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Posts Tagged ‘alphabetic principle’

Learning to read

May 02 2014

So why do some children have difficulty learning to read and spell?

Learning to read is a complex process. It is not a natural development in the way that language is. It must be taught as it’s a product of our cultural development rather than biological evolution.

First of all reading can be divided into two areas:

  1. the ability to decode or ‘work out’ what the sounds of the letters in a word are and then put them together to work out the whole word.
  2. understand what those words mean or what the sentence means.

We read to gain meaning and so both of these parts are integral to the process. You cannot have one without the other. Decoding comes first followed by the understanding.

In order to decode, the learner needs to understand the alphabetic principle of mapping the sound of the letter (the phoneme) to its written form (the grapheme). In the English language this straight forward one to one mapping does not exist as it does in many other languages such as Italian or Greek as most sounds(phonemes) in the English language are represented by two, three, four and five letters to represent just one sound. Consider the word through. The three letter thr is one sound in the word and the four letter ough is another, no straight forward mapping there. However ough is also pronounced differently when it’s in the word though, differently again in the word thought. The learner of English needs to learn a complex set of rules in order to decode words.

These alphabetic skills rely heavily on the learner’s ‘phonological awareness’. Phonological awareness is the ability to distinguish sounds within words which are heard, not written; aural not visual. Research tells us that phonological awareness is a strong predictor of reading success. By five years old most children will be able to supply you with examples of other children’s names starting with the letter B - Bill, Brad, Barbara. Games which require children to make judgements on the basis of ‘odd man out’ – where three or four objects begin with the same sound; cat, car, dog, cot or questions such as, ‘If I take away the s in slip, what word do I get?, will help to identify children with poor phonological skills. Four year olds should be able recite nursery rhymes and to join in with them, supplying the missing rhymes, thus ‘Jack and Jill went up the…’ A vulnerability in this area is a strong indicator that a child might be at risk for dyslexia.

Models of reading development refer to the skilled word reader accessing a dual route in order to decipher words on the page. The successful reader will use his phonological skills(sub lexical route) as well as using his/her store of words that are known quickly by sight (lexical route) to identify words and subsequently gain meaning of the text. An over use of either route in the early developing reader needs to addressed.