What makes an effective literacy program?
As an adult, you already know how to read and write. You were given skills and tools in school to master reading and writing. These skills and tools came from a literacy program. A literacy program contains all the components necessary for you to master reading and writing. However, some literacy programs are more effective than others. Today’s students are expected to master the same skills that you did, but at an earlier age. Teaching children how to read and write are two of the hardest feats a teacher will be asked to complete. Having an effective literacy program helps teachers complete that difficult task effectively.
There are many different kinds of literacy programs out there, all of which use different components. Everything from individual teaching experience to popular educational theory can influence what components are used in a literacy program. But we feel that no matter what program is popular at the time, an effective literacy program should always encompass these six basic components: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and writing.
DataWORKS has created a Learning to Read English program which addresses all of these components.
1. Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear that a spoken word is made up of a series of discrete sounds. This is not just important in English, but phonemic awareness is critical for any language that has an alphabetic writing system. Phonemic awareness is an important component of a good literacy program for a few reasons:
- Teaching phonemic awareness allows for greater printed word recognition.
- Teaching phonemic awareness teaches children to identify, understand, and manipulate sounds in spoken words.
- Teaching phonemic awareness helps teachers recognize if students will have trouble with reading and spelling.
According to the National Reading Panel, the amount of phonemic awareness that a child has been exposed to before the start of school is a strong factor in how well that child will read by the end of first grade.
Phonemic awareness is also the precursor to phonics instruction. Phonemic awareness is a necessary component for phonics instruction to be effective because the students need to connect the units of the written word to the sounds in the spoken word. Phonemic awareness is also a vital component in a child’s success in learning how to read. The NRP suggests that including phonemic awareness is a necessary component in the process of teaching children how to read. The NRP states that those who promote the use of phonemic awareness believe that including phonemic awareness as a component in literacy programs may finally prevent the massive rehashing that English instruction goes through every five to ten years.
2. Phonics Instruction
Phonics instruction is teaching children that specific sounds belong to specific letters and letter patterns. Phonics instructions helps children recognize and associate the sounds of the letters and letter patterns in the words they read. Phonics instruction is a vital part of a literacy program for these reasons:
- Phonics instruction helps children decode words by recognizing the sounds that accompany letters and letter patterns.
- Phonics instruction increases fluency by helping children read more accurately and with ease.
- Phonics instruction helps with reading comprehension. When a word is pronounced correctly, it improves the understanding of the word.
- Phonics instruction helps children increase their everyday vocabulary. If children feel comfortable in the correctness of the word that they are saying, they will use it more often.
The NRP explains the goal of phonics instruction is to provide students with the knowledge and ability to use the alphabet to make progress in learning to read, write, and comprehend English.
Vocabulary can be defined as the knowledge of words and their meanings. The purpose of teaching vocabulary is for children to understand words and to use them to acquire and convey meaning. Vocabulary is an important component of a literacy program because the more words that a child knows and understands the more the child will comprehend when reading. Vocabulary is an important component in a successful literacy program because:
- Vocabulary knowledge increases comprehension, which is vital to a child’s ability to do well in school.
- A greater vocabulary increases a child’s ability to read and write with fluency.
A few ways to increase a child’s reading vocabulary is to have them learn high frequency words and have them read from a wide range of sources of both fiction and non-fiction.
Fluency is a child’s ability to effortlessly and correctly read, speak, and write English. Fluency in reading should include consistent speed, accuracy, and the use of proper expression. Fluency is achieved when a child is no longer focusing on how to read. Helping children read fluently is very important to a successful literacy program. Fluency is linked directly to comprehension, and once it is achieved, a student can start focusing on the meaning of what they read. Fluency can be achieved by using a literacy program that combines phonemic awareness, phonics instruction, and vocabulary. The NRP suggests that there is a commonality in fluency research, stating that fluency develops through lots of reading practice.
Comprehension refers to a child’s understanding of what they are reading. This not only includes reading, but also what is written. Having students attain comprehension of what they are reading and writing is very important. Comprehension is an important component of an effective literacy program for a few reasons:
- Comprehension is important to success in academic and personal learning.
- Comprehension is important to becoming a productive member of society.
- Comprehension is important in obtaining and maintaining a job and being successful in life.
The NRP explains that reading comprehension is not only important for academic learning, but for learning in all other areas of a person’s life.
Writing is the process of students generating text, whether on paper or on a screen. Some studies suggest that reading and writing are interconnected although they have been taught separately for years. Writing is an important part of a literacy program:
- For younger children, writing helps to reinforce phonemic awareness and phonics instruction.
- For older children, writing can help children understand the kinds of styles of text they read.
- Writing about what a child has read helps develop their reading comprehension skills.
Writing and reading strengthen and support each other, actively combining all the other components of a literacy program together.
An effective literacy program should encompass all six of these components. Each component is a piece of the puzzle that when assembled together in a coherent way results in a successful literacy program. DataWORKS has created a Learning to Read English program which addresses all of these components. Check it out!
This blog is the first in a series about literacy programs. Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at each component in an effective literacy program. The next blog in the series will be about phonemic awareness.