Teaching for Proficient Word Solving

Written by Gen

I write about this topic cautiously. How a student solves a word with visual information (letters, sounds, letter clusters, inflectional endings, etc.), can seem very straightforward- the student either decodes it accurately, or she doesn’t. I exercise caution in this area of literacy teaching, however, because as Marie Clay theorized, reading is about making meaning and getting a message from the text. Any teaching we do regarding using visual information needs to be carefully balanced with teaching students to solve words with meaning as well.

With that said, teaching the use of visual information is important, and understanding what proficient readers do helps us to teach those who are not proficient. Whenever I begin with a new round of Reading Recovery students, I like to review the article, Taking Words A-Part, Ap-art, Apar-t While Reading, by Betsy L. Kaye, 2008. Kaye identifies four features of proficient readers from a study of 2nd-graders:

  1. Variety: Proficient readers break words in a variety of ways, many of which are unique to the reader.
  2. Efficient Units: When proficient readers break words, the units are large and useful. Proficient readers do not solve words letter-by-letter.
  3. Left-to-Right Analysis: Proficient readers always solve a word from left-to-right, and never begin by articulating segments from the middle or end of words.
  4. Independence: Proficient readers always work to solve words on their own, and do not appeal for help.

The struggling reader has habituated inefficient reading behaviors. This is the difficulty for the interventionist: to find ways to get our struggling readers to behave as the proficient readers do. Kaye’s message is that, while proficient readers typically exhibit the same characteristics, the path to solving words is often unique to each reader. How overwhelming for an interventionist! This may mean that a one-size-fits-all phonics scope and sequence will not necessarily be enough for our most fragile readers-they will need a specialized approach.

I am inspired every time I review this article to occasionally sit back from my students, pause my own teaching and prompting, and simply observe, jotting down what the students’ attempts are at difficulty. Just as Kaye found the trends among proficient readers, I look for the trends in each of my student’s attempts. From this type of error analysis, I can more easily find the specific inefficient behaviors that are interfering and determine the teaching and prompting language that will best help the individual to become more proficient in his own unique way.

Please enjoy Kaye’s article here:

Click to access JRR_8.1-Kaye.pdf




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s