The Five Pillars of Reading
Just like a house needs strong support and foundation, developing literacy skills in young learners requires the Five Pillars of Reading. Recognized by the National Reading Panel as the “best approach to reading instruction,” these pillars include:
- Phonemic awareness
Backed by studies and scientific research, these five pillars make up the essential building blocks of reading. And by combining these techniques, teachers and parents can effectively introduce the concept of reading and language.
Here is a closer look at how the Five Pillars of Reading work to ensure successful reading instruction:
Phonemic awareness refers to the knowledge and understanding that words are built from and can be broken apart into smaller segments of a sound called phonemes. Phonemic awareness is one’s ability to hear, recognize, and manipulate sounds heard in words- think of it as the ears to brain connection.
Phonemic awareness can be taught even before a child learns to read or identify printed letters. When babies are born, they are processing phonemes when parents speak and sing to their bundle of joy. In the English language, phonemic awareness means being able to identify its approximately 44 phonemes. Additionally, teaching letter sounds with letter names is an effective way for students to grasp the concept of phonemes.
Whereas phonemic awareness refers to one’s ability to recognize sounds or phonemes in words, phonics mastery means understanding that letters (graphemes or printed letters) of the alphabet represent sounds (phonemes)- think of it as the ears, eyes, and brain connection. A child who has mastered phonics can sound out new or unfamiliar words on their own. The child is “cracking the code” and is receiving feedback by listening to oneself sound out words.
Teaching phonics is all about establishing the relationship between sounds and printed letters or printed letter combinations. Starting with the printed letter-sound correspondence, a child then learns how to match sounds to letters and uses this relationship to understand printed words.
Vocabulary refers to one’s understanding of words, including their definitions and context. Vocabulary is broken up into oral (speaking), understanding (listening), and print (reading vocabulary).
Needless to say, vocabulary is crucial in strengthening reading comprehension and fluency. In most instances, poor vocabulary can limit and interrupt a child’s learning and reading experience. And while it can grow naturally from daily reading and conversations, it is just as important to explicitly teach and expand vocabulary.
Strategies in teaching vocabulary can include word mapping (graphic display of words/concept relationships), word substitutions, semantic relationships (how words are related), acting out meanings, and focusing on word structure (root words and its derivations).
Learners achieve fluency when they recognize and read words with accuracy, intonation, fluidity, and speed, whether while reading aloud or silently to oneself. Hence, fluent readers are able to read automatically without needing to pause to decode words or look up definitions.
Fluency plays a key role in comprehension and is essential in keeping young learners motivated. When children are reading fluently, it frees up mental resources to allow them to improve their comprehension of what they are reading.
When developing reading fluency, it is crucial to provide a child with frequent oral reading opportunities and to monitor progress. This involves reading out loud while being guided and receiving feedback from an adult. It is important to provide the student with opportunities to self-correct. This combination of consistent practice and regular feedback is critical in promoting fluency.
The ultimate goal for literacy is to comprehend well what one is reading. Reading comprehension enables a child to predict outcomes, evaluate characters, deduce, and make connections to real-world events.
A child’s comprehension skills can begin to develop before becoming an independent reader. One way to do this is by reading to a child and discussing the story’s main idea, characters, and setting. Explicit teaching, modeling, and guided practice of comprehension skills are also crucial. This is especially true for students whose reading comprehension skills lag behind their peers.