Far too many of our children read below grade-level expectations, but there is a solution. The solution is a deep understanding of both decoding and creating meaning. While decoding is an understanding of the relationship between the smallest unit of writing and the smallest unit of sound, creating meaning is conceptual understanding of the words that one decodes.

 

Many students who appear to have reading issues actually have decoding and/or creating meaning issues. They might be able to decode (pronounce the words they read); however, they may be locked out of the meaning of a significant number of words in a given text, or both.

 

So the question becomes, what is the foundation of reading proficiency? My response to this critical question can help teachers, teacher leaders, school leaders, curriculum writers, and central office personnel produce educational experiences for children that are worthy of consumption.

 

The answer is remarkably simple: Decoding + Creating Meaning = Reading.

Students must have diagnostic and prescriptive (needs-based) learning opportunities across the grades and content areas characterized by opportunities to decode and encode fluently. Decoding is defined as understanding the relationship between the smallest unit of writing and the smallest unit of sound; that is, seeing written words and knowing, with automaticity, how to pronounce those words. Let us go back to decoding. To decode fluently, students must also understand the relationship between and among the: (a) 26 letters of the alphabet, (b) 44 phonemes and the seven categories of phonemes (i.e., the 18 single consonant sounds, the seven double consonant digraphs, the five short vowel sounds, the five long vowel sounds, the two other vowel sounds, the two vowel diphthongs, and the five vowel sounds influenced by the letter “r”), and (c) the 144 different ways to represent the phonemes in writing. Although there is some inconsistency in how phonemes are represented by their correlate graphemes, the knowledge needed to be able to decode at developmental expectations is finite, and therefore decoding can be taught to mastery.

 

When children can put these two together (decoding and creating meaning) on a simultaneous pathway, they are going to not only read at grade level expectations; they will go beyond it.

 

Donyall D. Dickey, Ed.D.

 

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