Is Your Child On The Right Reading Skills Progression?

October 26, 2011 by Geoff Nixon

Is Your Child On The Right Reading Skills Progression?

How Our Reading Skills Pyramid Works

Skilled readers, who come to Kindergarten ready to read, learn to read in a natural reading skills progression:  they are born with sound cognitive skills that help them absorb and map the language for reading; they learn their letter sounds and then use this pitch perfect listening to sound out words with natural fluency;  they pick up spelling naturally, and use their good vocabularies and effortless decoding to become good readers.

This reading skills progression is outlined in the nearby reading skills pyramid.  The ultimate goal is grade level reading comprehension with metacognition, the ability to self correct and thinks critically while reading.

reading skills progression

Struggling readers most often get stuck at the first step.  They do not master the cognitive skills required to sound out and/or to absorb the language.

It is not possible to truly progress up the pyramid of reading skills without mastering the prior level.  Fluent decoding is not possible without strong phonological awareness and processing skills; reading comprehension can only be achieved once decoding is fluent and not distracting from the comprehension effort, and so on.

Managing your child’s reading skill progression

Many parents do not think in terms of a reading skills progression.  Parents fret about reading comprehension far too early.  Or,  probably more concerning, they tend not to worry about their struggling young reader because reading comprehension seems fine, even though the child cannot sound out larger words.

Standardized testing and other pressures are making it hard for the schools to follow the pyramid.  The short cut to meeting a 3rd grade reading standard is use sight words to build enough reading vocabulary to meet the 3rd grade reading comprehension standards, skipping true reading fluency — a difficult standard that requires confident decoding skills. Then, by 4th grade, curricula pressure squeezes the time available for reading.

This short cut approach is why American students actually do well on international 4th grade reading tests  But this reading “skill” is a short-lived success.  The only way to read with metacognitive reading comprehension strategies is to be able to decode every word without thinking.  This is only possible if phonological awareness is sound, and other cognitive skills required for reading — processing, memory, attention and sequencing — are sound.

Because these difficult but important skills are often skipped over — or because of the pressure of instruction content, time simply runs out —  many students enter 5th and 6th grade finding that their reading skills are not keeping up with the growing demands of these higher grades — the need to identify the main point, to make inferences, etc.

Our advice to parents is to resist the temptation to jump ahead, but rather make sure your child keeps to a steady reading skills progression, consolidating skills at each level.  And if there is a breakdown at a level, seek reading help.  Gemm Learning has a series of reading programs by age that helps reading skills at each level of the pyramid.  The idea behind our program is to develop sound cognitive skills so that the student can become a natural reader, and then we provide exercises that accelerate that reading skill development.