There is an inter-relationship between, reading, spelling, handwriting and written expression that needs to be honored when we think about teaching reading.
When I was in elementary school the Beatles were the big thing and we would pretend at recess that we were one of the Beatles. Each of us had our favorites but the one thing that was the constant was that all four of them and their different talents were always considered as parts of the whole. At that time thinking about them as a ‘solo’ talent was unheard of. Each one of the group was needed to make the music we craved.
What do the Beetles have to do with reading? Well, just as the unique sound of the Beetles needed all four personalities, so too the teaching of reading in order to have the harmony of the process needs all four parts reading, spelling, handwriting and written expression to be taught together.
If we look at the brain and the reading process we see this same coordination of multiple parts of the brain working in conjunction or harmony with each other to read.
The reading brain involves multiple parts of the brain including:
- Temporal Lobe: phonological awareness and for decoding and discriminating sounds
- Frontal Lobe: speech production and language comprehension, reading fluency, grammatical usage
- Angular and Supramarginal Gyrus: link different parts of the brain so that letter shapes can be put together to form words.
- White matter: Nerves that connect the front areas of the reading brain to the back, which can be likened to a highway or road in which there is a need for the road to be smooth enough to allow the information to flow quickly and large enough that multiple information can be processed simultaneously.
As we have learned more about the reading brain we have then been able to apply this to our research on best practices in the teaching of reading. Research is supporting teaching that is:
- Explicit: consistent precise language, direct teaching of skills and strategies, opportunities for the student to demonstrate that they have understood the concept with immediate corrective feedback prior to their independent use of the skill, multiple opportunities to practice the skill. You are developing an understanding of the concept to eliminate the need to simply rote memorization.
- Systematic: a sequential and systematic approach follows a logical order that begins with the simplest skills and concepts and progresses to the more complicated. New concepts are related to previously learned concepts using consistent language to aid in their understanding and recall
- Cumulative: It is important to introduce one concept at a time and ensure that this is understood before the next to create a firm foundation. In doing a systematic cumulative approach you are also being diagnostic as you are not advancing until a student has achieved mastery at each step. This then allows the skills to become automatic and therefore more efficient requiring less cognitive effort.
- Multisensory: Language is an intersensory process using the neural linkages between auditory, tactile, kinesthetic-motor, visual to foster learning. Multisensory means using multiple senses to teach to assist in supporting memory and learning.
So in developing our support for the reading process, we need to ensure that we are developing lessons with the framework of having them be Explicit, Systematic, Cumulative and Multisensory and that we include all parts of the reading/literacy process, Reading, Spelling, Handwriting, and Written Expression.
I may be influenced by my playground roleplay in thinking that the Beetles although each in its own right was a talent it was when they played together that the legendary sound was made. This visual/auditory/kinesthetic-motor memory helps me recognize the need for the interconnectedness of reading, spelling, handwriting and written expression in my instruction of literacy.