a learning disability later on. It is important for teachers to be aware of the risks and make sure students do not fall behind because research shows that children who get off to a poor start rarely catch up (Lerner,2000)[18] There are many articles and books that teachers can read in order to stay informed on evidence-based teaching styles for students at risk. One of which includes that by Coyne et al. (2006)[19]. Teachers are not normally prepared to work with students who have learning disabilities because there training is in a specialization such as French, English, or Physics(Lerner, 317).[20] so this article helps teachers learn how, when and what to teach students at risk of a learning disability[19].

Roles of a Teacher[edit | edit source]

As a teacher a common question may be asked by the students: Why do we need to read? The response - because you will need to know how to read when you are older - is not really a sufficient answer for a child. If an individual finds out something they did not know before, the interest in learning to read should motivate that person to read. Similarly, if a child begins to want to know more about the stories or poems that have recently been read to them, that eagerness to learn has been sparked and the willingness to learn exists. Therefore, making them good candidates for reading instruction. * Students need demonstrations of how an efficient reader reads fluently therefore it is good for teachers to read to their class and promote literature [21](Valencia, 58) as well as:

Studying Star Wars B&W.jpg

* Foster an environment that promotes reading in a fun and interactive way.

  • Teachers can assess fluency of their students and provided feedback as students read aloud to them.
  • Teachers should help students choose books that are at the appropriate reading level, not to easy and not to hard.[1]
  • Teachers are encourages to ask their students questions about the material they are reading inorder to help them develop good reading comprehension.
  • Guide students to read material at a suitable level that has quality not just Captain Underpants.
  • Promote reading with other students.
  • Teachers should promote reading in the home, after all practice makes perfect.
  • Teachers can improve a students comprehension by asking asking questions about the text: what is the main idea, and asking students to use prior knowledge to predict what will happen.
  • Test out different teaching skills or different children to see what works.
  • Teachers should be organized and plan ahead so that they can devote their time to teaching (Schickendanz, 14)[22]
  • Keep parents/guardians informed, this will benefit not only the child but the parents and teachers as well(Schickendanz, 102)[22]
  • Teachers should take an active role in identifying at risk students so that they can get the required attention to succeed (Smith, 2008)[9]

Resources[edit | edit source]

There are many online interactive games and hand held games such as leapfrog technology [23] that can help students to improve their reading skills on their own, often times with out even knowing they are doing so. Many television programs for children also have online learning to keep a child's interest. They can learn to read with or about the characters they see on television.

Learning Exercise[edit | edit source]

Test Your Comprehension[edit | edit source]


  1. Students that are having trouble with there visual and auditory process are showing precursors for what?
  2. Why is it important that teachers evaluate struggling students and keep files regarding the individuals progress?
  3. What are two methods teachers can use to teach reading?
  4. The ____________ is a Canadian province wide test that the government uses to assess the reading abilities of students.
  5. What are two ways to access the reading ability of an individual? What abilities do these tests assess?
  6. What are some technologies and programs outside of the school system that can aid students who are experiencing difficulties in reading? What is the main problem with these resources?
  7. Which of the following are roles of a teacher?
a) Teachers can assess fluency of their students and provided feedback as students read aloud to them.
b) Teachers should help students choose books that are at the appropriate reading level, not to easy and not to hard.
c) Teachers are encourages to ask their students questions about the material they are reading inorder to help them develop good reading comprehension.
d) Guide students to read material at a suitable level that has quality.
e) Teachers should promote reading in the home, after all practice makes perfect!
f) All of the above are roles of a teacher
g) Only a) and c)

Teaching Reading Crossword[edit | edit source]

Use the following crossword to test your knowledge of the above material on teaching reading.

1. A scale used by psychologists that can help diagnose students with learning disabilities.
2. In 1782, Noah _______ introduced the synthetic phonic method of teaching that focuses on the phonetic sound of letters.
3. A good reader that can understand what he/she is reading and is able to answer questions about main ideas and is able to give their point of view of what they just read would be said to have good reading _____________.
4. Teaching ______ vary from teacher to teacher and may need to be adjusted from time to time inorder to create the best learning enviroment for the class.
7._________-word reading is a widely used technique of teaching reading.
9._______ put forth the idea that the sentence was the true unit in reading.
10.________-based teaching research is used by teachers but many find it hard to stay informed since it is constantly changing.
12. Teachers are encouraged to ___ their students questions about the material they have just read in order to develop and assess reading comprehension.
15. Parents and Teachers should act as a _____ _______ for students.
17. _________ should work with parents and techers to foster a learning environment.
18. Of the meaning based methods the paragraph method is the ________ likely to be used.
21. Teachers should ________ students to read books at a level suitable for them. ACROSS
4. Students should be encouraged to use past _________ and knowledge to help them read.
5. An example of this could be when a teacher is reading a book that she read previously to the class and a student continues to interupt her, the teacher says to the class, "Today I want you to listen to the story and try and find something you do not remember about the story, and tell me about once I finish the story". She did this in order to foster a pleasant learning environment for all students.
6. An example of this would be a child who is able to read text in a book accurately, quickly and with expression.
8. Teachers and parents need to _______ responsibility with regards to reading instruction.
11.__________ involvement has been shown to have a positive impact on a childs reading skills in addition to what is being learned at school.
13. After giving the child the resources students and parents most _________ responsibility to the student.
14. A costly program that is often used by students who have a reading disability.
16. Hooked on __________, Kumon, Sylvan and many other reading program help students develop and enhance their reading skills.
17. Parents and teachers should help students with book _______ so that they learn to read a variety of books and not just books such as Captain Underpants.
19. The ______-_______ method which includes the alphabet method, phonic method, and the syllable method is also known as the synthetic method.
20. Another name for the analytic method is the _________-based method.
22. A person that has a ________ _________ can use coping strategies such as technology and reading programs to overcome learning challenges
23. Children have many ____________ that they can use to help them with reading these include, online interactive games, as well as hand held games such as Leapfrog.

Food for thought[edit | edit source]

Who taught you to read? Was it a teacher, your parents, or a friend?
What reading style were you taught?
Do you think it is fair for students with reading disabilities to have access to computers and other programs when others students do not?
Do you think the government should subsidize the cost of after school reading programs? After all aren't students sent to school to learn these skills?
Who should be primarily responsible for teaching children to read?
Should teachers have to cater to each individual student or to the majority of the class through their teaching styles in order to teach reading?
Which method would you use to teach reading to some one?
At what age should children be able to read?
Do you think there is a critical age at which an individual can no longer be taught to read? if so why or why not?
Do you think that programs such as Kumon and Sylvan should be integrated into the school classroom setting?

Answers to Questions Above[edit | edit source]

  1. Precursors to learning disabilities include early problems with auditory and visual processing. A little more background: Auditory processing involves phonological awareness auditory discrimination, auditory memory and auditory sequencing and bleading. Visual processing abilities play a huge role in visual discrimination of letters and words, and visual memory.
  2. It is important to keep a record of a students development so that if there is a possibility of a learning disability there is proof. Without documentation a child would have to be assessed prior to being tested for a learning disability. Keeping documentation speeds up the process to allow struggling students get help when they need it.
  3. The synthetic (or sound-based method) as well as the analytic method can be used to teach students to read.
  4. The EQAO or Education Quality and Accountability Office testing is a test that the Canadian Government uses to test the reading abilities of students. This test falls short in some areas but it is a great way for the government to compare school and teaching methods to see what is working and what isn't.
  5. Two ways to test the reading abilities of a students is through comprehension and fluency tests. Reading comprehension assesses the students ability of word knowledge, as well as their thinking and reasoning abilities. Fluency is the ability to read text accurately, quickly and with expression
  6. Computer programs such as Kurzweil and Microsoft Office as well as programs such as Hooked on Phonics and Kumon can aid students that are experiencing reading difficulties in over coming some of their challenges. The main problem with these programs is the cost, however students with reading disabilities may receive funding from the Canadian Government that aids the students.
  7. f) is the correct answer. All of them are roles that teachers should use as well as many others to facilitate their students in reading.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Pang, E., Muaka, A., Bernhardt, E., Kamil, M. (2003). Teaching Reading. Brussels, The International Academy of Education.
  2. Adams, M. J. (1994). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  3. 3.0 3.1 McGuinness, D. (2004). Early reading instruction: What science really tells us about how to teach reading. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Dechant, E. V., & Smith, H. P. (1977). Psychology in teaching reading. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall
  5. [Anderson, I. H., & Dearborn, W. F. (1952). The psychology of teaching reading: By Irving H. Anderson and Walter F. Dearborn. New York: Ronald.].
  6. Huey, E.B. (1908) The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading. Part III. New York
  7. Durkin, D. (1974). Teaching them to read. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  8. Dunn, R. S., & Dunn, K. J. (1978). Teaching students through their individual learning styles: A practical approach. Reston, Va: Reston Pub. Co.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Smith, K., & Welicker-Pollak, M. (January 01, 2008). What can they say about my teaching? Teacher educators' attitudes to standardised student evaluation of teaching. European Journal of Teacher Education, 31, 2, 203-214
  10. "Speed Reading Mehthods -". Retrieved 2021-09-02.
  13. Blum, P. (2004). Improving low reading ages in the secondary school: Practical strageties for learning support. London: Routledge Falmer..
  17. Senechal, M., & Young, L. (December 01, 2008). The Effect of Family Literacy Interventions on Children's Acquisition of Reading from Kindergarten to Grade 3: A Meta-Analytic Review. Review of Educational Research, 78, 4, 880-907
  18. Lerner, J. W., & Lerner, J. W. (2000). Instructor's resource manual with test items: Learning disabilities : theories, diagnosis, and teaching strategies, eighth edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Coyne, M. D., Zipoli Jr, R. P., & Ruby, M. F. (2006). Beginning Reading Instruction for Students at Risk for Reading Disabilities: What, How, and When. Intervention in School & Clinic, 41(3), 161-168. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
  20. Lerner, J. W. (2000). Learning disabilities: Theories, diagnosis, and teaching strategies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  21. Valencia, S., Hiebert, E. H., & Afflerbach, P. (1994). Authentic reading assessment: Practices and possibilities. Newark, Del: International Reading Association
  22. 22.0 22.1 Schickedanz, J. A. (1983). Strategies for teaching young children. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall.
  1. Ehri, L. C., Nunes, S. R., Stahl, S. A., & Willows, D. M. (2001). Systematic Phonics Instruction Helps Students Learn to Read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel's Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 71, 3, 393-447