Raising Reading Scores with Structured Literacy

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by Nancy Redding, M.Ed.

According to The Nation’s Reading Report Card (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013), 42% of California’s fourth graders are reading at a below basic level, 33% are reading at a basic level, and 34% are reading at a proficient or advanced level. How can students be expected to read and comprehend their textbooks if they are not fluent and proficient in their reading skills by fourth grade?

As a new academic year begins, teachers around the state will be struggling to change those statistics. Our September speaker, Marcia Henry, Ph.D., offers a valuable overview of how structured literacy can help all our students improve their reading and writing skills.

IDA has recently embraced the term “structured literacy” to describe the most effective approach to language instruction (see IDA Introduces “Structured Literacy”). Structured literacy is meant to be an inclusive term referring to the many programs and approaches for language instruction built on the pillars of the Orton-Gillingham approach. These programs are sequential, cumulative, direct, explicit, and multisensory.

According to Dr. Henry, one of the nation’s leading literacy experts, structured literacy goes hand-in-hand with teaching students how English words and the English language are constructed. Structured literacy approaches are an ideal way to help students understand word origins, phonology, morphology, and etymology.

A relatively few letters and letter combinations form the syllables that make up the approximately one million words in our English language. Learning the most essential consonant and vowel patterns provides students with strategies for both decoding (word identification) and encoding (spelling). In addition, word origin also plays a role in effective and efficient decoding and spelling. When students learn the difference between words of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Greek origin, they gain new insights for decoding and spelling.

Efficient decoding in turn plays a critical role in building fluency and comprehension skills. Rapid recognition and practice of the most frequent orthographic letter patterns helps students make gains in word attack, word identification, oral reading rate, and accuracy, along with passage comprehension.

Embracing structured literacy can be a positive step in helping to raise reading scores for our California children and ensuring that the number of students reading at a proficient level continues to rise.

Nancy Redding is a past president of NCBIDA and currently serves on our Advisory Board.