Reading is one of two components that comprises literacy. It is a complex process that depends on an individual student’s abilities and skills to integrate six interdependent components of the process; phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, oral language and comprehension. This paper identifies and defines the above referenced components and presents their individual and interdependent relevance to the development of reading proficiency in students.
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In order to become a good reader, a student must show proficiency in all of the following reading process components; phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, oral language and comprehension. Whereas the desired outcome is for all students to become fully proficient in all of the above components, that is not always the case. A deficiency in one or more of these components can impact reading, however, varying degrees of proficiency in these skills is common, thus allowing students to compensate a weaker component by showing strength in the others.
Phonological awareness is critical for learning to read any alphabetic writing system (Ehri, 2004; Rath, 2001; Troia, 2004). The latter is important for children to acquire before their instruction about phonics begins. Our ability to hear and manipulate sounds within our spoken language is what defines phonological awareness. This includes having students separate oral language into syllable and individual phonemes and learning the distinctive sounds of the language the students are learning.
Research indicates that children proficient in this skills become better readers. Before they even commence to learn the letter of our alphabet, children begin to say the sounds in their spoken language. Activities that help develop phonological awareness skills in children provide practice with rhyme, beginning sounds and syllables. (from ILA, International Literacy Association), including the use of songs and tapping syllables. The preferred and ideal time to help students attain proficiency in their phonological awareness skills is when they are in pre-school, pre-K and kindergarten. An absence of these skills will only serve to delay their basic literacy skills as they struggle with reading.
Phonics is a method of instruction that consists of teaching the relationship between graphemes (letters) in written language and phonemes (sounds) in oral language and how to use this relationship to learn to read and spell. Phonics instruction is systematic when all the major grapheme– phoneme correspondences are taught and they are covered in a clearly defined sequence. (DES, 2006, p. 18).
Research indicates that phonics should be taught at an early age and in a systematic and structure way that is best preceded by phonological awareness. The underlying academic basis for students being taught phonics is so that they understand that all letters have a name and represent sounds in words. Some of the strategies utilized by effective teachers when teaching phonics include making and breaking words and chunking.
Phonics is relevant and a very important component of the reading process as it allows students to be able to decipher how to read words they have not encountered before. Their knowledge of the rules for phonics also helps students generalize from words they are familiar with in order to read new words.
“The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for” (Ludwig Wittgenstein 1953). This quote is a testament to the importance of vocabulary as a component of the reading learning process. Our vocabulary consists of the words we know the meaning of and understand when we hear or read them, receptive vocabulary, and when we speak or write them, expressive vocabulary. Students’ vocabulary repository improves and increases through their exposure to words they read and hear in the form of direct instruction from teachers or others. A good reader generally possesses a rich and varied vocabulary.
Students with a rich vocabulary foundation tend to better understand what they read, therefore increasing their comprehension and a resulting expansion of their vocabulary as well. The opposite occurs for students with a limited vocabulary foundation. Students thins about the meaning of words they’re reading, choosing appropriate meanings, recognizing figurative uses, and relating them to their background knowledge (Tompkins, 2017, p.40). Knowing the meaning of words influences comprehension because it is difficult to understand when the words being read don’t make sense (Tompkins, 2017, p.40)
“Fluency is the ability to read aloud with expression to demonstrate an understanding of the author’s message” (Department of Education and Training in Western Australia, 2004, p.30). Students become fluent readers when they recognize most words automatically and read quickly with expression (Tompkins, 2017, p. 40). According to Mc Kenna & Stahl (2009) the three key components of reading fluency are accurate word recognition, automaticity and appropriate rhythm and intonation of speech.
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Being fluent in reading is when a student is able to read quickly and accurately, thus making the process efficient. Speed is not the only metric in determining reading fluency, as reading fluency is also measured in the readers’ abilities to chunk words correctly into phrases, proper and correct reading intonation, appropriate pauses, and demonstration of punctuation at the end of each sentence. Measurement of the above components within fluency serves as an effective reading fluency assessment. Reading fluency is one of the most reliable predictors about a student being able to comprehend text. In fact, reading fluency has been called the bridge between decoding and comprehension (Chard & Pikulski 2005).
Comprehension combines reading with thinking and reasoning. It occurs when students are able to understand what they are reading once they have created meaning. To create meaning, they predict, connect, monitor, repair and use other comprehension strategies as well as their knowledge of genres, organizational patterns and literary devices (Tompkins, 2017, p. 40). Mastering of reading comprehension skills directly impact the effective of reading. Strong reading comprehension skills help in all the other subjects and in the personal and professional lives.
Students’ abilities to develop effective comprehension skills is fundamental to language fluency and necessary for their academic and lifelong success, Comprehension is required in every subject the student learn, thus making comprehension skills a critical component of a student’s academic advancement. Development of reading comprehension skills requires the commitment to a long-term strategy that comprises integration of and mastery of other reading skills areas that include phonics, fluency and vocabulary.
Oral language is how we use verbal words to share our knowledge, ideas and feelings. It also serves as the critical foundation for the development of students’ reading and writing skills during their school years. Oral language is integrated with reading and writing (Tompkins, 2017, p.17). Students will utilize oral language throughout their lives, including in all of their academic years with their peers and teachers in the classroom, as well as in their adult lives. A solid oral language foundation will not only facilitate students’ communication in their lives, but also help them become efficient readers and sound communicators, factors that help develop their self-confidence and esteem.
The oral language component within the reading process is activated when “Students talk with classmates, participate in grand conversation, give oral presentations and listen to the teacher read aloud” (Tompkins, 2017, p. 18). Again and again research shows that repeated exposure to rich language can help children become successful communicators, readers and writers (Simmons and Kameenui, 1998; Himmele, 2009). Student gain mastery of oral language skills, using speaking and listening informally in discussion and more formally in oral presentations (Tompkins, 2017, p. 20).
This information paper has only presented the tip of the iceberg about reading’s six components. The breadth and depth of the topic, in its fullest sense, warrants significantly more research in order to best represent it. Reading is an essential strand of literacy and one that requires the utilization of specific teaching and learning strategies if both the teacher and student are to be effective in their respective roles.
Proficiency in the six components in reading that include phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, oral language and comprehension is a must if the outcome as a proficient reader is desired. The desired outcome does not always occur. A void in one or more of these components can impact reading, however, varying degrees of proficiency in these skills is common, thus allowing students to compensate a weaker component by showing strength in the others. Reading is very much a part of our lives and one that cannot be overlooked as in the absence of its presence in an individual’s life, said person will not be able to fully enjoy a desired personal, academic and professional life.
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