The Road to Full Reading Competency
by Elaine Jenkins
Research shows that teens and adults who struggle with print have the same issues that hinder their success. The main difference between them is that an adult or older student has had more time to practice bad habits than a younger student. When reading instruction is not done correctly it is common for students to fall into bad habits, such as paying attention to the first letter of a word and then guessing on the rest of the word. For example, the word feather might be read as finger. Once habits are in place and habitually practiced over a long period of time they’re not easy to break.
Phonemic awareness is a buzz word among professional educators. It simply means the ability to distinguish the sounds of language. Most people think that phonemic awareness is a skill only utilized by younger students in kindergarten or first grade. However, actually almost every teen and adult with a reading problem has a weakness in phonemic awareness. Research has shown that phonemic awareness is the foundation of affective reading instruction, that is, instruction that is sound driven. The most affective instruction starts with sounds and then moves to the letters that represent the sounds. Unfortunately, most reading programs are designed just the opposite, starting with the letter and then moving to sound.
Many struggling readers have problems with phonemic awareness, and have not been properly taught, and so they develop another problem that needs to be addressed, they have developed bad habits. It is common that when someone has not developed adequate phonemic awareness, and are not properly taught, they turn to an ineffective strategy, and practice it over time until it becomes internalized. The time spent reading is then just practicing one’s mistakes, and the more one reads, the more entrenched those bad habits become.
As you can see, the saying “practice makes perfect” is not necessarily true. “Perfect practice” is what is needed. The reading task which is done properly and properly practiced over time until it is internalized is what leads to full reading competency.
It is important that parents, teachers, and those who are trying to improve their reading skill to remember this point. Make sure that the reading material that is used to practice on is not too difficult. The reader needs to be able to read it with ease, not stumbling on words too often. The rule of thumb to follow is not to miss more than 5 words per 100 words read.