Research is showing that children’s early literacy experiences need to include a balance of diverse activities and experiences. Reading is a complex process that involves both learning to decode texts and learning to make meaning from texts (Winch et al., 2014) and is imperative for children’s early literacy experiences. Effective literacy instruction requires a combination of phonics and whole language teaching including the explicit instruction of phonemic awareness, phonics, concepts of print, vocabulary and comprehension and fluency in a motivating and supportive environment rather than just the single approach (National Reading Panel, 2000). This essay will argue Students who are effectively taught a balanced approach to reading will have a broad range of strategies to develop into more proficient readers and be able to decode and comprehend text.
Learning to read is one of the most imperative educational outcomes of primary education. The ability to read is fundamental to children’s learning, including their development of broader literacy skills. Reading is a multifaceted process that builds on oral language and includes both phonemic (bottom-up approach) and whole language (top-down method) skill sets. Balanced reading is a blend of these two phonics and whole language. Researchers insist that children need training in both phonemic awareness where they acquire an awareness of individual sounds, and in whole language where they learn to decode the text and comprehend the material. There are five components essential to the balanced approach: phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2000). Research reviewed by the National Reading Panel revealed optimal learning when the five important components of a reading program are taught explicitly, systematically and consistently and students are taught how to understand and are given basic strategies on how to use the structure of language and construct meaning from various texts. Students read alone, are read to, and read with others daily. A variety of language experiences help students develop their language development and connect oral and written language.
Oral language delivers the basis for learning to read and is related to general reading achievement throughout primary and secondary schooling. Oral interactions help to shape a child’s vocabulary knowledge. Research shows that the number and the variety of words that children are exposed to are linked to literacy achievement later in life. When children are surrounded by, and included in, rich and increasingly multifaceted conversations, their vocabulary increases, the complexity of the language structures they use broaden and they become language risk takers and develop confidence in the way they communicate. Teaching the children oral language and giving them the tool to use it as a strategy is the foundation for learning to read.
Phonological awareness is a vital part of becoming literate. Research supports the theory that the most important part of learning to read and write is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds that makeup words. Without the ability to hear, manipulate and connect sounds to letter-symbols, learners are disadvantaged. As Fitzsimmons (1998) states, “The research is clear and real, and the evidence is unequivocal: Students who enter first grade with a wealth of phonological awareness are more successful readers than those who do not”. Phonological awareness helps children understand the alphabetic principle. This makes it possible for students to make connections to words, context, that are only partly sounded out. Once children learn to divide syllables into separate sounds and manipulate them to form different words, letter-sound relationships can then be introduced, and children can be taught phonemic and phonics skills simultaneously from this point. Phonemic awareness is a vital part of a balanced approach as helps children to find, understand, and manipulate sounds in spoken words. However phonological awareness itself is not a complete reading program and cannot guarantee a success in reading. People will argue that phonological awareness has minimal or minor instruction about speech sounds, has not enough instruction in separating and blending the sounds in a whole word.
Phonics includes distinguishing the connection between letters and sounds, sometimes called the ‘alphabetic principal.’ The Report of the National Reading Panel (2000) explains that phonemic awareness instruction and phonics instruction are extremely valuable for students learning to read. The ability to see the relationship between sounds and the letters that represent them (graphemes) is at the core of reading an alphabetic language. The main objective of phonics instruction is to help children quickly establish the sounds in unfamiliar written words. When children stumble new words in texts they use the strategies of phonics to decode and understand. A knowledge of the relationships between letters and sounds is vital for decoding words which, in turn, is critical for reading. The most successful method of teaching phonics is synthetic phonics. In synthetic phonics, children are taught to sound and blends from the beginning of reading instruction, after a few letter sounds have been taught Synthetic phonics works because it is systematic and successive; it recognises that certain skills or concepts need to be taught before others, and therefore skills are taught in a specific sequence. Louisa Moats Foreword by Chester E. Finn, Jr., and Martin A. Davis, Jr argue that children who are asked to pay attention to the meaning of a sentence before guessing at a word from context and the first letter; “sounding out” the whole word reduce the importance given to it.
Fluency is the skill to read fast and naturally with accuracy and expression. Fluency includes the skill of automaticity which allows a child to distinguish words quickly. For students, achieving automaticity in reading is vital to becoming effective readers. When reading skills have developed to a point of automaticity students no longer need to use their working memory to decode, and they can use that memory for comprehension. Although fluency alone is not adequate for high-levels of reading achievement, it is significant because it provides a link between decoding and comprehension. Fluency builds on phonemic awareness and decoding skills. Fluent readers can decode words fast and precisely, allowing them to turn their attention to the meaning of the text. Poor automaticity can lead to confusion or misinterpretations of the text, making fluency an important skill for text comprehension. Research in this area has examined several instructional approaches: modelling oral reading, repeated reading, and independent silent reading. Fluency is achieved when combined with phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary. An opposing view is that students learn to read by reading, not by instruction on specific skills.
Vocabulary plays a vital part in word recognition. Beginning readers use knowledge of words from speech to recognise words that they come across in print. When children ‘sound out’ a word, their brain links the pronunciation of a sequence of sounds to a word in their vocabulary. If they find a match between the word on the page and a word they have learned through listening and speaking, and it makes sense to them, they will keep reading. Vocabulary, therefore, becomes an important element for effective reading instruction. Biemiller states: Teaching vocabulary will not guarantee success in reading, just as learning to read words will not guarantee success in reading. However, missing either sufficient word identification skills or suitable vocabulary will ensure. Strategies for successful vocabulary instruction include: how to use word parts (e.g. suffixes, prefixes and base words) to figure out the meanings of words in the text; and how to use context clues to determine word meanings. Consistent and frequent exposure to new vocabulary words is important. Several studies have found an association between repeated readings of stories and improvements in vocabulary in preschool and primary school students.
Comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read. To be able to accurately understand written material, children need to be able to first decode what they read and then make connections between what they read and what they already know. Comprehension requires having a sufficient vocabulary and is vital for students to be able to recognise what they read, it also helps them to remember what they read and communicates with others about what they read. Comprehension is highly reliant on a child’s other reading skills, such as decoding and vocabulary. Students cannot understand a text if they cannot read the words and give meaning to it.
As children read they use several strategies that allow them to consider information from different sources to construct meaning. These sources of information are broken into three groups known as the cueing systems. These cue systems are semantic, language, and graphophonic. Semantic Information signifies the meanings in the text and in the mind of the reader. It includes word meanings, subject-specific vocabulary, figurative language and meanings presented in images (G. Winch, p32 2010)”. Children will often use these cues when they are considering ideas, information, and feeling in the text. Semantic information aids them to call on their previous knowledge to read fluently and comprehend the text. When a reader can link a new text to everything that they already know about the topic they have the best chance at effective reading comprehension (G. Winch, 2010). Grammatical Information relies on the reader’s knowledge of language and the way it works. As teachers, it is essential that we prepare our students with the knowledge of language and grammar. When a student is at a stage where they can interpret how a sentence should be structured and how different words work to achieve meaning in a text, they are able to maintain fluency in their reading and predict the word that may appear next in a sentence (G.Winch, 2010). Phonological-graphical information means the sounds of spoken language and language in print. Phonological information signifies concepts such as sounds in words, rhyme, syllables, onset, and rime, while graphical information includes knowledge of letters, letter clusters/blends, concepts about print, such as spaces between words, directionality, and punctuation. Once a student is these strategies they can use both semantic information and graphical information to guide their de-coding of text. Researchers believe a balanced-literacy approach avoids straightforward and systematic teaching of the alphabetic code. Children are taught to rely on contextual predicting, picture clues, and patterned or repetitious language to recognise words.
Decoding is the procedure of converting print into speech by quickly linking a letter or combination of letters (graphemes) to their sounds (phonemes) and knowing the patterns that make syllables and words. Share (1999) convincingly describes how decoding skills are supported by vocabulary, syntactic and semantic understandings. Speece and Cooper (2002) report a connection between early semantic skills and reading comprehension in their study of the connection between oral language and early reading. Decoding is vital because it is the basis on which all other reading instruction builds. If children are unable to decode words their reading will lack fluency, their vocabulary will be restricted, and their reading comprehension will suffer. Explicit, systematic and multi-sensory phonics instruction produces effective decoding skills. Phonics can be taught both implicitly or explicitly. Implicit phonics begins with a whole word and then looks at beginning sounds, ending sounds and context clues. Explicit phonics does the reverse by building from a single letter to a word.
As part of explicit instruction, students’ reading skills should be observed and assessed frequently, especially in the early. In the Australian National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, the committee recommended that the teaching of literacy throughout schooling be informed by comprehensive, diagnostic and developmentally appropriate assessments of every child. Assessment of children in the early years of schooling is of significant meaning in teaching reading. Monitoring and assessment should recognise strengths and areas for improvement in children’s knowledge, skills, and understanding. Reading instruction should then be adjusted based on results to ensure instruction meets different students’ needs.
Teaching the students, the six elements of a balanced approach can be done through several ways, teachers are able to modal the key strategies needed to show the children how to develop into more proficient readers through, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading. Shared Reading, is where the teacher models and support students. Generally, the teacher reads for enjoyment first then later, the teacher may focus on theme, title, cover, illustrations, and predictions. Significantly, it is during this type of reading that student contribution is strongly encouraged. Language concepts are emphasised, and in this way, typical phonics/grammar knowledge is strengthened. Guided Reading is an instructional reading strategy during which a teacher works with small groups of children who have similar reading processes and needs. The teacher selects and introduces new books carefully chosen to match the instructional levels of students and supports whole text reading. Independent Reading time, when students choose their own appropriate books. Here, they can apply the cue systems and decoding strategies that they have learned during Shared and Guided Reading.