Unraveling the Meaning of Reading Proficiency

Unraveling the meaning of reading proficiency blog showing grade school students reading a book

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.


To learn more about our high-impact resources that provide direct support for these instructional practices, check out the Educational Epiphany K-12 Literacy Kit, an effective tool for improving literacy outcomes that can be easily integrated into your existing program of study.


To learn more about Dr. Dickey’s highly acclaimed professional book, The Integrated Approach to Student Achievement– Third Edition, and to learn more about our wide variety of groundbreaking products & services, download a copy of our new eCatalog today.


To hear Dr. Dickey and special guests speak about critical topics in literacy, leadership, and school improvement, be sure to subscribe to “The Epiphany Exchange” Podcast here! To connect directly with Dr. Dickey, feel free to call us at 410-258-6443 or email us at educationalepiphany@gmail.com


Share this entry