Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Quick Guide to Reading Terms

When you deal with reading, you are likely to come up against some terms specific to teaching reading. You may or may not be familiar with them, but as I'm planning to use them in upcoming posts, I thought it would be a good idea to define and explain a few of the more common ones here.

Decoding: probably the most used term, especially in the early grades as children are learning to read. Basically, it means sounding out words. More specifically, it means taking what you know of letter sounds and using that information to arrive at a probable pronunciation for an unfamiliar word. It relates to pronunciation ONLY and is no indication of one's ability to interpret text.

Phoneme: the smallest unit of speech. Put another way, it's the sounds letters make. An example would be that RUN and BUN are distinguished by the initial phoneme, or first sound.

Phoneme Awareness: the awareness that spoken words are made up of phonemes and that those phonemes can be rearranged to make different words. Some kids come to this awareness later than others.

Phonics: an approach to reading that focuses on the relationship between letters and the sounds they make. Emphasizes "rules" of pronunciation -- this is where we get "two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking," and other such maxims.

Sight Word: technically, this means any word that a child can easily predict given the context of the reading OR words they've memorized, but it's usually used to mean the latter. Children in the primary grades are often given lists of sight words to memorize. Such lists include words like the, and, to, who, when, little, go, number and color words, and so on. The idea is that children know these words without having to decode them.

Fluency: the ability to read text quickly, effortlessly, smoothly and automatically. There are no pauses to decode, no stumbling over words. This applies to both out-loud and silent reading. Once a child becomes fluent, s/he can focus on the meaning of the text rather than the pronunciation of the words in the text.

Age-Equivalent Scores: some schools do this to give parents (and teachers) an idea of how well, relatively speaking, kids are reading. Basically, they test kids and then tell you that your child is reading at the level of a particular average age. For example, you may be told that your 8 year old is reading at the level of the average 10 year old. Or you may learn that your 7 year old is received the same score as the average 6 year old. Relies on norm-referenced tests to make comparisons, and they are just comparisons -- not actual scores. It may be that the average score on that particular test was 85% correct, but on a norm-referenced test, the average would appear as the 50th percentile.

These are more or less ranked by order of occurance -- the ones I think you'll encounter most frequently. Most of these I have encountered either in primary-grade conferences or in the take-home materials from standardized (norm-referenced) tests. I do occasionally use these terms in Bookivore, so wanted a quick reference available for the lay person. In future posts, I'll be sure to link the Quick Guide so it's handy.

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