Decoding skills and literacy development

“In accordance with the “simple view” (language comprehension×decoding=reading; Gough & Tunmer 1986), teachers must be well-versed on how to nurture both language comprehension and decoding abilities in their students. Evans and Shaw (2008) noted that storybook reading was a means of exposing children to more varied and complex linguistic structures than would otherwise be experienced from spoken language. Therefore, one of the ways that language comprehension can be augmented is through storybook reading (Al Otaiba 2004; Hindman et al. 2008).

Given that storybook reading is associated with higher listening comprehension skills and greater vocabulary breadth (Audet et al. 2008), knowledge of children’s literature is often considered an essential component of language arts instruction (National Reading Panel 2000). However, a growing body of evidence has reported that listening to storybooks, in and of itself, does not result in measurably elevated reading scores (Aram & Biron 2004; Evans et al. 2000). Knowledge of storybooks, then, seems to coincide with teaching strategies targeted at improving only half of Gough’s model (i.e., language comprehension). This hypothesis fits nicely with classroom observations. For example, McCutchen noted that teachers who were well-versed in children’s literature were more likely to engage in storybook reading in the classroom (McCutchen et al. 2002a), however, they were no more likely to teach children the skills required for learning to reading and spell than their less knowledgeable peers (McCutchen et al. 2002b).

Decoding skills are not learned naturally. In the absence of explicit teaching, it is difficult for many children to gain a firm understanding of the alphabetic principle (that printed letters represent the sounds heard in speech). Therefore, teachers must provide experiences beyond storybook reading in order to develop the second component of Gough’s model; phonological awareness and phonics knowledge have emerged as key elements for the teaching and learning of decoding.

Phonological awareness is defined as the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) and units (syllables) within words (Gray & McCutchen 2006). In a language with an opaque orthography, such as English, it is common for words to have an unequal number of letters and speech sounds. For instance, the word “chap” has four letters, but only three speech sounds: /ch/a/p/. Reversed, the three speech sounds in “chap” are represented by five letters (“patch”). Research has shown that this ability to recognize and manipulate speech sounds is one of the best predictors of children’s reading acquisition (Goswami & Bryant 1992). Moreover, the ability for teachers to “hear” speech sounds, as demonstrated by their ability to count them, has been associated with effective literacy instruction (Spear-Swerling & Brucker 2004).

Teachers’ phonics knowledge is considered a second critical skill that is positively associated with children’s decoding (Cunningham et al. 2004; Moats & Foorman 2003). Phonics is defined as knowledge of the relationships between specific printed letters and their corresponding spoken sounds (Ehri et al. 2001). This ranges from understanding relatively simple concepts (e.g., “a” is for “apple”), to the comprehension of more advanced letter-sound pairings (e.g., “king”, “queen” and “cat” all start with /k/). Phonics also entails knowledge of variable phoneme-grapheme correspondences (e.g., the letter “c” is usually pronounced /k/, unless followed by “e”, “i”, or “y”, in which case it is pronounced /s/).” (np – but second page…)

I still think it’s easy to be a proponent of phonics without thinking through all the factors surrounding its success/difficulties/use, etc. (not the least of which is factory-style schooling), but I found this part of Ladd, Martin-Chang and levesque’s discussion interesting.

Ref: Megan Ladd & Sandra Martin-Chang & Kyle Levesque (2011) ‘Parents’ reading-related knowledge and children’s reading acquisition’ Ann. of Dyslexia (np – online first copy)


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in early years education, Literate Contexts, Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, Understanding literacy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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