Experience teaches us to be skeptical when things seem too good to be true, and it seems like 98% of the time an opportunity appears too amazing, something surely is amiss.  But sometimes you find a wonderful thing that doesn’t come with a catch, like the perfect pair of shoes on sale, someone who loves you because of your peculiarities (instead of despite them), or perhaps a reading strategy that is actually going to help your child learn to overcome their struggles with literacy.  How can you know that reading instruction is truly research-proven or scientifically-based?  This is where phonics instruction becomes applicable.

Convened by congress in 1997, The National Reading Panel assembled and began its mission to determine what children needed to become successful readers.  After performing extensive research – including holding public meetings where parents and teachers could voice what they felt was missing – the NRP outlined five essential components of reading instruction:

  1. Phonemic Awareness:  Ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words.
  1. Phonics:  Relationships between letters of written language and individual sounds of spoken language.
  1. Fluency:  Ability to read a text quickly and accurately.
  1. Vocabulary:  Words students must know to communicate effectively.
  1. Text Comprehension:  Understanding what students are reading.

So what does this all mean to a parent?  It is helpful to think of the five essential components of reading instruction in the form of a pyramid, with phonemic awareness at the base (representing the sturdy foundation) with each step building up to comprehension.  If your child has been trained to identify individual phonemes and has been given explicit phonics instruction, then -- with practice -- that will lead to automatic word decoding.  As a child’s decoding skills are refined, the child becomes a fluent reader.  As the child reads and learns, they are exposed to new vocabulary, increasing their comprehension with each new word.

Explicit phonics instruction is such a crucial step.  Public schools often employ the whole language approach and do not take the time to explicitly teach children about letter/sound associations and word decoding skills.  Instead, they view language as “a complete system of making meaning, with words functioning in relation to each other in context.”  The whole language approach does work for some children, but not all.  The biggest focus of the whole language approach is that children construct their own unobstructed perceptions as they read and interpret texts.  However, children who are unable to make the connection between words printed on a page and the verbal language (visual language for some deaf children) they have already learned cannot draw any interpretations because they do not have the tools they need to be able to read.   Research gathered by the National Reading Panel has provided substantial evidence that children – especially those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia – need explicit instruction that is organized in a systematic fashion with each new lesson building off of the previously-learned skill.

Decoding strategies such as explicit, sequential, multisensory (Orton Gillingham), and reinforced instruction arm children with the tools they need to focus on decoding a word instead of resorting to guessing or skipping over it.  Become an advocate for your child’s reading education.  If your child is struggling to learn to read, find a program that employs the five essential components of reading instruction.

In the meantime, check out our free online Parents Phonics Training and find out what our product can do for your child.  Reading Horizons reading programs incorporate the five essential components of reading instruction into our method.

The software program is like having another phonics teacher for my children, who never tires and is always patient and kind.  It wonderfully reinforces what I am teaching.”

- Karen Petitment, Molalla, Oregon