There is a lot of misguided information about how to teach reading. Many of these misinformed reading tactics are a strong part of our culture, yet can stall reading progress. Even worse, some tactics can create reading delays. Sometimes I notice parents and grandparents working with a child using a principle that can actually delay the child’s reading.
Here are some of the most common misconceptions on how to teach reading:
Myth #1: Teaching Letter Names Can Improve Reading
Many people think letter names are a part of how to teach reading. Letter names are useless for reading and can actually delay reading acquisition. I remember the first time I encountered this in my reading instruction. I worked with a second grader that was two years behind. He didn’t know all of the letter sounds. Yet, someone—perhaps multiple people—had painstakingly taught this boy how to say letter names. What a waste of instructional time!
The child was flip-flopping between names and sounds. For example, for the /b/ sound, he said “bee,” for the /a/ sound he said “ay” and for the /t/ sound, he said, “tee.” Thus, he read “bat” as “bee-ay-tee”! Initially, he always wanted to say the name first, since that’s what he learned first. Yet, the name does not unlock the word! Only sounds do. Very quickly, I learned that this boy was not an isolated case.
Many kids will experience a reading delay because they focused so much on letter names and did not learn nearly any (actually valuable) phonics sounds. About 30% of kids require careful instructional tactics and will fall behind if the reading teacher missteps. Teach letter sounds first!
For more information on letter sounds and how to teach reading, check out: Teaching Letter Names Can Delay Reading
Myth #2 A Late Reader Will “Catch-on” to Reading Without Any Academic Sacrifice
If a child reads late, many parents and even educators circulate the idea that “it’s okay, because the child will learn to read eventually.” While this might be true, it doesn’t acknowledge the profound cost of reading late. This cost is well known and well documented in reading research, yet is virtually unknown beyond the literacy community…it is called The Matthew Effect in Reading. The Matthew Effect in Reading shows that the good reader gets better and the poor reader falls further behind. We know this from longitudinal studies that track kids reading progress from K-12.
Thus, when thinking about how to teach reading, it is important to acknowledge that a reading intervention is part of best practices. If a child is behind, a reading intervention that focuses on phonics sounds and decodable stories can have profound, positive effects.
For more information on The Matthew Effect and how to teach reading, check out: Matthew Effect in Reading
Myth #3 Spelling Doesn’t Matter
When we think about how to teach reading, we must also think about how to teach spelling. In K-3 reading, learning how to spell phonics sounds can improve reading speed and accuracy. This is significant. Beyond systematic phonics instruction, few things can improve reading speed and accuracy. There are a lot of reading fluency programs that make wild claims but aren’t backed by research.
When I was working for one literacy company, I had to encourage a child to read a passage 3+ times. Of course, if a child reads a passage 3+ times in one sitting, her reading speed will improve…in the short-term. Unfortunately, these gains don’t translate to other texts. For beginning readers, learning how to spell phonics sounds can improve fluency. Spelling phonics sounds is an important aspect of how to teach reading.
Spelling, in many ways, is harder than reading. In spelling, the emphasis on phonics sounds and phonemic awareness is more intense. If a child can spell a phonics sound or sight word, she’ll be able to read it with much greater ease. Many people view spelling as a demeaning form of learning that requires rote-memorization. However, spelling is quite the contrary. For beginning readers, spelling is like completing a puzzle in a certain order wherein you unlock each piece sound-by-sound. In fact, kids are often delighted when they discover they can write. Moreover, writing connects kids with the great human tradition of communicating thoughts and ideas in near silence.
For more information on how spelling and how to teach reading, check out: Learning How To Spell Can Improve Reading
Myth #4 Only Let the Child Pick Books Based on Interest
While its important to let kids pick books based on their own interests, its also important to constantly expose kids to new concepts, words and content. From reading research, we know that background knowledge is a key component of interest. This means: we’re interested in what we already know about. Maybe a child isn’t interested in owls, because they don’t know a lot about them. However, if you expose them to an owl’s silent flight, farsightedness, and asymmetrical hearing, they might find that they are interested in owls after all. Thus, we must constantly expose kids to new ideas. When we think about how to teach reading, we must also think about how we’re exposing kids to new concepts in history, science, technology, literature and math.
If you’d like decodable books, check out The Printable Phonics Books Library.