Introduction to SSP - Module 2 transcript

Hello. Let’s dive into module two and look at the framework for evidence-informed reading instruction. This is the simple view of reading. You have likely seen it before and heard about it, but I’ll run through it for you.

[The slide shows a diagram divided into four quadrants. The x-axis is labelled ‘Word recognition processes’ and runs from ‘poor’ on the left side of the axis to ‘good’ on the right side of the axis. The y-axis is labelled ‘Language comprehension processes’ and runs from ‘good’ at the top of the axis to ‘poor’ at the bottom of the axis. The top right quadrant is labelled ‘Good word recognition; good language comprehension’. The bottom right quadrant is labelled ‘Good word recognition; poor language comprehension’. The bottom left quadrant is labelled ‘Poor word recognition; poor language comprehension’. The top left quadrant is labelled ‘Good language comprehension; poor word recognition’.]

It was first proposed in 1986 by Gough and Tunmer, yes that long ago, and it says that reading comprehension is made up of really good language comprehension and sound word recognition processes.

Now, let’s not misunderstand. Word recognition doesn’t mean that children have 150 sight words by the end of the Foundation year. It’s about how they are able to automatically lift words from the page to decode. Now that doesn’t come about by viewing words as whole words and whole units. It actually comes through the alphabetic principle, which we are going to look at in the next module.

The simple view of reading still holds true despite its age. Just like that evidence from those reading panel reports, we can rely on it as a great source of a framework for us to think about reading instruction.

It was further expanded in 2001 by Hollis Scarborough.

[Image: the many strands that are woven into skilled reading (Scarborough, 2001) The skills

  1. Language comprehension – becomes increasingly strategic:
  • Background knowledge (facts, concepts, etc)
  • Vocabulary (breadth, precision, links, etc)
  • Language structures (syntax, semantics, etc)
  • Literacy knowledge (print concepts, genres, etc)
  1. Word recognition – becomes increasingly automatic:
    • Phonological awareness (syllable, phonemes, etc)
    • Decoding (alphabetic principle, spelling–sound correspondences)
    • Sight recognition (of familiar words)

Skilled reading

Fluent execution and coordination of word recognition and text comprehension]

Scarborough has shown us that there are many strands of this rope around learning how to read.

We can see we have language comprehension at the top and word recognition at the bottom. Language comprehension is about so much more than just vocabulary; background knowledge is critical. Language structures, verbal reasoning, literacy knowledge, all of those things that we’ve known to be good practice around this area, they are still good practice.

Where our thinking has shifted quite a bit though is in this word recognition part. Now in the early years the evidence is pretty clear that the child’s capacity to understand what they read comes predominantly from their decoding. That is because children come to school with (for the most part) the language skills required to understand the level of text that they are accessing. So, while we want to support the top of the rope, it is the bottom of the rope where we need to spend most of our time.

We can see there are three strands in word recognition: phonological awareness that does include phonemic awareness; decoding; and sight recognition. Again, sight recognition is not just flashcards with sight words, it’s around lifting the words from the page automatically.

You will have heard of the Big Six of Reading – and this is not a mistake in the slide, there are actually only five parts here. Now, the National Reading Panel came up with these five components, and in 2014, Deslea Konza published a paper called Teaching Reading: Why the Fab Five should be the Big Six. Her reasoning around this was that oral language is so very important that there are interactions between oral language and every one of these five areas, and so the Fab Five became the Big Six. Whether you see five components or six, it’s still the same thing, just usually oral language. If you’re only seeing five it’s presented as an umbrella that sits over everything, but we often refer now to the Big Six.

Let’s explore that Big Six a little bit further.

Oral language is a complex mix of interdependent skills and here’s a list, everything from semantics to pragmatics.

[The slide shows a bulleted list:

  • Semantics (meaning)
  • Syntax (sentence structure and parts of speech)
  • Morphology (the study of the smallest units of meaning)
  • Phonology (the sounds of words)
  • Articulation (ability to say them)
  • Pragmatics (appropriate language for the situation)
  • Vocabulary and phonological and phonemic awareness]

It does include vocabulary and phonological and phonemic awareness but because the framework actually attends to these separately, I've just popped them down the bottom for you.

Phonemic awareness is so important.

David Kilpatrick divides the skills into three phases:

  • Phase 1: early phonological sensitivity: rhyming, syllables, alliteration. All of these things are those early skills. Generally, we don’t have to spend a lot of time actively teaching these. We can engage in some practices that raise children’s awareness of them, but we don’t have to spend all of our instructional time trying to work on these. Those basic phonemic awareness skills are where the bulk of our time should be spent.
  • Phase 2: identifying phonemes: blending and segmenting is so critical.
  • Phase 3: advanced skills: manipulating, deleting, adding, and substituting. They come about when children start to have a grasp on the alphabetic principle.

Phonological awareness is a broad skill that includes so many things, and as I’ve already mentioned, syllables, onsets, rimes and alliteration.

Phonemic awareness on the other hand refers to the specific ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds. Because while we all use phonemes when we speak, when we want to read and spell, we have to think about them slightly differently. Because when we speak, all the sounds overlap and sort of smush into each other, but to be able to read and spell we have to develop an awareness of the phonemes as individual speech sounds and then work with them from there.

A lack of these skills is one of the primary predictors of reading difficulty. While phonological and phonemic awareness tasks can be performed with your eyes closed, when it comes to instruction phonemic awareness is most effective when combined with phoneme-grapheme correspondence. The reference I’ve got there is David Kilpatrick from his Essentials book, but this is backed up by Linnea Ehri, one of the early researchers into reading science, by Louisa Moats, by a whole bunch of people who say the oral, phonological and phonemic awareness work can be beneficial. But, if we want real bang for the buck, we need to be including graphemes. Finally, it is important to note that phonemic awareness is the means to enable reading and spelling, it’s not an end in and of itself, and that comes from the National Reading Panel report.

Next, we move onto phonics and one of the straw man arguments against moving to a more evidence-informed approach is ‘oh, it’s about more than just phonics and all those people do is talk about phonics’. Well, phonics is really important and we are seeing through this exploration of the Big Six. It’s not the only component, but if we can’t lift the words from the page through that phonological route thinking about the alphabetic code, there is not much else going to happen. English has one of the most opaque orthographies in the world, and that simply means we have a pretty complicated way of thinking about how our spelling system is put together. We could have one grapheme that represents multiple phonemes, so one letter combination that represents multiple sounds, and one sound could be represented by multiple graphemes.

An understanding of the alphabetic principle is critical to the development of reading and spelling. We generally say there are 44 phonemes in standard Australian English. Although this could depend on dialect and linguists are still deciding how many sounds there are, we don’t shift far from 44 and between 150 to 200 representations of these phonemes, if not more when we start to consider the ones that we don’t see frequently. But there are 75 core graphemes and that’s from Denise Eide from her book Uncovering the Logic of English from 2011.

Synthetic phonics involves teaching these letter–sound correspondences and then teaching them to blend and segment so that they can read and spell. The recommended approach to phonics instruction as laid out by the National Reading Panel Report is systematic and explicit.

Moving on to vocabulary now, it’s critical for comprehension that children know what words mean and, in fact, fluent decoding can also depend on vocabulary as well. Vocabulary instruction requires context. We do not just teach a big list of unrelated words and think children will memorise them and their dictionary definitions. The goal of vocabulary instruction is so that children understand how words fit into the language and how to use that language in situations. Repeated exposures are important for learning gain and the application of vocabulary knowledge in authentic tasks is important across the curriculum. It’s not simply something we do in the English lesson.

There is little benefit to pre-teaching vocabulary for younger students in terms of comprehension. Instead, Beck and colleagues explain that as you read you can select high utility words to help children understand what you are reading, and then you may choose some of those words to explicitly explore later.

The creation of a language-rich classroom environment is important for implicit learning of vocabulary. We have a two-pronged approach. Here we have that explicit teaching that’s unpacked in Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s Bringing Words to Life, but we also have the importance of creating a language-rich classroom so that children can absorb and take on the language because we are biologically primed to do that. Language is a biologically primary skill and so that two-prong approach is really important.

Once students can read proficiently, they are able to extend their own vocabulary through the text that they read, and this is really important. Our job as early years teachers is to get children to that point where they have learned the fundamentals of reading so that they can read to learn because it’s not just about knowledge, it’s about vocabulary as well.

Fluency. We all want to know how to improve fluency. First comes accuracy then comes speed. If you have students that you are concerned about their reading fluency, go back, have a look at their phoneme-grapheme correspondence and the way they are blending. Are they slipping into the guessing zone? Are they bamboozled by multisyllable words? Those are going to be the key things to focus on.

Fluency at grapheme and word level is important in supporting children to obtain fluency at sentence and text level, because it’s not just about speed. We have to use those phoneme-grapheme correspondences to become accurate and smooth readers so that we can then focus on expression and prosody (or phrasing).

There are some goals around rate, and rate is one of the things we can actually measure. A consistent set of numbers that we see from a range of sources is 60 words per minute roughly by the end of Year 1 and 90 words per minute by the end of Year 2. Those are the goals but it’s possible to have comprehension at slower rates of fluency and indeed that does exist, but it is great to have a number to aim for. What we want is for children who are reading to obtain these scores in an unseen text that does contain a range of sentence structures, some unfamiliar vocabulary, and the full alphabetic code. 

Repeated oral reading with feedback has been shown to lead to gains in reading fluency. That’s one of the evidence-informed approaches. There is no evidence that sustained silent reading leads to better fluency outcomes. If we think back to Dehaene’s four pillars, that need for corrective feedback is where this comes in here. Having children read out loud with feedback is important. But that doesn’t mean that you have to listen to every child every day though.

Finally, we come to comprehension, the whole point of reading. Comprehension isn’t a task undertaken in the classroom, but it is the end result of all things going well with the previous five components of reading instruction.

We can get really caught up in ‘it’s comprehension time’, but we need to understand that comprehension comes about when all these other things are happening well. Vocabulary and background knowledge have an enormous part to play in the student’s ability to comprehend what they are reading, and knowledge-building is a crucial part of reading instruction. Studying syntax and the role of grammar and sentence structure on comprehension can enhance that comprehension. Thinking about what different conjunctions might mean and how they change what is going on in the sentence is an example of this. Comprehension strategies do have a place, but the research indicates that a small amount of time is just as good as a large amount of time.

So, strategies are not completely out the door, but they are not the main focus. Instead, we want to have children thinking about how texts work, but remember, in the early years the biggest influence on comprehension is the capacity to decode. If you have a student who is struggling with comprehension reading at a text level, go back, have a look at their fluency, which will take you back to the phoneme-grapheme correspondence and their phonemic skills.

Let’s recap.

  • The simple view of reading remains one of the most robust and respected frameworks for understanding reading comprehension.
  • Scarborough’s rope provides more detail about the different aspects of reading comprehension and decoding.
  • With its origins in the National Reading Panel Report, the Big Six of reading instruction gives us a breakdown of the key areas to focus on in our classroom instruction.

In the next module, we are going to explore some key understandings about how children learn and how our language works before moving on to looking at what systematic synthetic phonics is in module 4.

I'll see you there.