You may have heard the term “science of reading.” But what is it really? In the 1970’s, scientists were interested in studying reading. Neuroscientists had new tools like eye-tracking technology to study what happens in the brain when people read. Eye tracking technology showed scientists what the eye does when it reads. They learned that strong readers rely on the letters and their sounds to read words; they do not rely on context clues like pictures.
So how exactly does a new reader become a strong reader? In 2001, Dr. Hollis Scarborough, a psychologist and literary expert created Scarborough’s Reading Rope, which shows us which skills must be present and wind together like a rope for skilled reading to occur.
1. Phonological awareness. This is an umbrella term that includes word awareness, syllable awareness, onset rime awareness, and phonemic awareness. In short, it is the understanding that words are made up of sounds and the ability to identify and manipulate these sounds. We’ll go more in depth on phonological awareness next week as there is SO much to talk about and learn, especially when it comes to helping your young reader at home.
2. Decoding. Young readers use phonics and letter-sound knowledge to sound out words.
3. Sight recognition. I’m sure you’ve heard of “sight words,” but do you know what they are? Maybe you think they are words that occur frequently in text but need to be memorized because they can’t be sounded out. Hate to burst your bubble, but you’d be wrong. Don’t feel bad about it, though, because I can pretty much guarantee you that every parent (and teacher) has thought this before. So what is a “sight word” really? According to David Kilpatrick, author of Equipped for Reading Success, a sight word is a familiar written word that is recognized instantly, automatically, and effortlessly, without sounding it out or guessing. Adults have 30,000 - 70,000 words in their sight word vocabulary. Additionally, the words we think of as “sight words” only have one or two irregular parts to remember. We’ll go into more depth on sight words in another blog, but the important thing to know is that they DON’T need to be memorized.
4. Background Knowledge. Students need to know about different topics to be able to make sense of what they read. This can come from reading together, but it can also come from going places like libraries and museums and talking about them. Background knowledge is essential to skilled reading, which can be illustrated from the baseball study explored in Natalie Wexler’s book The Knowledge Gap. In the baseball study, researchers studied two groups of readers and tested their reading comprehension on a passage about baseball. Half were strong readers with little knowledge about baseball while the other half were poor readers with lots of knowledge about baseball. Who do you think did better? If you’re like me when I first heard about this and thought it was the strong readers, you would be wrong. Background knowledge is key.
5. Vocabulary. Vocabulary allows new readers to make meaning out of the words they decode.
6. Language Structures. Young readers need knowledge of syntax, that is the order and pattern of words in sentences and semantics such as the meanings of prefixes and suffixes.
7. Verbal Reasoning. Young readers can make predictions about what they are reading.
8. Literacy Knowledge. This is where readers have a concept of print and how it works. That is, we read left to right and top to bottom. There are spaces between words. They can count the number of words in a sentence, recognizing separate words.
When all 8 of these threads are woven together, we get skilled reading. Now, I challenge you to discover which strand your child struggles with. Share it with us in the comments below, and I’ll share ways to improve it.