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More than "Sounding Out"

Reading is thinking deeply about a text’s meaning and how it builds knowledge of the world around us.

Why would we read if not to learn about authors’ ideas and enter new worlds that engage our imaginations, invite our questions, and advance our knowledge? Yet this goal for reading is often lost within instruction that overstresses particular aspects of literacy learning while diminishing attention to others. One area that is often overemphasized is “sounding out” words for accurate pronunciations.

Many students require explicit instruction in word learning skills, such as the “sounding out process,” but they also require explicit instruction in other areas of English language arts. And importantly, students require explicit comprehension instruction in building skills and strategies for deriving meaning, analyzing the logic of argumentation, generating conclusions and interpretations, and critique. If taught well, word learning and comprehension skills and strategies support each other to develop vocabulary, extend language, and enhance knowledge development. Students succeed when skills and strategies are taught within meaningful contexts and not in isolation, and within contexts that are authentic and related to real world experiences and problems.

Students who don’t have access to a comprehensive approach to building both word learning and comprehension continue to fall behind their peers who are learning and applying multiple skills simultaneously. Further, research indicates that if students develop strong word learning skills separate from a comprehensive literacy approach, those skills do not lead to comprehension unless connected back to authentic reading and writing experiences. This is a particular problem for students experiencing reading difficulties, as they are further distanced from being able to engage with challenging texts, gain new insight, and build greater knowledge – the purpose of reading.