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Chapter 2: Phonics, Word Analysis, and Fluency

Understand Development of Phonics, Word Analysis, Spelling, and Fluency

Reading fluency—the ability to decode a printed text easily, accurately, expressively, and at an appropriate rate—is essential to reading comprehension. Reading fluency and comprehension depend not only on readers' oral vocabulary and background knowledge, but also on their ability to recognize words in print—on their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences and common spelling patterns, their mastery of phonics and word analysis skills, and their development of automatic recognition of many words. Phonics instruction helps beginning readers learn common letter-sound correspondences and strategies for sounding out letters and blending sounds into words. Instruction in syllabication promotes skill in determining syllable boundaries and pronouncing syllables in longer words. Instruction in structural analysis promotes recognition of base words, prefixes, and word endings (inflections and suffixes) in longer words. Spelling instruction that is aligned with reading instruction reinforces students' developing ability to recognize words in print. Direct instruction in sight words and frequent reading practice with appropriate texts promote the development of automaticity (i.e., the ability to recognize words quickly, effortlessly, and accurately). Fluent readers do not have to devote energy to decoding words, so they can focus their attention on what the text means. Competency 2 requires an understanding of effective instruction in phonics and word analysis skills to support the development of reading fluency.

The test includes a wide range of multiple-choice questions that address Competency 2.

Competency 2 encompasses the following content:

Demonstrate knowledge of the role of phonics and sight words in developing accurate, automatic word recognition and reading fluency and strategies for promoting development of phonics skills and sight words: An understanding of research-based, systematic instruction in phonics, sight words, word analysis skills (including syllabication and structural analysis), spelling, and fluency is required.

You will be expected to recognize the essential role of phonics knowledge, word analysis skills, sight words, and reading fluency in literacy development. You will be asked about explicit instruction to promote literacy development in these areas and about strategies for reinforcing explicit instruction. You will also be asked about strategies for differentiating this instruction to meet the needs of all students and for planning targeted instruction to meet the assessed needs of individual students.

Core Content: Developing Phonics Skills and Learning Sight Words

Systematic instruction in phonics skills and sight word reading are key components of effective, early reading instruction. Research-based instruction in phonics includes explicit instruction in sounding out letters and blending letters to form words, and ongoing instruction in letter-sound correspondences for simple as well as more complex phonics patterns. Gaining mastery of fundamental skills for decoding simple, one-syllable words provides students with a strong foundation for accurate decoding of longer and more complex words at later stages of reading development. Systematic sight word instruction is focused on promoting students' automatic recognition of words that occur with the highest frequency in texts, including words that follow regular phonics patterns as well as those that do not. In addition to explicit instruction and teacher-monitored practice in these areas, students need frequent practice applying these skills to achieve mastery. Activities that reinforce instruction in these areas play a key role in promoting students' ability to recognize words automatically. (See
Core Content: Spelling Development later in this chapter).

Phonics knowledge is knowledge of the correspondences in an alphabetic language between letters or letter patterns and the sounds of spoken language represented by those letters (i.e., grapheme-phoneme relationships). Children learning to read in English must master these correspondences. In addition, children must master decoding skills enabling them to sound out a sequence of written letters and then blend the sounds together in words. An effective phonics program begins by teaching students to decode words with simple syllable patterns (e.g., am, mop) and then progresses incrementally to words with more difficult syllable patterns (e.g., spot, boat, tape). As readers progress, they learn more advanced or complex phonics patterns and the sounds and spellings of inflectional endings, prefixes, and suffixes, as well as strategies for decoding multisyllable words (see the next section of this chapter Core Content: Syllabication and Structural Analysis).

After examining a wide body of research, the National Reading Panel concluded that students who receive systematic and explicit phonics instruction are more likely to experience reading success than students receiving non-systematic phonics instruction or no phonics instruction. That is, phonics instruction promotes reading success and is more effective when a set of letter-sound relationships is taught directly and in a clearly defined, logical sequence. As an essential part of that process, children must be given ample opportunities to apply what they are learning about letters and sounds to the reading of words, sentences, and books. Good phonics instruction shares several characteristics including

Sight Words
A reader's sight word vocabulary represents the words the reader recognizes almost instantly and with little conscious effort, or automatically. The goal of sight word instruction is to help beginning and developing readers efficiently recognize both regular and irregular high-frequency and high-utility words. It is particularly important to the development of reading fluency (See section below, "Core Content: Reading Fluency") that beginning readers recognize most words in a text automatically. For this reason, high-frequency words—words that appear most frequently in print—are the focus of sight word instruction during the elementary grades.

It has been estimated that 100 English words make up 50 percent of all words in typical English-language books or newspapers, perhaps more in books for young children. The, and, for, on, was, and with, for example, are among the twenty words occurring most frequently in English. Many high frequency words are not phonically regular. Based on phonics generalizations, for example, are should rhyme with care, do should rhyme with go. Ordered lists of common sight words have been developed for the purpose of planning systematic sight word instruction, and are widely available. In Table 2.1 you will find some common sight words taught in early grades.

Source Note: Fry, E.B. & Kress, J.E. (2006). The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists. (5th Ed.). Jossey-Bass/Wiley: San Francisco, CA.

Students learn sight words through systematic, explicit instruction and practice and through repeated exposure to words during reading or writing activities. In a research-based approach to explicit sight word instruction, teachers ensure students can decode target words accurately before promoting rapid recognition of the words. Teachers can promote students' accuracy with instructional strategies that encourage them to look at every letter in every word they are learning, and strategies that help them associate the spelling with the pronunciation of the words. When introducing irregular words, teachers should draw attention to the phonetically regular portions of the words (e.g., all but the second letter in the word many) as well as the irregular portions. Guided and independent practice can include having students practice reading word lists and decodable texts aloud, as well as a host of other activities related to the current sight word curriculum. Here are a few activities that teachers have used successfully to reinforce explicit instruction in sight words:

Methods for promoting automatic recognition of targeted sight words can vary. Helping students associate the written form of the words with the spoken form is central, and activities that call on students to use many modalities (e.g., speaking, listening, writing, reading) in their encounters with these words can help learners remember the forms and recognize these words in print instantaneously. It is important for teachers to monitor sight word mastery carefully as many children who struggle with reading have difficulty recognizing basic sight words.

Click here for Exercise 2.1: Characteristics of Effective Phonics Instruction

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Demonstrate knowledge of the use of phonics patterns and word analysis strategies, including syllabication and morphology, as techniques for decoding multisyllable words: Familiarity with syllable patterns, syllabication guidelines, and the basic morphological structures of English words (i.e., base words or roots, prefixes, suffixes, and inflections) is required.

You will be asked to demonstrate knowledge of effective instruction in word analysis strategies for identifying multisyllable words. You may be asked about word patterns, syllable patterns, affixes, inflections, and base words. You may be expected to recognize how knowledge of syllabication and morphology can scaffold word recognition and the pronunciation of multisyllable words.

Core Content: Syllabication and Morphology

Beginning reading instruction focuses on teaching emergent readers to decode simple, single-syllable words (e.g., go, nap, rib, sent, cheap, stripe). After students become proficient at recognizing a wide range of single-syllable words, they may still have difficulty decoding low-frequency phonics patterns and multisyllable words such as napkin, moment, or ribbon—words that they must break into orthographic chunks, or word parts, in order to decode using skills they have already mastered. For some developing readers, this can be an effortless, intuitive process; for others, longer words can be intimidating. Because rapid word recognition plays a critical role in reading fluency and text comprehension, students should be taught strategies that assist them when decoding increasingly complicated, multisyllable words. Helping children chunk words into morphological units (structural analysis) or into phonological units according to the six syllable types (syllabication) can help them learn to decode longer words accurately and efficiently.

Being able to recognize component morphemes in morphologically complex words can help readers identify unfamiliar multisyllable words. In order to teach structural analysis effectively, teachers must be familiar with the basics of morphology, the study of the internal structure of words and of the rules by which words are formed. The base word or root in a morphologically complex word acts as the base to which affixes are attached (see, for example, the base word read in the examples below). Prefixes are affixes added to the beginning of words, as in re●read; suffixes are affixes added to the end of words, as in read●er. Inflections are a limited set of morphemes added to the end of words without changing their essential meaning, as in the case of the verb read●ing. Other common English inflections include—s, –ed, and –est. (In contrast to inflections, an affix does not change a word’s meaning or grammatical category, such as when un– is added to clear to form unclear or –ful is added to help to form helpful. Teaching students to recognize affixes and inflections, as well as Greek and Latin roots in the upper elementary and secondary grades, not only helps them learn the meaning of unfamiliar words they encounter during reading but also helps them develop a strategy for locating familiar, pronounceable parts in longer words. Many affixes and inflections form separate syllables in word context.

Understanding syllabication constitutes another important part of an elementary teacher’s word analysis repertoire. Syllabication is a critical word analysis skill that helps students break unknown multisyllable words into syllables that can be pronounced and blended to identify the unknown word. A syllable is a phonological unit that includes a vowel sound. See Table 2.2 to find six basic syllable patterns.


Source Note: Knight-McKenna, M. (2008). Syllable Types: A Strategy for Reading Multisyllabic Words. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40(3), pp. 18-24.

In conjunction with explicit instruction in the use of these word-analysis strategies for decoding multisyllable words, teachers can lay the groundwork for new learning or reinforce instruction in structural analysis and syllabication by helping students spot target morphological units or syllable patterns in words. Prefixes seem to be the easiest for younger students to recognize, followed by suffixes. Informal strategies for this purpose might include examining grade-level materials or authentic print, such as newspapers, store ads, brochures, menus, greeting cards, and the like. Teachers also can engage children in a variety of experiences that enhance their awareness of recognizable word parts by having them examine their classmates’ names and the environmental print in the classroom. As teachers read favorite storybooks, they can break words apart to demonstrate syllable spelling patterns. Learning center games could involve sorting word cards on the basis of syllable-spelling patterns, or cutting apart word cards into syllables.

Elementary teachers must be knowledgeable in syllabication generalizations and the morphology of English in order to provide students with effective instruction in decoding and recognizing multisyllable words. While phonics skills are essential to word reading competence, learning to apply phonics skills to longer words relies on a reader's ability to recognize morphological and syllable structure within words. Developing an understanding of these structures will also lay the groundwork for recognizing when words don’t follow particular phonics rules or orthographic generalizations.

Click here for Exercise 2.2: Applying Affixes

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Demonstrate knowledge of the reciprocity between decoding and encoding and strategies for promoting spelling development at all stages of reading development: Knowledge of the relationship between reading and spelling development will be expected.

You will be expected to know how spelling and reading instruction can be coordinated to promote literacy development. You may be asked to recognize distinct stages in students’ spelling development and appropriate strategies and practices that promote students' literacy development at particular spelling stages.

Core Content: Spelling Development

Mastering the orthography of English, the letter-sound relationships and morphology represented in written language, is intimately related to students’ literacy development. Based on examinations of children’s spellings, researchers have concluded that there are recognizable stages in children’s spelling development. Different researchers have chosen various names for these stages but they all begin with an emergent or early spelling stage and progress to a stage where students relate spelling to morphology. See Figure 2.1. Children at different stages attend to and represent different features of spoken words in their spelling, and their spellings provide evidence of their growing understanding of English orthography.


Source Note: Bear, D.R, Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S. & Johnston, F. (2008). Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction. (4th. Ed., p.16). Columbus, Ohio: Merrill.

In emergent stages of literacy development, writing activities can be used to reinforce students' developing knowledge of letter-sound correspondences. In this approach, teachers help students learn to write independently using a spelling strategy based on the sounds in the words. A teacher can promote students' spelling skills by guiding them to segment a word into phonemes, then identify a letter representation for each sound. Because this approach to spelling is closely tied to phonemic awareness and letter-sound instruction, the approach capitalizes upon and reinforces these emergent reading skills.

The foundation of a research-based spelling program is the principle that spelling instruction is aligned with reading instruction. Once formal instruction in phonics and word reading begin, spelling instruction can be used to reinforce students’ new learning in phonics and word patterns. As with literacy instruction in general, the scope and sequence of spelling instruction may be determined by developmentally-based grade-level benchmarks, but an individual student's spelling development should be monitored and serve as a guide for differentiating instruction. During emergent reading stages, samples of students' invented spelling can be used to assess their understanding of the alphabetic principle and their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences. In later grades, teachers can systematically measure students’ knowledge of conventional spelling with a spelling inventory; students' writing samples can also provide information about a student's specific strengths and areas of difficulty. Such assessments can be used to plan targeted small-group or individualized instruction, or to form instructional groups with students at approximately the same developmental stage to facilitate differentiated instruction. Teachers select words for study that reflect a particular spelling pattern and word study activities are planned.

A weekly plan for word study instruction might include:

Throughout the week, informally call attention to patterns during daily classroom activities, such as when you are writing in a group setting (e.g., composing messages, lists, plans, signs, letters, stories, songs, and poems). Teachers should be careful not to dwell on spelling rules during these associated activities; it is more important for children to know that thinking about what a word looks like can be a useful spelling strategy. Teachers can also help children explore common patterns in books or poems highlighting a particular spelling pattern. So, when planning ways to supplement systematic instruction, keep in mind that children can continue to learn about a spelling pattern through associated experiences throughout the day.

Click here for Exercise 2.3: Supporting Developmentally Appropriate Spelling

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Demonstrate knowledge of reading fluency and strategies for promoting fluency development at all stages of reading development: An understanding of fluency development, the key indicators of fluency, and effective instructional strategies for promoting fluency development is required.

You will be expected to know the role of decoding skills and automaticity in the development of fluency and to recognize other factors that may support or disrupt fluency. You will be expected to recognize strategies for promoting fluency with respect to reading rate, reading accuracy, and prosodic reading. You may be asked about appropriate strategies for monitoring students' reading fluency development.

Core Content: Reading Fluency

Fluent reading is accurate, at a natural pace, and mimics speech in its phrasing and expressiveness. Fluency is only possible if a reader can recognize many words in a text without conscious effort (automatically) and can apply word analysis skills to unfamiliar words accurately and efficiently. Automaticity and strong decoding skills allow the reader to focus attention on the meaning of a reading passage, which is key to reading with appropriate phrasing, expression, and comprehension.

Automaticity is defined as fast, accurate, and effortless word identification at the single word level. While automaticity is not the same as reading fluency, which refers to reading competence at the passage level, automaticity is a prerequisite for fluent reading. To promote students' automatic word recognition and proficiency in decoding, teachers should monitor students' acquisition of these skills until accuracy is achieved and then provide students with practice applying the skills well beyond the point of accuracy. A variety of strategies for promoting automaticity are discussed in the sections above. (See Core Content: Sight Words.)

Fluency involves not only fast and accurate word identification (reflecting automaticity) but also entails reading in phrase-length chunks and reading with expression, or "prosodic reading." Prosodic reading relies on the reader's active engagement in comprehending a text and his or her knowledge of print conventions that signal phrasing in a written text. Because fluent readers need not make a conscious effort to decode every word, they can direct their attention to the meaning of the text. Less fluent readers, however, often tend to read at a reasonable rate but inaccurately or very slowly and with limited comprehension. They may be devoting attention to the meaning of the text at the expense of attending sufficiently to the printed words, or they may read slowly and laboriously, focusing their attention on decoding the words accurately but with insufficient cognitive resources left for constructing meaningful phrases or attending to the overall meaning of the text. Some less fluent readers can recognize words automatically but nevertheless have not learned specific prosodic reading skills—they may ignore periods or other punctuation marks, read in monotone, or place equal emphasis on every word. When assessing students' fluency development and planning appropriate fluency instruction, teachers should be aware of the prerequisite and component skills of fluency and be able to recognize factors that can disrupt fluency, such as the reading level of a text or comprehension-related factors.

Teachers can use three key indicators of fluency to assess students' fluency development

Following are important components of effective fluency instruction.

Click here for Exercise 2.4: Reading Fluency

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Demonstrate knowledge of strategies for promoting phonics, word analysis, spelling, and fluency skills for diverse learners: Familiarity with ways to promote literacy development for all learners through appropriately targeted or differentiated instruction is required.

You will be required to recognize effective interventions and differentiation strategies in phonics, word analysis, spelling, or fluency for students with learning disabilities or students who are struggling readers, English language learners, or developing readers who would benefit from targeted instruction in a specific reading skill. You may be asked to recognize specific areas of need based on students' performance.

Core Content: Differentiated Instruction in Phonics, Word Analysis, Spelling, and Fluency Skills to Address the Needs of All Students

In a systematic, research-based approach to literacy instruction, teachers ensure that students master foundational skills before beginning instruction in more complex skills. With this approach, teachers must be able to use the results of informal assessments to determine the appropriate starting point for instruction or to plan targeted instruction for those students who may need additional support to master prerequisite or grade-level skills. Teachers should also be familiar with intervention or differentiation strategies for addressing students' demonstrated needs in these areas. In addition to providing targeted support to all developing readers, teachers should be aware of specific strategies for supporting the needs of diverse learners. Students from diverse backgrounds as well as those with learning disabilities or exceptionalities may require differentiated instruction and support in reading and writing. Early identification, early intervention, and careful monitoring are critical to promoting their success as readers and writers. As always, when providing differentiated instruction, teachers should: (1) help children understand why a particular strategy is useful, and (2) describe explicitly how the strategy should be used. Teacher demonstration, modeling, guided practice, and follow-up independent practice are critical factors for success.

Working with English Language Learners
Students who have not learned to read in their primary or home language (most often students in this circumstance are entering the primary grades) face the challenge of acquiring the initial concepts and skills of literacy in a language they have not fully mastered—English. Very often, however, English language learners (ELLs) in the elementary grades are students who have recently arrived in the United States having already attended school in their home country. With effective differentiated literacy instruction, English language learners who have already developed literacy and academic skills in a home language can transfer previously developed literacy and academic skills to English. The elementary teacher should recognize that English language learners may need extra support in learning the sound system (i.e., phonemes), vocabulary, and grammar of spoken English, and the print concepts, spelling patterns, vocabulary, and sentence patterns of written English. In addition, English language learners may be asked to comprehend texts that require cultural knowledge that is different from their own. Research is still ongoing to find methodologies to meet the needs of English language learners but all agree that the teaching and learning strategies used should be characterized by culturally responsive teaching and sheltered English instruction. Click here to review sound strategies for working with English language learners.

Working with At-Risk Readers and Writers
Students at risk for reading or writing difficulties may include some students with learning disabilities but will also include students who simply require differentiated support and extended practice to develop basic decoding and encoding skills, automaticity, and reading fluency. When planning differentiated instruction for these students, keep in mind the following considerations:

Click here for Exercise 2.5: Strategies for Diverse Learners

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Chapter 2: End-of-Chapter Exercises

The end-of-chapter exercises that follow will help you review this content and prepare for test questions about phonics, word analysis, spelling, and fluency. Links to additional study resources appear at the end of this study guide.

Click here for Chapter 2: End-of-Chapter Exercises

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