Teaching Struggling Readers Word-Level Reading Skills

Many students in the United States are struggling to read well — a troubling fact, considering literacy is the foundation for learning across the curriculum. Though average reading scores are higher compared to what they were decades ago, the Nation’s Report Card from the National Center for Education Statistics recently released data that reveals scores aren’t increasing as fast as they could — or should — be. In fact, fourth-grade reading scores remained essentially the same between testing periods in 2015 and 2017.

The skills holding back many students from reading proficiency are word-level reading skills, specifically decoding and word identification. Supporting struggling readers by strengthening these word-level skills can be a significant challenge. What is their connection to reading proficiency and why are they so important? What are the best strategies for teaching phonemic awareness to improve decoding and word identification?

The focus of this 1-hour webinar with the Consortium on Reaching Excellence in Education (CORE) and Dr. David Kilpatrick is to help you help struggling readers not only remember the words they read, but also sound out unfamiliar words. Look into the various research and principles behind word-level reading difficulties, and learn how to teach word identification and how to teach letter sounds to struggling students using research-based practices.

Learn Strategies for Teaching Phonics

One of two key factors distinguishing skilled readers from poor readers is the ability to identify unfamiliar words by sounding them out.

All skilled readers of an alphabet-based writing system possess strong phonics skills, whether they’ve been taught these skills or have acquired them independently. Dr. David Kilpatrick points out that any skilled reader past third grade can read nonsense words if they’re shown them, and the only way to do this is to have solid letter sound skills and knowledge.

Struggling readers cannot identify unfamiliar words by sounding them out because they do not have the necessary phonics skills to do so. The webinar explains how to teach letter sounds to struggling students.

Master Research Based Strategies for Teaching Letter Recognition

 The second skill that strong readers possess is the ability to remember the words they read. In fact, the webinar looks into research that shows that from late second grade on, skilled readers are only required to see and read a single word one to four times before they are able to master it and not forget it.

Struggling readers, on the other hand, fail to remember the words they read after repeated exposures — even more than 16 – 18 times! Watch the webinar to learn about research based strategies for teaching letter recognition and word recognition to struggling students.

What is Phonological Awareness and Why is it Important?

 In addition to discussing how to teach letter sounds to struggling students and sharing research based strategies for teaching letter recognition and word recognition, Dr. David Kilpatrick uses this webinar to explain the alphabetic principle and the role it plays in word-level reading difficulties.

The English writing system is alphabetic — it is keyed into the phonemes of spoken speech. When we’re writing, we’re not writing words. We’re writing sequences of characters designed to represent the sequence of phonemes in spoken words.

Students who have poor access to phonemes both cognitively and linguistically struggle to read an alphabetic language because phoneme skills are critical for both sounding out new words and remembering words read. Specifically, poor phonemic awareness affects a student’s ability to blend words, which is critical to decoding unfamiliar words by sounding them out, as well as their ability to segment words, which is key to helping students remember how to recognize and read and spell words.

Dr. David Kilpatrick uses this webinar to explain the important connection between phonological awareness and common word-level reading difficulties that are holding struggling readers back from reaching proficiency.

Start Teaching Struggling Readers Word-Level Reading Skills

 Word-level reading deficits, like the inability to sound out words and remember words read, can be corrected by applying strategies for teaching phonics. Learn the relationship between phonemic awareness and word-level reading skills such as decoding and word identification, and get advice for supporting struggling readers by applying phonemic awareness strategies.

Video Transcript

Dr. David Kilpatrick: There’s two different levels of word reading that we have to take account of and it seems that many of our remediation approaches, we focus mostly on one. And that’s the first. What distinguishes skilled readers from poor readers is first of all, their ability to sound out unfamiliar words. Skilled readers are very good at that. Make no mistake. All skilled readers of an alphabet based writing system, have phonics skills. Either they were taught them or they figured them out on their own. How do we know this? We know this because any skilled reader pass third grade, I mean you can kind of fake your way through kindergarten first and maybe start running out of steam and second without this. But if you are a skilled reader from third grade on, if someone shows you nonsense words, you can read them.

Dr. David Kilpatrick: I mean, I saw a couple of studies where they cut it off after 16 or 18 exposures, they still didn’t get it. So there’s a big difference there compared to one to four exposures. And most of those were older kids, not second graders. So skilled readers are not good at remembering the words they read and the focus of today’s presentation is on the second item, but you can’t get to the second without the first. Again, we don’t have any skilled readers who can do the second, are good at remembering the words they read that can’t read nonsense words. And it’s all based on the alphabetic principle. So you could have, there are a few different Chinese languages. One in the West we call Mandarin and other we call Cantonese. And if you have two people speaking those languages exclusively, they would have a hard time communicating with each other because they’re different languages.

Dr. David Kilpatrick: But it’s quite possible the two of them could read the same newspaper at the same time. How does that happen? Well, it happens because the writing system is not keyed into the individual phonemes within spoken speech. That’s how alphabetic writing is. It turns out that in alphabetic writing systems like English or German or French or Spanish, we don’t write words. We write phoning characters and then we string them together and we call them a written word. So what we’re writing is sequences of characters that are designed to capture the phonemes within spoken words. And so if you have poor access to phonemes, cognitively and linguistically, then you’re going to struggle reading an alphabet base, a phoning based writing system, which really is what an alphabet base writing system is. Now, here’s what’s interesting. Phoneme skills are necessary both for sounding out new words but also remembering words.

Dr. David Kilpatrick: The second one is not obvious at all but we’re going to learn about that and we’re going to learn what the orthographic learning research has taught us about that over the last 35, 40 years. Let’s take a look up the reading panel said, if you stop and think about it exactly. How does phonemic awareness influence reading the phoneme skills? Exactly how? Well, I think the blending part’s pretty easy. The skill of blending is needed to decode unfamiliar words. That’s a quote from the national reading panel. Think about it. Child sees the word cat for the first time and they go c, and you’re like, great, hard c, Eh, eh. You’re like, Oh good, a – short a – and then t, super. And then the kid looks at you and says, “What’s the word?” And you’re like, “What’s the word? You just sounded it out, right?”

Dr. David Kilpatrick: That child has a problem with blending, they’re hearing the individual sounds, but they’re not able to blend so that it activates a word that they know. All right, that’s understandable. So phonic decoding is based upon three skills. Number one, your letter sound knowledge. Number two, your ability to blend. And then number three, slightly more advanced is your knowledge of familiar patterns or syllable types that we see. But what about segmenting? And in other words, what does segmenting have to do with reading? When you stop and think about it, it’s not obvious. I mean, you can understand what it would have to do with spelling, but what would it have to do with reading? Because when we read all the words on the page or pre-segmented for us by way of the letters. So what would segmentation has to do with reading? Why does it correlate so strongly with reading?

Dr. David Kilpatrick: Well, this is what the reading panel said back in 2000, phonemic segmentation helps children remember how to read and spell words. Well that’s not obvious and that’s what I’m going to take you through. I’m going to show you what research has shown about how the segmentation skill allows us to remember the words we read.