Thursday, January 01, 2009

The 3 Parts of Reading

Reading has three INTEGRAL parts and all are necessary, these are not presented in any order:

  • Phonics
  • Sight Words
  • Contextual
Phonics are the pieces of the puzzle, the sound components that make up words. Speech alone is only 1/2 of phonics. Its the association with the spoken sounds to the letter or letter combinations which make up the written word.

When the brain (and in the case of people who were very early exposed to reading -- meaning seeing the words while being read to at a very early age, the BRAIN associates these phonetic letter combinations and many sounds for one letter -vowels- into the subconscious.)

Phonetic reading in the beginning when taught to children in a methodical way is mechanical, (this is the typical 5-6 yo) but as the brain experiences the relationships, it comes to a point when it becomes automatic and it is done lickety split. Its true that as adults after reading for a long time, we no longer use this mechanical process until we come to a contextual or unknown word.

Once a word is learned, it moves over into the sight words bank of KNOWN words.

Sight Words are words that are either memorized, learned through phonetic means or learned through a contextual process -- even if only learned as a word on a card and memorized by sight with its vocal pronunciation they are all ways in which the brain maps these words. As we are exposed to books, reading and the symbols of things, this supply of known Sight Words grows.  The more we read, the larger this Sight Words Bank becomes over time.  Even if the phonemic code is never directly taught, it is subliminally recorded in the brain. Eventually this phonemic coding is accessed when words are looked up in the dictionary, where we see yet another set of symbols to aid with the phonemic code to sound out the word. In the effort to learn to write the rules of spelling also come into play.

Contextual is where we guess the meaning of a word based upon the place we encounter it. The essence of the meaning is derived from the context in which it is used. We also guess the pronunciation of a word, and depending upon how many words are in our 'sound bank'  we do apply some sense of phonics -- whether it is mechanically or experience taught, our brain does eventually map a phonetic code. How strong or weak it is also depends upon the amount of reading experience the learner has had. As more experience is gained then the ability to sound out new words increases.

When this happens we don't know HOW to read the word, but we typically SOUND it out phonetically with the code as our brain understands it.  As we re-encounter this new unknown word, it eventually also moves into our Sight Words bank, because the meaning is applied. Eventually to pronounce it right becomes refined through the process of hearing others saying the word correctly, reading a dictionary to learn the meanings of the word and a code which describes the phonetic or correct sounds for the word. It is through this process these that Contextual words  also become KNOWN and move into the Sight Words Bank.

I'm not saying that there is any ORDER of these three, with which we must learn to read.  However, everyone DOES learn through these three parts of reading.

ALL THREE are needed.

Bottom line, the more practice in the process of reading, the easier and more second nature reading becomes. 

In my experience, I've encountered cases where as children, adults never learned to read good until they got a good dose of being INSPIRED to read.  We know that it is through being inspired one becomes motivated to overcome any obstacle in achieving a goal or means to an end.

In the case of reading, I know of adults who didn't read well at all in school and avoided all reasons to read, especially refusing to ever read out loud. But finally decided to participate in their read-alouds. By so doing their children were learning to read, but the parent found that their inability to read well diminished. It was through this process of taking their turn they discovered they became rather fluent verbal readers.

I will say that the best way to improve personal reading ability is through reading out loud! IN addition to reading books, The McGuffey Readers are also great tool -- they include instruction for elocution in reading, where the rules for emphasis are applied etc.  I highly recommend them to parents to study and practice their reading -- or for students who ask for help in improving their reading! 

McGuffey Third Reader is on Emphasis.
McGuffey Fourth Reader is on Articulation: Vocal, Sub-vocals and Aspirates

I'm a believer that the older a child is who is learning to read, the more mechanical it is and more effort or work it takes for the brain to learn the process. -- Its not that it can't be done, or that it has to be done earlier, but in the ideal situation, because of brain development -- it is actually more natural for the brain to learn the process of reading at around age 3 -- it is an optimum time because of the way the developing brain works.

90% of a child's brain is developed by age 5.

The synaptic activity by age 5  is 1/4th it once was at birth to age 2.5.  So its in this earlier window where LESS EFFORT is required for the brain to learn the association of written word to sound through input visual, auditory and kinesthetically (verbally) and as fine motor skills develop later then written to get it from the brain back out again.

Its important to be aware that there are distinct and developmentally appropriate methods for teaching reading to babies. Do not subject children younger than age 6 to the traditional mechanical methods (used in school) when working with a very young child. Older children 6+ must learn through a mechanical process because basically what is happening is having to re-map the brain, through the existing synapses now that the brain is mostly formed, this is why many children have difficulty learning how to read, are often labeled as having a reading disability when in fact they DO NOT! To apply the process of learning to read as a blanket to all children, should be at a specific level at a certian age is like saying all children at 12 months should be walking or they're 'behind' > which is obviously an absurd belief.

The Very Young Child (birth to age 3) forms the synapses very naturally and easily. The older one is when they learn to read, the more work it takes.....and we all know the bottom line to motivate learning to read when they're older is through inspiration -- the learner MUST have the DESIRE in order to learn it.

Think of adults who DECIDE they must learn a Foreign language. 

The process for learning that new language is done through a methodical and mechanical way. Think of older children who are not yet reading well, or fluently -- they MUST WANT to read, in order to be motivated to do the necessary work to learn to do so.  They can and they will once they decide that the need to do so, their focus on the process is amazing once they get the VISION of the blessings of being fluent readers.