Top 5 Tips to Maximise Reading Success – Part 5

Teach Reading and Spelling at the same time.

We have come to the last post in this series.  Previously I have discussed

Teaching explicitly

Teaching to a set sequence

Not asking to children to read things they don’t know the sounds for yet


Ditching sight words

This week I will talk about the importance of teaching reading and spelling at the same time.  The proper terms for this are decoding and encoding.

Decoding – ability to apply your knowledge of letter-sound relationships, including knowledge of letter patterns, to correctly pronounce written words. 
Encoding – the process of hearing sounds in words and being able to write symbols to represent that sound.

Typically, our reading and spelling programs sit separately.  We might be teaching phonics, writing and guided reading with a stand-alone spelling program that may / or may not focus on a particular phoneme (sound) or spelling patterns. Perhaps the spelling list comes from a list of high frequency ‘sight words’ or content words from an area of study such as science.   Children are sent home with a word list each week to ‘practice’ which often involves the good old ‘Look, say, cover, write check’ and writing ‘rainbow words’.   Worryingly, children may be asked to place letters into boxes of varying heights in the belief that they will come to know the part partly based on its ‘global shape’. 

All of the above activities can be grouped together in a category called, ‘How not to teach spelling’.  

We will examine spelling development another time, but today I’d like to focus on why it’s a good idea to teach decoding and encoding at the same time to positively impact reading.  In order to help children become strong readers both at a decoding and comprehension level, they need to understand how words work and build the ability to recall phoneme/grapheme correspondences as well as the patterns in words automatically.   To make this as strong as possible, we need to be engaging our early readers in tasks that allow them to build connections both ways: speech to print AND print to speech.

Reasons to teach reading and spelling at the same time include:

  • It reduces the cognitive load of children as they will have less material at any given time
  • It saves you classroom time in not having to do those Friday spelling tests
  • It saves you planning and preparation time because you are only preparing for one learning time in the day

But the MOST important reason is that it is just good for children’s literacy development.

Weiser and Mathes (2011) completed an analysis of several intervention strategies for year one students. They found that:

…direct and explicit encoding instructional strategies employed in each of these studies produced positive gains for students in both reading and spelling.

In addition, Weiser (2012) found that

“Those students who were provided with opportunities to practice phoneme–grapheme combinations with direct classroom teacher encoding instruction and guided decoding and encoding supplemental intervention made the greatest gains in encoding, decoding, comprehension, and fluency.”

(I have placed the links to the articles quoted above at the  bottom of this post)

So, what does this look like in your classroom?

Essentially, do not waste your or your students’ time with a stand-alone spelling program in the early stages of literacy development.  For many students  this involves weeknight practice, some words written correctly on a Friday test at which time they will promptly forget all the words they have practiced. Simply, include opportunities to sound out words in your every day phonics lessons.

You might use the following steps

(Here’s what the segmenting part could look like)

I am aware that I am, once again, asking you to let go of a practice that is a staple in many classrooms. This may also be  viewed by parents as important.  Take the time to explain the research to parents and most will come along with you on the journey of change.

Are you searching for affordable professional learning or coaching about literacy instruction? Looking to support those students in your class who aren’t making the progress you’d like, but you aren’t sure how? Click the button on the right to get in touch and let me know how I can help (Coaching, webinars or online courses). Support and PL tailored to your needs.

Some further reading about encoding and decoding

Ameliorating Reading Disabilities Early: Examining an Effective Encoding and Decoding Prevention Instruction Model

Using Encoding Instruction to Improve the Reading and Spelling Performances of Elementary Students At Risk for Literacy Difficulties: A Best-Evidence Synthesis

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