How Children Learn to Read Well (or Don't)

How is your child learning to read?  What method is your school using to teach this vital skill?

At TASIS Portugal, we begin with phonemic awareness, or "phonics."  In this proven method, children begin to learn how to rhyme, break down words into syllables, learn the alphabet and the sounds that each letter makes. They begin to put consonant-vowel-consonant words together and sound out and blend to write and read new words.

TASIS Girl Writing

About Phonics

Phonics is the only substantiated method of teaching strong reading skills. Unlike speaking, reading occurred late in the development of civilization and is not a natural or instinctive act. Translating symbols (letters in our alphabet) to sounds, and sounds into words with meaning, are called "decoding" and "comprehension."  Good readers must be able to do both. When each letter is recognized by its sounds, and those sounds are merged together, as with phonics, a strong base of understanding emerges, and with it the ability to sound out new words and learn their meanings.

Unfortunately, many schools do not teach reading by phonics, resulting in a weaker reading comprehension and recognition of new words, jeopardizing students' future academic prospects.

Because translating symbols to sounds, or decoding, is a learned technical skill, students must develop strong phonemic awareness to decode properly. Well-trained teachers can effectively guide students in mastering this research-supported method. Once students are able to easily convert letters and letter combinations to sounds, they can read almost anything. But until that connection is made, their brains expend significant energy trying to decode - leaving far less energy available for comprehension. 


The next component is comprehension, or making sense of those sounds (words). Comprehension is much easier and more accessible when students frequently read, speak, write, and listen to others read - especially works of nonfiction. Reading, writing, and hearing a wide variety of words spoken helps children to build a large vocabulary.

A vital aspect of comprehension is context. This is why TASIS also subscribes to the Core Knowledge curriculum for our elementary school program. This content-rich, integrated curriculum, developed nearly 30 years ago by educator and researcher Dr. E.D. Hirsch, Jr., does an outstanding job of  teaching young people context, exposing them to historical narratives, nonfiction, science and civics texts -- subject matter books that develop what Hirsch terms cultural literacy

As children develop their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills, they demonstrate increasing sophistication in all aspects of language use. Across the curriculum, our teachers use common terminology to facilitate understanding. Students learn how to question, connect, infer, synthesize, and discuss texts using a variety of genres. Reading and writing are addressed in tandem to ensure that students master the full range of these essential skills.

What teaching method is your school using? It is important to ask.

 - Keith Chicquen, TASIS Portugal Headmaster

Some resources:

Reading Instruction: The Two Keys (M. Davis, 2006)
The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom? (J. Chall, 2000)
Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (E.D. Hirsch, 1988)
Why Our Children Can't Read and What We Can Do About It (D. McGuiness, 1999)


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