The goal is reading, right? We are teaching our children to read. And yet, with a few notable exceptions, when we start talking the nitty gritty of how to do so, we end up talking about phonics. Why?
Although it’s the starting point, it’s not our goal. We want to raise readers who can be transported into another world through the written word as well as readers who can sift through and sort out complicated information. As William James reminds us:
“Children who learn to read fluently and well . . . begin to take flight into whole new worlds as effortlessly as young birds take to the sky.”
The individual letter/sound components of words are the building blocks of reading. We tend to use the umbrella term of “phonics” but a good reading program will include not only systematic phonics instruction (phonemic awareness/decoding) but also fluency, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension. Some will also include introductory grammar and composition skills. Horizons Reading and Phonics, All About Reading, and Primary Arts of Language – Reading are all examples of reading programs that include most of these components.
Basic phonics instruction is typically covered in grades K – 2. As you move into the middle elementary years, reading programs continue to provide phonics review but the focus moves on to reading comprehension skills – or as they are sometimes called, reading strategies. These strategies include :
- Finding a main idea
- Recalling facts and details
- Understanding sequence
- Recognizing cause and effect
- Comparing and contrasting
- Making predictions
- Finding word meaning in context
- Drawing conclusions and making inferences
- Distinguishing between fact and opinion
Developing these skills enables students to make sense of what they are reading – to be able to read at a level that corresponds to their ability to decode the actual words. In addition to comprehension skills, reading programs at these upper elementary and middle school grade levels will provide experience with a wide variety of reading genres as well as an introduction to literary analysis. Some examples of reading programs that provide broad literary experience coupled with reading skills development would be Bob Jones Reading, Reading Street, and Elson Readers.
It’s not coincidental that starting in junior high, reading programs begin to be called “literature programs.” Once again the emphasis has shifted. Now the focus is solidly on literary analysis skills and critical thinking. These skills include :
- Analyzing character traits
- Identifying theme, setting, key events in plot, and author’s purpose
- Predicting resolution
- Recognizing conflict, point of view and sequence of events
While reading for details and vocabulary continues to be encouraged, delving into the literature of the reading selection is a constant companion. Reader’s Journey, Mosdos, Windows to the World, and Teaching the Classics as well as our many literature guide series – Progeny Press, ECS Novel Units, and Novel-Ties, to name a few, provide both.
We talk about “phonics” at the beginning of the reading journey because it is the starting point. It’s the solid foundation upon which all other reading and literature skills are built. But when we want to talk about reading, we have to go broader and deeper. After all,
“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”