Monday, February 6, 2012

Moving Past "Sounding it Out"

If you have been in a kindergarten classroom, chances are you have heard the teacher prompting students to "sound it out" when a child is struggling to read a word. While reading, you may find students peering intensely at letters in an attempt to read the "right way". But does this approach really provide all the skills that children need to learn how to read and navigate text?

The truth is, an over reliance on "sounding it out" can have several downfalls. While it is a valid way to navigate text, it is impossible to use it for a vast amount of words in the English language that use letters that are pronounced differently or silent ending letters that plague many students.
For example, consider the following words:
  1. soon
  2. they
  3. now
  4. into
  5. good
  6. brown
  7. under
These words give little help when using sounding out as a strategy. This is a prime example of why it is important to use a variety of text decoding skills to ensure students understand the meaning of text instead of arbitrarily sounding out words without meaning or activating their knowledge about the book's context. 

Another great strategy to teach children is incorporating the meaning of the text, structure and visual to form a complete way of reading. This approach takes a lot of time and modeling from the teacher to ensure each student can use all clues from the text at the same time. It is easy to use one strategy to decode text, but incorporating another at the same time can be tricky for some children. 

For example, a child may be reading a book while paying little attention to the text. Although they are not reading the correct words, they are using the storyline and visual to come up with similar words to complete the unknown words in the story. Instead of just focusing on the context of the story, paying attention to the structure of the word such as the first letter and predicting what word would fit would be a much better strategy. Over time, the child will become so used to using all the clues from a text to read that he or she will automatically use the clues when they encounter unfamiliar words, much like adults. 

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