Term Paper: Decoding: Identifying Improved Techniques

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[. . .] The automatization of word recognition generally comes after a long period of extensive reading practice (Nicholson & Tan, 1997). In their study, Nicholson and Tan investigated the automization of word recognition in 42 below-average readers, between 7 and 10 years of age. The subjects were given single-word training, phrase training, or no training. These researchers determined that trained children learned to decode target words quickly and accurately, using flashcards; by contrast, untrained children only discussed the target words and read them once. In this study, trained and untrained children read aloud passages that contained target words and were tested on their comprehension; they found that trained children had better comprehension than did the untrained children when questioned about passages and asked to retell them. These results suggest that an emphasis on rapid word recognition can benefit poor readers improve the decoding transition from sight to meaning (Nicholson & Tan, 1997).

The majority of studies to date have examined effective strategies for younger students and have generalized the effectiveness of this information to older students; consequently, funding is primarily provided to establish and research early intervention and elementary school programs (Moje, 2000). When this type of research is conducted, the studies frequently lack the components of reliable research, such as control groups, long-term intervention to show progress, consistency of instruction, and adequate subject size (Scheffel et al., 2003); however, the most consistent use of control groups and scripted intervention to date has been reported for reading and decoding programs (Alexander et al., 1991). In their book, Learning to Read (1991), Perfetti and Rieben confirm that understanding how children learn to read, and particularly how children are taught to read, continue to be problems of scientific interest and sustained pedagogical debate.

The fundamental question involved are fairly straightforward. How do young learners eventually come to make sense out of squiggly lines on a page? However, a number of further issues emerge from this simple question. When children learn to read, is it largely an extension of the already acquired language abilities to print, and if so, does a new type of code comprise this extension? If it does not, what is the precise nature of the new learning involved? "The questions multiply" (Perfetti & Rieben, 1991, p. vii) but fortunately, there has been considerable research progress in addressing some of these issues in the recent past. While it can be maintained that there is still insufficient credible theory concerning the acquisition of reading that is both specific in detail and developmentally sensitive to the long-range nature of the acquisition process, there has been a great deal learned about the basic processes that take place as part of learning to read.

To date, one of the most important findings has been that learning to read requires mastering the system by which print encodes the language (known as the orthography) (Perfetti & Rieben, 1991). In turn, mastering this element requires a child to achieve understanding of how the spoken language actually operates. "If the child is learning to read an alphabetic orthography, then this mastery specifically requires that the child come to appreciate, at some level, that the speech stream contains units that correspond to the orthographic units" (Perfetti & Rieben, 1991, p. vii). Nevertheless, in spite of these findings, the controversies continue long after the debate has been resolved empirically concerning whether children should be taught to decode and whether phonological awareness is significant. A number of reading specialists continue to be trained in the school of whole word instruction, as well as its extension into whole language; these types of approaches may be relevant and effective to the extent that they allow the principles of decoding, particularly the alphabetic principle, to be learned by the child; however, in some of their purest versions, these pedagogical approaches tend to ignore much of what has been learned in research on reading (Perfetti & Rieben, 1991).

As noted above, researchers on both the phonics-based and whole-language approaches to reading instructions have been at war over the course of many years. A truce of sorts in this regard has developed with recent research, such as Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998), which confirms that the teaching of reading requires concrete skill instruction, including phonics and phonemic awareness (awareness of the separate sounds in words), contained in enjoyable reading and writing experiences using authentic literature that facilitates the construction of meaning. This balanced literacy instruction unites the best of phonics instruction and the whole-language approach to teach both skills and meaning to meet the reading needs of individual children.

According to Itzkoff (1996), educators and parents naturally want children not merely to decode the visual graphemes (letters), to their sound equivalents, but also to create words and sentences out of them. "After all, we read to gain meaning from print, not merely to hear the sounds embedded in the letter combinations. Phonics instructions should give the child the easiest version of the regularity in sight to sound that exists in our written English" (Itzkoff, 1996, p. 37). In light of the widening gap in achievement in reading among poor and minority students and their white and middle-class counterparts, many educators are advocating a return or at least a renewed emphasis on phonics instruction. This current retreat "back to basics" is by no means a cure-all to the reading problems that afflict so many students. Phonics must not be taught as a separate "subject" area with an emphasis on drills and mere rote memorization and the key to effective phonics instruction is a balanced approach and attention to each child's individual needs (National Association for the Education of Young Children 1996).

In order to accomplish this goal, teachers must keep in mind several key points, according to Strickland (1998): First, teaching phonics is not the same as teaching reading; phonics is a merely a tool for readers to use. Second, reading and spelling require much more than just phonics; spelling strategies and word-analysis skills are equally important. Third, memorizing phonics rules does not ensure application of those rules; teaching children how to use phonics is different from teaching them about phonics. Fourth, learners need to see the relevance of phonics for themselves in their own reading and writing" (Stricland, 1998, p. 11). However, according to Itzkoff, phonics decoding to sound and then to words and meaning is not an instantaneous process. "Either listen to a five- or six-year-old read by this process or try to mimic this approach as an adult, and you will readily understand the basic drawback. It is slow going. Too often, the child will forget the words at the beginning of the sentence before she has finished decoding to the end, and therefore lose the general meaning of the entire sentence" (1996, p. 37). This is because young children have not developed the memory skills required to accomplish the smooth transition from seeing the word and understanding its meaning.

Procedures and Materials. According to McGuinness and McGuinness (1998), the creators of the Phono-Graphix approach to teaching children to read, learning to read is the most important thing children undertake during the school years. Learning to read allow children to share the information that others have written down. "It will allow him to share his own experiences with others, to put his questions, his beliefs, his thoughts and dreams on paper. It will offer him hours of enjoyment, decrease his likelihood of depression, unemployment, and low self-esteem" (McGuinness & McGuinness 1998, p. 1). Equally important to the student, learning to read is just one of those things that everyone else can do too that demonstrates capability to enter into the realm of the educated world (McGuiness & McGuiness, 1998). In their book, Reading Reflex, the authors point out that the Phono-Graphix to teaching children to read uses what they already know -- the sounds of language -- and teaches them "sound pictures" (or letters) that represent those sounds.

Phonographix (McGuinness, & McGuinness, 1998) is a newer program based on Orton-Gillingham ideas. When this approach is implemented with students ranging in age from 6 to 15 years, Phono-graphix instruction in one study resulted in significant gains in word recognition and word attack after 12 hours of intervention. Two years after the initial intervention, a survey of parents indicated that the subjects were no longer identified as learning disabled and all had improved grades (McGuiness, McGuiness, & McGuiness, 1996).

The theoretical underpinnings of Phono-Graphix are straightforward and sensible, a factor that may account for its rapid spread and popularity among teachers. The authors base the Phono-Graphix approach on the premise that the missing piece of reading instruction is code knowledge. This book is about how to teach a code and the best way for children to learn it. The code used in the book maps 26 symbols to nearly 40 sounds; there are a number of different ways to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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