What is decoding?

To understand decoding, it helps to think about written language as essentially a code or series of symbols for oral language. To read, a child needs to be able to decode written language, which means being able to recognize and sound out each letter of the alphabet. A child also needs to recognize and be able to pronounce letter blends – letters commonly found grouped together. Frequently found letter blends include “th”, “ch”, “st”, and “qu”; more complicated blends include “ough” and “ought.” Your child might be having difficulty with decoding if she regularly struggles with recognizing letter sounds and blend sounds. The result is that she wouldn’t be able to easily sound out many words in a text at her grade level. A child with strong decoding skills can recognize familiar words quickly, and easily figure out new words.

Top two decoding skills: recognizing letter sounds and blend sounds

An early reader with good decoding skills can:

  • Recognize and distinguish between words with long and short vowel sounds (for example, “cut” and “cute”); the “e” at the end creates the long vowel sound.
  • Read “vowel teams” ( two vowels together in a word, for example, “bait,” and “eat”), and recognize that when two vowels are together in a word, the second vowel is silent
  • Read two-syllable words
  • By third grade, read multi-syllabic words
  • Recognize grade level sight words
  • Begin to recognize words with common prefixes (such as “non-” and “mis-“) and suffixes (such as “-ful” and “-ly”) that are added to a root word
  • Understand how to break unfamiliar words into smaller parts to facilitate reading, (for example, the word “interesting” can be broken down to “In-ter-est-ing”)

What is fluency?

Fluency describes the flow and ease of a child’s reading style. Reading fluency has been called the bridge between decoding and comprehension, since decoding skills are necessary to master reading fluency and in turn fluency is essential for reading comprehension. A child with weak decoding skills will read haltingly, and her poor fluency will inhibit reading comprehension. A child with strong fluency skills reads smoothly and naturally, in a voice similar to her speaking voice, with appropriate speed and expression.

An early reader with good fluency skills can:

  • Read smoothly, and at the speed of normal conversation
  • Read with appropriate expression and phrasing (using punctuation in the text)
  • Self-correct and re-read when there is a mistake
  • Read grade-level texts with accuracy and understanding

What is comprehension?

Reading comprehension is the ability to understand a text. It is also the goal of reading itself: if you comprehend what you read, then you have mastered the basics of reading. Along with understanding the basic plot line and facts in a text he reads, a child with strong comprehension can also identify key themes, read between the lines, and extrapolate from the text to make connections with his own life experience.

An early reader with good comprehension skills can:

  • Ask and answer who, what, where, when, why, and how questions about key details in a book
  • Retell a story accurately and in some detail
  • Identify main message or moral in a fable or fairy tale
  • Understand story structure and sequence of key events
  • Compare and contrast two versions of the same story
  • Identify and describe character traits of characters in a book
  • Identify author’s point of view, and compare and contrast it with reader’s own

What is knowledge?

Reading knowledge describes a reader’s knowledge base. Unlike comprehension, which is about understanding what is read, knowledge is the developing wealth of information a reader accumulates. Knowledge both informs and is informed by what we read: as we read, we build knowledge, and what we already know enhances and enriches our reading experience. Reading knowledge is often associated with nonfiction texts that increase our understanding of the world around us, but fiction texts can also teach us something new or help us see the world through another’s eyes. A child with strong knowledge skills is an active, engaged reader who reads to learn, and can make connections between what she reads and the world around her.

An early reader with good knowledge skills can:

  • Identify the main topic/s or theme/s in a paragraph or a chapter, and key themes in a book
  • Compare and contrast key points in a text
  • Enhance understanding of information in a text by referring to maps, graphs, charts and illustrations that accompany the text
  • Enhance understanding of information in a text by seeking out other sources of information, including reference materials and online resources
  • Make connections between information in a text and previous knowledge of the subject and related subjects, and reader’s own experience