Sunday, February 26, 2017

The 5 Components of Reading

A colleague once asked me about the creation of literacy centers.  What should they be?  What should they include?  I advised her to devise literacy centers that focused around the 5 components of reading.  After a brief conversation, it was apparent that there was confusion as to what the 5 components of reading were.

Before anyone can discuss balanced literacy, reading strategies, Reader’s Workshop, or Writer’s Workshop, it is important to understand what the components of reading are.  According to the Reading First Initiative, 5 essential components of reading were identified.  They include:
  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension
  • Fluency
Often confused is the difference between phonemic awareness and phonics.  Therefore, a basic breakdown has been given below.

Phonemic Awareness
A wise professor of mine once said that phonemic awareness can be taught in the dark.  What she meant is that, phonemic awareness simply concentrates on sounds.  The student is identifying an manipulating sounds.  An example of this would be, “What sounds do you hear in the word hat?” 

If the student possesses mastery, they would be able to respond, “/h/ /a/ /t/.”

When students begin identifying letters with sounds, they are then engaging in phonics instruction.  Both phonemic awareness and phonics instruction are relevant to kindergarten through second grade teachers, as well as teachers who work with struggling readers.  Although reading programs will touch upon phonics instruction in third grade, mastery is normally accomplished by the end of second grade.  If you are using Common Core, you will notice that the phonics standards sort of transition to word recognition-type requirements when the student reaches third grade.  Of course, practicing phonics skills through the upper elementary grade levels could be beneficial when supporting struggling readers.

Often neglected, and often taught in isolation, vocabulary is critical to comprehension.  If the student does not have the ability to understand the words, or derive meaning from context, they are not going to understand what they are reading.  Word-rich classrooms and strategic vocabulary instruction are very important during the scheduled reading block.

Ah, comprehension.  Numerous strategies and skills.  Teachers may feel that comprehension instruction is always lagging.  So much to teach, and never enough time to get it done.  I understand.  I have been there.  I remember at the end of each year, reflecting on the quality and quantity of my instruction wondering if I prepared my students with the strategies and skills needed to comprehend text and be successful, future readers.

If you are a reading specialist collaborating with others, you may often hear the infamous phrase, “The student is not comprehending the text.”  Comprehension is incredibly challenging for all readers.  With strategic lesson planning, researched reading strategies, continuous practice, and sound methodologies, people of all ages will find success.  A variety of texts and genres will help as well.  However, there are so many things that must happen in the brain in order for humans to comprehend, it is pretty impressive that we are able to do it at all.  Comprehension can be a challenge.  But, we have been doing it for centuries and will continue to do so. 

On another note, keep in mind that when it appears that the student is unable to comprehend the text, it could be difficulty in understanding and gaining meaning from the text.  However, more often than not, the student may not have mastered another component of reading that is preventing them from comprehending the text at the appropriate level.  If you have the luxury of working with a reading specialist, seek them out.  They will be able to assist you in getting to the root of the comprehension issue.

In order for students to comprehend, it is said that they must be fluent.  This rings true in many situations.  Poor fluency will lead to weakened understanding (comprehension) of the text.  If students are stopping to decode and figure out words too often, they will not be able to concentrate on what the meaning of text.  If they are making too many mistakes when reading (less than 95% accuracy), they may also struggle understanding the meaning of the text.  Note that some benchmark assessment kits may even require a higher accuracy score for the text level to be considered independent. 

There have been cases where I have seen student fly through a list of literal comprehension questions even with poor fluency.  They must have developed a coping strategy to allow them to comprehend what they are reading even if they are stopping at every third word.  I have often found that their level of comprehension will not go beyond the basic, literal comprehension question.  When answering higher-level, analytical, open-ended type questions, they will often falter.

Wrap Up
There you have it, the five components of reading.  If you live in NJ, or some other states in the nation, the Department of Education has also adopted Motivation/Background Knowledge as another essential component.  And in some instances, writing may have been thrown in there as well.

As you move forward, challenge yourself when planning and think about how you will connect these five components to help develop young readers.  How will this change the look of your lesson plan?  How will this change the lesson style and the way in which you teach children to read?  How will you change the way in which you communicate reading instruction?  They are all interconnected.  I encourage you to work with your colleagues, your reading coach, and your reading specialist.  It takes the expertise and experience of everyone to help children succeed.

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