As we learn more about how the brain learns to read and the instructional implications for this new knowledge, it is important to recognize how this relates to our children. Do all children need explicit instruction in foundational reading skills or does this benefit just the children who struggle? If all children need the same thing, why is there so much variance between reading programs? Nancy Young’s Reading Ladder helps us answer this question.
What is the Best Homeschool Reading Program?
As parents and home educators, it is important to recognize that we all want what is best for our children. As homeschoolers, we have the privilege of getting to teach our children in a gentle, unhurried manner that meets their needs at whatever pace this may be. We also have an obligation, however, to teach our children in the most effective and the most efficient manner possible. Understanding how nearly all children can benefit from structured literacy is an important concept to keep in mind as we choose a reading curriculum.
For what Percentage of Children is Structured Literacy Essential?
As this infographic shows, research has revealed that about 5% of children can learn to read nearly effortlessly, with very little instruction. If your child was in a classroom of 25 children, one child might fit this description. These are children who start to read very early with minimal instruction.
About 35% of children will learn to read with just about any reading instruction. Keep in mind that a child must still “break the code” in order to learn to read, but these children are able to apply these cipher skills rather naturally and easily as they are exposed to letters, sounds, and words. However, these children will still greatly benefit from a structured and systematic program to take the guess-work out of this process.
Forty to fifty percent of children will absolutely require a code-based explicit, systematic, and sequential program (like ours!) to learn to read. If they do not receive this type of instruction, learning to read will become a difficulty and a challenge. These children will often become frustrated and might become difficult to teach because the program they are using isn’t meeting their needs. Code-based instruction is important for learning to read in any language, but in English this process takes more time due to the irregularity of many words. Children who learn to read in languages with regular orthographies typically take a year to learn to read. English-speaking children can take at least 18-24 months to become proficient and then still need phonics instruction for years to come.
Finally, researchers estimate that between 10 to 15% of children struggle with dyslexia. Dyslexia is defined as “an unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader” (source). An estimated eighty to ninety percent of individuals with learning disabilities struggle with dyslexia. “Scientific research shows differences in brain connectivity between dyslexic and typical reading children, providing a neurological basis for why reading fluently is a struggle for those with dyslexia.” Students with dyslexia (or suspected dyslexia due to family history) absolutely MUST be taught to read using a systematic and explicit program with additional support and repetition, especially in phonological awareness and phonics.
As Nancy Young’s infographic reveals, 50 to 75% of children require a structured literacy program to be successful! We cannot take our chances to wait and see if our child is one of the 35% of kids who learn to read easily. We must do everything we can to set them up for success and then adapt to their individual needs!
What is Structured Literacy?
The International Dyslexia Association has trademarked the term Structured Literacy to indicate reading instruction that is:
- Systematic and Cumulative: This means the program follows a sequential, logical order and that the instruction builds upon itself.
- Explicit: Instruction must be directly taught to children, not implied, or left for them to figure out on their own through exposure to books.
- Diagnostic: Children must be informally assessed at regular intervals and the instruction individualized to meet their needs (something we do regularly as home educators).
Structured literacy also prioritizes six main components of instruction: phonology, sound-symbol associations, syllables, morphology, syntax, and semantics. You can learn more about these six components here.
What about reading aloud? Isn’t that the most important thing?
Reading aloud to our children is extremely important to develop vocabulary and model fluency. We should continue to read aloud to our children long after they have learned to read themselves! Not only is the advantageous for their reading development, this can also be an important bonding time for parents and children!
In order for our children to become successful independent readers, however, we must pair our rich read-aloud experiences with teaching systematic and explicit foundational reading skills to help our children be successful. Scarborough’s Reading Rope demonstrates this beautifully: We must pair the “Language Comprehension Strand” (reading aloud, etc.) with the “Word Recognition Strand” (phonological awareness, decoding, and the development of a sight vocabulary) to most effectively help our children become successful, proficient readers.
Pathways to Reading Homeschool Can Help!
If you are looking for a reading program that will meet the needs of your learner using a systematic and explicit structured literacy approach, we invite you to check out our curriculum!