75. How do you teach word meanings? The child can speak and read English out-loud, but does not know the meaning of words when asked.

A child reading out-loud who does NOT know the meaning of the words (s)he is reading happens when:

  1. Teachers fail to BEGIN each reading lesson with an introduction to the vocabulary, especially the NEW vocabulary the students will find in the reading selection.

The best answer I can provide to this question comes from a reading program advisory issued by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education in California entitled: The Reading Program. On pages 12-13, this advisory states:

"To encourage optimal progress with the use of any of these early reading materials, teachers need to be aware of the difficulty level of the text relative to a child’s reading level. A book is said to be at a child’s independent level if 95-100 percent of the words can be read correctly. Instructional level books can be read with a 90-94 percent level of accuracy. Frustration level reading involves text read by a child at the 89 percent accuracy level or below. Regardless of how well a child already reads, high error rates are negatively correlated with growth; low error rates are positively linked with growth. A text too difficult, then, not only serves to undermine a child’s confidence and will but also diminishes learning itself."

This is a most significant statement about reading based on research and the expert opinions of some of the most outstanding scholars in the field of reading instruction.

I would like to elaborate on the practical applications of this statement to the teaching of reading, especially the teaching of READING COMPREHENSION, and to the need to help students gain full understanding of the meaning of the words in a reading selection BEFORE reading it.

  1. The statement applies to ALL students learning to read.
  2. Both English-ONLY and non- or limited-English proficient students need to receive reading instruction that promotes OPTIMAL GROWTH in reading skills development.
  3. The level of difficulty of the text the child is about to read
  4. IS A CRITICAL FACTOR IN SUCCESSFUL GROWTH IN READING.

  5. The above statement does NOT mean that a child must read text at (h)is/er level of difficulty.
  6. The statement means that:
  7. BEFORE THE CHILD ACTUALLY READS TEXT FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME,

    THE TEACHER MUST PLAN PRE-READING INSTRUCTION THAT MOVES THE CHILD FROM:

    THE FRUSTRATION LEVEL – which involves reading text at the 89 percent accuracy level or below,

    TO THE INSTRUCTIONAL LEVEL –reading text at 90-94 percent level of accuracy,

    ALL THE WAY UP TO THE INDEPENDENT LEVEL –when 95-100 percent of the words can be read correctly.

  8. Reading 95-100 percent of the words "correctly" means that the student:
  9. Has SEEN 95-100 percent of the words in the reading selection before reading the selection for the very first time,

    Has HEARD 95-100 percent of the words in the reading selection before reading the selection for the very first time,

    Has SPOKEN 95-100 percent of the words in the reading selection before reading the selection for the very first time,

    Has given evidence of UNDERSTANDING the meaning of 95-100 percent of the words in the reading selection before reading the selection for the very first time.

  10. Thus, always, a child must, should, ought to read text at the independent level, that is, with 95-100 percent of the words read CORRECTLY. Always a child must, should, ought to have SEEN, HEARD, SPOKEN and UNDERSTOOD 95-100 percent of the words in a reading selection BEFORE reading it.
  11. The more a child reads at the independent level (with low error rate), then, the more a child will GROW, developing reading comprehension and fluency.
  12. The more a child reads at the frustration level (with high error rate), then, the LESS a child will GROW, failing to develop reading comprehension and fluency.
  13. The more a child reads at the frustration level (with high error rate), then, the LESS a child’s confidence and will to learn will GROW, thus, diminishing the capacity of the child to learn.

The implications of the above statement for teaching ALL children to read are very clear:

BEFORE teaching any reading lesson, the teacher must insure that 95-100 percent of the words in the lesson have been SEEN, HEARD, SPOKEN and fully UNDERSTOOD by ALL students, by English-ONLY students and by English Learners, that is, by non- or limited English Proficient students.

 

A child reading out-loud who does NOT know the meaning of the words (s)he is reading happens also when:

2.  Students –both English-ONLY and non- or limited-English speakers-- have been taught through phonics, with almost total emphasis on "decoding" skills.

It is also important here to address the issue of teaching reading through phonics with emphasis on "decoding" skills. In the same reading advisory mentioned above, a very clear message comes across to ALL teachers: (page 10)

"Beginning in kindergarten, vocabulary growth should be actively supported in the classroom. Vocabulary instruction is shown to be most effective when explicit information about the words’ definitions is complemented by attention to their usages and shades of meaning across contexts. It is useful to organize vocabulary studies structurally, in terms of roots and affixes, or topically (e.g., science, transportation, weather, or math words.)"

Teaching reading with almost total emphasis on "decoding" skills, produces great "decoders," that is, students who can focus all their reading energy on figuring out how to pronounce the words in the reading selection, totally disregarding the words’ MEANING.

Teachers need to remember at ALL times that the main and most important purpose of reading is READING COMPREHENSION, not "decoding." In fact, fluent readers who excel at reading comprehension read at such speed that there is no time in their reading process to think about and, least of all, follow "phonics" rules. Phonics rules must be totally obliterated from consciousness to be able to read fast enough to keep the meaning and the logic of an argument in one’s consciousness.

 

 


For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for
New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.

 

For information and credentials please click on the link below or contact directly:

CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK, Ph.D.

Educational Consultant, Program Evaluator

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Certification (12/2006)

3113 Malcolm Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90034-3406

Phone and Fax: (310) 474-5605

E-mail:  csssadek@gte.net