We work with many beginning readers, and parents are always interested in learning what our program does, and why. We believe that reading instruction, to be effective, must include four key components. These are phonics/decoding, comprehension, fluency, and subject matter. There are numerous programs that teach phonics. We believe that they miss the† mark by not addressing the other vital components needed to create the enthusiasm and excitement for reading that are so important in creating truly great readers.
Decoding means looking at a word and figuring out what it is. Phonics is a key part of decoding, because most words are spelled as they sound, so once a reader knows phonics, it is possible to read new words that have never been seen before. Phonics by itself, though, is not enough. Words like cough and tough both have the ďoughĒ combination, but it has a different sound in each. So a second and very important part of decoding is learning the common places where the rules donít work.
Comprehension is vital. A child may be able to decode words perfectly, but if he or she doesnít understand the material, then the decoding is just a boring and pointless exercise. A student who does not comprehend may sound out words perfectly, but that student will think of reading as a pointless and boring exercise rather than as an exciting and interesting activity.
Fluency is more than speed. A fluent reader has a natural rhythmic flow, without disruptions or hesitations. Fluent reading facilitates enjoyment and comprehension. Children love activities they can quickly and easily, without unnecessary struggle. Children lose interest in anything they consider slow or laborious. They are by nature individuals who need instant reinforcement. Reading needs to be done at a pace that maintains interest by keeping the story moving. When reading is slow, itís easy to lose the thread of a story between the start and end of a paragraph, and when the story is lost, there is nothing to engage the childís interest.
For a child to become a great reader, he or she must perceive reading as a source of pleasure. The material given to the learning reader must be brilliantly matched to the individual childís interests and reading level so that reading is both fluent and rewarding. Whether fiction or non-fiction, the reading material must be high-interest, exciting, and rewarding. Selecting such material means learning about the individualís particular enthusiasms. A good match of material to student results in an enthusiastic reader who knows that reading is exciting, and who will want to read independently.
Putting It All Together
Reading drives all academics. It drives comprehension of factual material, it drives imagination, visualization, appreciation of literature, and perhaps most importantly it drives development of vocabulary. Without an adequate repertoire of words and their meanings, even benefiting from classroom instruction can be severely inhibited. So the seven hours or so that a child spends in school each day are intrinsically tied to literacy, vocabulary, ideas, and meanings. None of this can reach its highest potential without strong reading skills.