I recently conducted a webinar, sponsored by DMG, titled No Component is an Island. The response to the webinar was fantastic. Over 800 people registered for the webinar. This indicated to me that the topic may warrant a little more attention – a continued conversation.
The components are ubiquitous in our world of reading. Reading programs, text books, university courses are designed around the five components. We think of reading within the big five, phoneme awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
As I have worked with teachers and administrators, everywhere, I have become increasingly aware of how often we isolate the components one from the other when we teach. We are not paying attention to research that has highlighted strong linkages, supportive relationships, between components. These relationships are highly suggestive of practical implications that can inform and strengthen our instruction.
No component is an island! The components depend upon each other; they share relationships that when addressed in our instruction help our students learn more quickly and develop stronger learning.
I am not suggesting that we stop isolating components. We isolate components when we assess and diagnose and plan instruction to target weaknesses – good practice. But are we considering the relationships that exist between the components which could make us stronger teachers and potentially strengthen our students’ learning?
Reading is a complex skill, no doubt about it! And we continually seek ways to simplify the complexities so that it all makes sense to us!
I would like to offer insight into how we can simplify and bring the research on component linkages into our lessons – after all, no component is an island.
Components are Linked
Charles Perfetti helped us consider the word beyond its meaning in his work on lexical quality (2007). Words have form and meaning. Word form includes phonological form, what it sounds like, and orthographic form, its spelling. Both of these forms are linked to meaning in our brains.
Word knowledge grows incrementally over time. Our personal mental lexicons, where we store our own unique collection of words and their meanings, is linked to our phonological lexicon, where those meanings are linked to what the words sound like.
The sound of a word is linked forever with its meaning and word meaning grows over time with experience.
Words also have a visual form – their spelling. The written form of a word is linked to meaning in our brains. We see a word in print. If that word is in our sight vocabulary, which means we instantly recognize it when we see the written word, we cannot help but read it and then simultaneously access meaning! To reach this level of automaticity with word recognition and instant meaning, a lot of decoding instruction and practice along with language development must take place.
Well, I’ve done a lot of thinking about this. What the research is telling me is that the components phonological awareness, phonics, and vocabulary are not isolated in our reading brains. They are interconnected components, supporting each other, feeding off of each other, forming neural connections with each other in order to access meaning when we read. So, what does this mean for us as teachers?
Here’s what we need to do to capitalize on this understanding:
- Teach the code. Our students must know how to decode, sounding out a word all the way through. It is through the decoding process that students build orthographic memories of words. This orthographic memory is forever linked to meaning as they read.
- Ask students to SAY aloud the vocabulary words they are learning. Ask students to compare similar sounding words and their meanings. Ask students to create word families that share the same morphemes such as construct, destruct, construction, instruct. Say words and write those words. Use the words in oral discourse and writing.
- When teaching vocabulary, draw attention to both the pronunciation and sounds in words and also the SPELLINGS of words. Point out spellings for sounds that may be hard for students to recall. Time spent on task translates to academic engaged time therefore, time spent discussing the sounds, spellings AND meanings of words is time well spent – time spent building connections and linkages that will make for strong memories!
- During decoding lessons, attend to the meanings of the words as students decode and read words. Be careful not to elaborate too much because the main focus in on decoding, but playing a simple game of Guess My Word or the Clue Game is a great way to engage students in reading the words they have just decoded in the lesson to find the word that will answer the question. For example, students are decoding words with the ai spelling for long A. After decoding a list of words, the teacher says, “I am thinking of a word that names a dog’s body part.” Students will know the teacher is asking for “tail”, but they have to find it in print first. What a great way to teach the components – decoding and vocabulary – together in the same lesson!
Once we begin to understand the support that these linkages afford to our learners, calling attention to them during our lessons can become habit. I included several video lesson examples of what these lionkages look and sound like with K-3 students and 4-6 students in my course, The Reading Teacher’s Top Ten Tools.
Perfetti, C. (2007). Reading ability: Lexical quality to comprehension. Scientific Studies of
Reading, 11(4), 357-383.
Shankweiler, D. (1999). Words to Meanings. Scientific Studies of Reading, 3, 113-127.
Tunmer, W.E. & Chapman, J.W. (2012). The simple view of reading redux: Vocabulary
knowledge and the independent components hypothesis. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45(5) 453-466.