In early reading, children must use their ears, eyes and voices in a very focused way. Their attention, already scanning everything that moves in the environment around them must suddenly narrow down onto a page, an illustration and then onto the tiny squiggles of black ink that they are learning to decode and understand. Many children willingly take on the challenges of reading. Some learn to read effortlessly, but what about those children who cannot focus their eyes and ears and voices onto the page? Read on to discover how to support all learners, particularly the most disadvantaged and those with SEND, as every child needs to connect deeply with reading in order to access the curriculum. If, like me, you are passionate about helping every child to access the curriculum and to overcome their challenges with connecting to the text, click the link to get the FREE downloadable pdf checklist.
When writers convey messages through words, their readers receive those messages. For the development of reading comprehension, connections with the text should have been made between:
The words are the ‘messengers’ that provide the link between the writer and reader. Even though communicating through written language is complex, as it involves knowledge and skill, it is also an important form of social connection that people use every day of their lives. Reading with fluency and understanding therefore builds a child’s resilience, confidence and independence. Until the invention of the telegraph, people wrote letters to each other when they needed to convey an important message. Emails have replaced letters to a large extent, but reading comprehension is important for understanding many different forms of written language such as:
How many types of connection are there between the writer, the text and the reader?
According to Keene and Zimmerman’s book, ‘Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader’s Workshop’, published 25 years ago, there are three main levels of connection and these make the text more relatable and meaningful to the reader.
Text to text connections allow the reader to grasp the style of language being used, which may be formal and using jargon, or informal and using everyday language. Reading a wide range of different texts helps readers to adapt to a variety of styles of language use, and also supports fluency and comprehension.
For example, the first time someone reads an official letter from an authority, the formality of the tone, and the use of unfamiliar words and phrases might be off-putting. However, when a similar letter arrives one month later, it’s easier to make connections with the underlying message, because the reader has already adapted to this particular writing style, with its ‘professional’ tone and use of formal language. This is one example of how text-to-text connection speeds up the process of understanding the message conveyed by the official letter.
Text-to-text connections also allow the reader to pick up the structure of a story. For instance, when a reader returns to a novel and starts reading a new chapter, there is a sudden recollection of the plot and characters from earlier chapters. Text-to-text connections are made as soon as the information from the earlier chapters of the book spontaneously arrive in the reader’s mind and provide the background information for a deeper and more satisfying understanding of the new chapter.
Text-to-self connections enable a reader to feel personally invested in a narrative. This might happen because the details in the text are similar to the reader’s own day-to-day, or perhaps even their imaginary life. How many children wish that they could fly and then feel connected to their favourite superhero? Even more importantly, some children may discover lifelong fascinations or passions through making text-to-self connections during reading.
Text-to-self connections also make the text believable. Even if the book is futuristic and seems unreal in many ways, human experiences such as danger, love, hunger and even boredom can spark text-to-self connections.
Text-to-world connections provide the reader with a sense of time, place and context. For example, many of the Rosie and Jim stories start with ‘One sunny day….’ which would always be followed by a description of where in the world Rosie and Jim were, as well as why they were there. Even very young children can discuss these text-to-world connections when parents are reading to them.
Both older and younger children can benefit from text-to-world connections by linking new to existing knowledge. This opens up into a powerful learning pathway because the children experience reading as rewarding and intrinsically motivating, which is why many develop a thirst for learning.
Text-to-world connections also show the reader how things work.Take for instance, the difference between rubber balloons that children can blow into, versus helium balloons or even hot air balloons. In a text about these different types of balloons, the reader might already have a text-to-world connection, as well as a self-to-text connection about ordinary ‘birthday party’ balloons that can be inflated at home. The reader’s text-to-world connection expands very quickly as they learn that helium balloons contain a gas that is lighter than air, and that this gas causes the helium balloon to disappear up into the clouds if released into the air outside. The text-to-world connection develops even further as the child reads that large hot air balloons work by heating the air with a controlled flame to make it rise to such an extent that it can carry people in a basket below.
In early reading there are many different ways to support the development of reading comprehension, such as taking turns to read aloud, talking about what was read, extending vocabulary by introducing new words in context and drawing attention to different letters and sounds.
Here are some effective ways in which adults can support children’s early reading before, during and after the reading activity.
Before reading the text, ask questions about the title, the author and the book’s cover. Help the child to think about similar texts they may have come across - perhaps by the same author or on the same topic or featuring the same character. The illustration is likely to show the context for the story and this is similar to something the child may have already experienced.
During reading, check with the child that they are making connections with the text. Help them to monitor the messages in the text by discussing the meanings of key words and probe their text-to-self connections by asking them how they may feel in a similar situation.
After reading, ask the child further questions about the text to help them find deeper connections with their understanding of the setting. This may involve talking about the characters’ intentions and feelings and what might happen in the next chapter. They may even want to think about an alternative ending.
Word choices are the child’s solution to decoding - the words that ‘best fit’ the relationships between letters and sounds, the context and the grammatical structure of the sentence.
When a child is connected to the text, word choices are made more quickly and effectively. So a ‘text-to-world’ connection would allow a child to select ‘circus’ rather than ‘circle’, especially if the main characters in the story were, for example, acrobats.
Word choices based on connections to the text are also informed by the development of the text. Using likelihood to make word choices, based on connection to the text, is very different to a fundamental strategy of guesswork, in which children are usually correct between ten and twenty per cent of the time.
Prior knowledge is what the child already knows before reading the text. Prior knowledge develops every day of our lives and is more easily accessed when we feel relaxed and yet alert.
Children pick up prior knowledge through conversations as well as through media such as books, television, games and the lyrics of songs.
Even if a child has never been to the circus, they may have seen one on television, heard about another child’s visit, or even sung the song about ‘Nelly the Elephant’ (who belonged to a travelling circus).
Here are some tips, if a child makes an inappropriate word choice:
If you notice that the child frequently misses the ends of words, (also known as ‘suffixes’), this does not mean they are being careless! It means they are not processing the deeper grammatical structures of the text and may need support through a reading intervention that deepens their level of engagement.
Please see below where I’ve linked to related blog posts for further information about this.
Did you enjoy reading about the different types of connection that support children’s reading comprehension?
Would you like to put these ideas into practice?
Then, click here to get a FREE Reading Comprehension checklist.
Here are links to related posts about the deeper levels of language comprehension.
Visiting the library for the very first time - Share in the joy of a ten year old who has just discovered that reading is meaningful!
Virtuous spirals - This is a brief look at the differences between skilled and unskilled readers.
Ears, eyes and voices - This explores early reading and the importance of speech perception and the arcticulatory system.
The smarter you get, the slower you read,
says Naval Ravikant - a leading investor in the world of tech giants.
Yes, an appetite for absorbing the detailed content of a piece of text does lead to slower and closer reading. In fact, fluent reading is likely to vary in pace depending on the style of the writing. It’s a bit like driving in traffic. For conditions that demand sharp focus and concentration, we slow our driving down. Likewise, when we have more favourable conditions, we can drive with greater ease and enjoy the journey more. But no matter what the conditions are like, we don’t become reckless. We don’t lose control of any part of the driving. Let’s discuss this in relation to early reading, the development of reading fluency, and how it is taught.
The most proficient readers adapt their reading skills to match the text. In other words, being able to dial the reading speed up and down is a strong indicator of emerging reading fluency. Schools ensure that all children become confident fluent readers, so that every child can access a broad and balanced curriculum. Fluent reading underpins a love of reading and is an important skill for future learning and employment and it also enables children to apply their knowledge and skills with ease.
In the early reading phase, children learn to remember what they’ve been taught and to integrate new knowledge into larger concepts. In other words, children learn to coordinate different streams of information. This is a bit like learning to drive (for an adult), because many different elements need to be coordinated and practised until these become second nature - such as:
Fluent readers can:
In early reading, children who approach reading fluency without undue effort have coordinated their eyes, ears and voices:
Some of these channels of information are processed subconsciously and therefore at lightning speed. For example, the child’s lexicon (word bank) supplies the word that is the best match to the information on the page. The streams of information that contribute to the retrieval of a certain word are:
In the earliest stages of learning to read, as the child learns to processes information about letters and sounds, they do this relatively slowly and consciously, using the thinking part the brain. It’s important that children allow the knowledge that they acquire during phonics training to inform their recognition of words, because after a period of initial ramping up and practice, it’s vital that this skill becomes second nature and that the speed of processing rapidly accelerates.
Fluent readers can read quickly, accurately and with appropriate stress and intonation, which aids comprehension by freeing up cognitive resources sufficiently to focus on meaning. Therefore, after the children have achieved a secure knowledge of phonics, fluency becomes an increasingly important factor in the development of reading comprehension.
However, many children experience ‘bumps in the road’ when they’re learning to read. They may have some stronger and some weaker channels of information processing. If there are weaknesses in attention, phonological discrimination or visual discrimination, the child will not be able to coordinate the many different channels of information that contribute to fluent reading.
Reading word-by-word typically occurs among the lowest 20% of children: those who most need to improve in their reading. They need to refresh their attention for each word, as even reading an individual word can absorb all of their focus and attention.
Their fluency will not develop alongside that of their classmates and they will fall behind unless they receive an early reading intervention. Some teachers of reading assume that the skill of segmenting and blending phonemes is necessary for reading fluency to develop.
Actually, many children remain stuck at the ‘sounding-out’ stage of reading and do not become fluent readers, even though they know the correspondence between letters and their sounds. For these children, it’s likely that their attention is weak, and they lack the cognitive control to coordinate the various streams of information processing that support reading fluency.
Speed reading is measured in terms of how many words a person can read in one minute. This is known as words per minute (wpm).
Speed reading has been associated with having a higher level of intelligence, because people who read quickly are thought to consume more information and therefore become smarter. This association between speed reading and intelligence has led some teachers of reading to believe that reading faster is necessary for the development of good reading.
If building reading fluency were this simple, children with fast reading speeds would not -
Although speed reading might appear attractive as an idea, and it is likely that a good reader can read fast, reading fast in itself does not necessarily develop into good reading.
At the heart of this is a huge misconception:
If a child prioritises speed, they may learn to decode the print into words, phrases and sentences. But, they may not have engaged with the grammar of the text.
As discussed, encouraging a child to read for speed may do more harm than good. If a child is praised for reading fast, they are more likely to experience reading as unrewarding, boring, a waste of their time and pointless.
If a child is encouraged to slow down and to discuss what has happened in each sentence, they will engage with the text as meaningful, even if they struggle to read independently. This communicative approach shows the children that they are reading in order to learn. Therefore, interactions between an adult and a child that involve talking, reasoning and extending spoken vocabulary are highly valuable, and they have been found to have significant effects on the development of early reading.
When reading at home with their children, parents can easily adopt these communicative approaches. Reading aloud is a good way of developing vocabulary as well as expressive language skills. They might also encourage their child to notice punctuation, the development of the narrative and any dialogue in the text.
Click here to see the full list of reading fluency tips in the Reading with Fluency Checklist.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, and you’d like to find out even more about the development of reading fluency, keep reading….
Reading fluency and comprehension in 2020 - here I discuss the relationship between resilience and fluency in relation to reading speed.
Discover the heartbeat of reading- this post explores the importance of bringing the grammatical cues in reading into systemic alignment.
Rhythmic elements in reading: From fluency to flow - a flow state is associated with reading for pleasure and fluency is a key to unlocking a flow state.
There is no doubt that the foundation of a good education, with reading at its core, sets children up for later success. The importance of phonics is enshrined in education policy in England and lies at the heart of teaching children to become confident, fluent readers. However, young children are not naturally predisposed to hearing the smallest sounds of language (phonemes). Rather, they process speech as syllables strung together as meaningful phrases.
Phonemes are more difficult for some children to detect than syllables, and they particularly struggle with learning to read, as they are unable to detect the boundaries between individual words and syllables. Schools are expected to give all learners the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life and to pay special attention to the children who need to improve their reading (the lowest 20%).
Phonemic awareness and the ‘alphabetic principle’ need to be explicitly taught until they become automatic. And yet, unlocking stubborn barriers to phonemic awareness can take years, if relying upon conventional approaches. However, a simple solution - a segmenting and blending game, can support teacher effectiveness, thus enabling these children to access phonics teaching. And it can be used right from the start! This strategy may also protect them from falling behind their classmates. Read on to learn this playful approach and practise it with a FREE downloadable word list.
Segmenting is a skill that breaks sounds down, by drawing attention to them and allowing awareness of the smaller units of language to emerge. Words can be segmented into syllables, and syllables can be segmented into phonemes. Mastering this skill involves holding a word or a syllable in mind and then breaking it down into smaller sounds. Thus, a word such as ‘seashell’ can be initially segmented into two syllables, which are, ‘sea’ and ‘shell’.
Taking this to the next level in terms of detail, each syllable can be segmented into the smallest sounds of language, which are phonemes. There are two phonemes in ‘sea’, which are:
However, there are three phonemes in ‘shell’, and these are:
So, if we take the word, ‘seashell’ as a whole, we have segmented the word into five phonemes, which are: /s/ea/sh/e/ll/.
Some phonics methods use ‘onset and rime’ to develop the skill of segmenting. This approach is designed to sharpen children’s sensitivity towards the boundaries within syllables, whilst retaining a sense of the syllable as an individual sound unit.
When teachers use the ‘onset and rime’ method, they segment a syllable into only two parts:
Using onset and rime, ‘seashell’ would be taken syllable by syllable. Each syllable would be segmented into two parts.
Blending is the skill that involves building words up, either from syllables, or individual phonemes.
There is one simple difference. Segmenting involves breaking a word down into smaller units of sound, whereas blending is a reversal of the process.
The two approaches can be taught side by side. Both segmenting and blending skills are necessary for decoding longer words and shorter words. Let’s take a shorter word, ‘then’.
‘Then’ using a purely phonemic strategy would be segmented as /th/en/ and these sounds, if blended together make the word ‘then’.
Teachers need to guard against a visual strategy (in which the reader has visually decoded ‘the’ as a familiar word that they recognise mainly by its shape) as it wastes a lot of time.
‘Then’ using a partly visual strategy would be segmented as /the/n/ and these sounds, if blended together could make a nonword that would almost rhyme with ‘fern’.
Children need to recognise that /th/ on its own is a phoneme that can be blended with many other sounds.
In the onset and rime approach, /th/ can be blended as follows:
Let’s take a longer word such as ‘umbrella’- there are three syllables here and seven phonemes.
As this is a longer word, segmenting at the syllable level would be a more successful strategy. When a child segments at the phoneme level, each phoneme has equal emphasis. However, in the English language, longer words have unequal emphasis - with some syllables assigned a little more energy (in terms of intensity) vocal stress, and length (in terms of duration). IN the word ‘umbrella’, it is the second syllable that carries vocal stress.
Segmenting at the syllable level allows the child to hear more easily where the stress may fall in the word. The assignment of stress is very important for recognising a word and immediately understanding the meaning of the word in context. For example, the word ‘record’ carries the stress on the first syllable when it functions as a noun (first bullet point) and on the second syllable when it functions as a verb (second bullet point). The vowel /e/ is also subtly different.
Communicative approaches such as drawing attention to letters and sounds in early reading, combined with teaching effectiveness are strong predictors of pupils’ progress throughout school. And yet, for some children, a weak working memory means that manipulating sounds in real time is difficult because attention fades, before the child has:
And there may be a deeper resistance in the breaking down of words. A two syllable word, such as ‘sunshine’ represents a concept, vital for life, that is associated with similarly important one syllable words, such as ‘light’ and ‘sun’. For some children, who are more literal in their approach, segmenting a word may, for them, symbolise breaking down their experiential knowledge.
Although many children may enjoy pulling words apart and rebuilding them, there are some who may feel that a word cannot be segmented without being permanently ‘damaged’. For these children, the playfulness of segmenting and blending needs greater emphasis.
But fundamentally, this is not a trivial matter. If a child cannot read, they will not be able to access the curriculum and will be seriously disadvantaged. Phonemic awareness needs to be explicitly taught until it becomes automatic. So, here’s how to unlock blocked phonemic skills, that are vital for the development of blending and segmenting.Blending and Segmenting Game
This is a technique that has worked with mainstream children aged from five to seven years, as well as with older children in special schools, who are not progressing with phonics.
First start with blending:
This ‘game’ helps children to:
Would you like to have a list of two syllable words to use while playing this game?
Click here to receive a pdf of the Blending and Segmenting Game and a Wordlist.
Continue reading about the fascinating world of phonological processing.
When rhythm and phonics collide - discover the confusable features of certain phonemes and why rhythm brings clarity to this issue.
When rhythm and phonics collide part 2 - explore rhythmic and prosodic differences between consonant and vowel sounds
Conversations, rhythmic awareness and the attainment gap - a rhythm-based perspective on the influential Hart & Risley study of the ‘word gap’ between affluent and disadvantaged families.
Rhythm and probability underpin implicit language learning - this is about information processing in the first eight months of an infant’s life.
Early reading was hit hard by the pandemic and in this coming academic year we’ll see a real focus on narrowing an attainment gap between stronger and weaker early readers. Although children are taught the phonics skills that they need to read well in school every single day, reading at home with an adult builds the foundations for strong progress. Every child needs to make strong progress to read well, to develop their confidence as well as their enjoyment in reading. Read on to start the new term with good reading habits and get a FREE downloadable Good Reading Habits Checklist.
Good reading habits develop at home every time a child:
Good reading habits are easier to maintain, more rewarding and productive when:
Choosing the same time of day, every day, creates a strong and consistent reading habit.
The best times to open up the book bag are either straight after school with a drink and a snack or, first thing in the morning before getting ready for school (set the alarm clock!).
Reading at home is a bit like talking at home. It doesn’t need to be measured by time. Reading sessions can be spent talking about the pictures, the characters and the words in the book. By simply helping the child to enjoy reading, the time will fly by.
A child might need reassurance and plenty of encouragement to stay engaged with the book and to practise the words. And that’s absolutely fine! However, the main goal is to support the child’s reading skills. So spend at least ten minutes every day on reading and re-reading the words in the book.
Parents who read at the same time every day with their child set them up for success at school.
Anything new, noisy or shiny will distract a child from reading. Good reading habits are easier to maintain in a calm, quiet and gentle atmosphere.
Parents can avoid interruptions if they:
One of the biggest challenges at the beginning of the new school year is supporting children’s reading AND preparing food for the family.
Inevitable disruptions to good reading habits come around every year shortly after the beginning of term.
For instance, there are:
No, it’s not okay because the effects of falling behind in reading impact the rest of the child’s schooling. And parents need to avoid making this very common mistake:
There are clear advantages, as an early morning reading routine:
It’s fun to ask these questions, as they will give the parent a sense of their child’s level of curiosity and connection with reading a particular book.
A playful attitude, with parent and child ‘learning together’ helps the child to develop problem-solving skills and strategies, such as:
Sometimes, a phonics-based approach, which focuses on the sounds of words is something of a barrier for parents, particularly if they themselves had struggled to learn to read. I’ve seen very successful workshops in schools called ‘Family Phonics’. These workshops not only break down parents’ fears around phonemes, but also help parents and teachers to build wonderful collaborations for the benefit of the children. And everyone wins because we want all our children to become confident fluent readers!
Many teachers and parents use a reading record or a reading diary. This records the number of times the child reads to the parent and the teacher. It’s a vital tool as it proves that at home and at school there is enough input to keep the children’s reading development on track. Remember to put a pen or a pencil in the book bag to make it easier to make updates every day.
Many parents and teachers use star charts or stickers to encourage desired behaviour from children. However, reward systems are more powerful when they are reserved for unexpectedly good behaviour. Reading is a necessary life-skill. It’s like brushing your teeth. It should be part of the daily routine.
The closeness between the parent and child whilst reading at home IS an important factor. But there are also many invisible rewards of good reading habits that last a lifetime:
If you enjoyed this post, click here to receive the Good Reading Habits Checklist. it’s FREE!
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