Skills Needed For Reading
Four essential skills needed for reading are:
- Eye Control: so you can focus both eyes on the same letter and then track across the page.
- Phonological Awareness: so you can hear that words are made up of sounds.
- Phonics: to translate letters into sounds.
- Vocabulary: so you can understand what you’ve read.
Reading fluency and comprehension will follow once these skills, particularly eye control and phonological awareness, are mastered.
To read fluently you need to be able to focus both eyes on the same letter, and then track across the page.
Focusing both eyes on the same point is a skill that develops from birth, starting with a baby focusing on their mother when they are feeding. It then develops through crawling, then though playing outside - throwing and catching balls; climbing trees etc.
As our lifestyles have changed, and children spend far less time outside playing, the number of children with focusing problems (called convergence insufficiency or binocular vision problems) has greatly increased.
If you don’t focus both eyes on the same letter your brain receives two images simultaneously. This is confusing and makes it hard to keep your place. It can also make the text appear blurry or to move.
Once you have good focus you then need to be able to track smoothly across the page. This skill is not a natural developmental milestone, but is something that is mastered when you learn to read. However first you need to be able to focus both eyes on the same letter.
Symptoms of poor eye tracking include reversing b’s and d’s, and skipping words and lines when reading.
Playing Engaging Eyes improves both focus and eye tracking.
Phonological awareness is the ability to hear that words are made up of sounds. For example hearing that both ‘mad’ and ‘dog’ contain a ‘d’ sound. Hearing that ‘goat’ contains three sounds ( g-oa-t ). Being able to tell if ‘paper’ contains a short a (‘a’ ) sound or a long a ( ‘ay’ ) sound.
Children with poor phonological awareness just hear words as one sound. They can’t hear that goat contains three sounds, and they can’t hear that goat contains a long o sound. Therefore teaching them how to pronounce the letters ‘oa’ doesn’t help them read the word ‘goat’.
Children who start school with poor phonological awareness are likely to always struggle with reading. A phonological awareness intervention (like Fluency Builder ) is the most effective way to improve their reading.
Phonics refers to teaching children how to pronounce letters, or groups of letters ( graphemes ), and then how to blend these sounds together to form a word. E.g. blending g-oa-t into ‘goat’.
There are over 100 graphemes in the English language.
Learning to read via phonics is not simple, as lots of sounds in English have multiple ways they can be written E.g. all these graphemes can be pronounced the same way: oa (goat), o-e (bone), oe (toe), ow (grow) and o (over). Also lots of graphemes can be pronounced in multiple ways. E.g. ow can be pronounced two ways: cow and crow.
When reading via phonics you need to try all the different sounds a grapheme can make until you find the one that makes sense.
As hard as it is to learn to read with phonics, there are no easier alternatives.
However most phonics programs don’t include enough phonological awareness activities. They assume you can hear that ‘goat’ contains three sounds. Therefore it’s a good idea to combine a phonics program with a phonological awareness program.
English does not have a one to one mapping from graphemes to sounds, so you can’t always pronounce a word just by blending the graphemes. You often need to know the word in order to be able to read it.
Some words can be said different words depending on the context, like read / read, wind / wind.
And many graphemes have multiple pronunciations. E.g. cow / crow. If you don’t know the word ‘crow’, there is no way to tell from reading it how to pronounce it.
Therefore vocabulary is important for reading - and of course it is vital for understanding what you’ve read.
Dyslexia and Struggling Readers
If a child is struggling with reading, and they have had good quality phonics teaching, then it is most likely poor eye control and poor phonological awareness which is holding them back. Almost all children who are behind in reading have both poor eye control and poor phonological awareness.
If a child reads very slowly for their age, it is most likely due to poor eye control.