Many schools discontinue decoding instruction after 3rd grade.This is often problematic for struggling readers who lack skills to tackle the multi-syllabic vocabulary encountered from 4th grade on. Word attack instruction teaches techniques to make it easier to decode complex multi-syllable words.
Identifying the Problem
The ultimate goal of reading instruction is to produce readers who are capable of fully comprehending the material being read. If students struggle to read individual words, they lack a pathway to comprehension. By equipping students with word attack strategies, they are enabled to decode with less effort which ultimately leads to improvement both in reading fluency and comprehension.
According to the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress 69% of the nation’s 4th graders read below grade level. This statistic suggests that while many students develop the skills to read the one and two syllable words predominant in early elementary school work, they lack the ability to apply these skills to the multi-syllable words encountered with increasing frequency in the 4th grade and beyond.
Learning How to Attack Words
Many schools cease decoding instruction by the third grade. This is sufficient for many students, but often poses a challenge for those with reading difficulties. Struggling readers can derive enormous benefit from direct instruction in decoding the longer and more difficult words encountered in later grades. There are a number of techniques which can help facilitate this process.
Provide explicit instruction in recognition of common affixes (prefixes and suffixes). 80% of multi-syllable words contain one or the other or both.
Provide repeated practice reading affixes, vowel teams, and common word roots in isolation. Have students do timed reading of drill sheets containing just the isolated word parts (i.e. dis-, mis-, -ful, -ness,-ment, ject, cept, struct, au, ar, ir, etc.). The goal is to build quick visual recognition of the smaller segments that comprise larger words.
Teach segmenting of longer words into decodable chunks. Rather than approaching a word like disrespectfully as a whole, once taught the prefixes dis and re and the suffixes ful and ly, the student is able to first break the word into more manageable chunks dis re spect ful ly, and then read the word as a whole.
There are two effective ways to practice this segmenting skill. One is to provide a list of words containing learned affixes and having the student first circle the prefixes and suffixes in each word. Then, read the individual word parts, and finally read the whole word.
Another technique is to create a list of words in columns with spaces separating the word parts. (i.e. re pay ment). Once the student is comfortable reading words containing the visible spaces to delineate word parts, transition them to columns of words without the spaces. With repeated drill and practice, both techniques strengthen speed and accuracy in reading multi-syllable words.
Words for practicing the described techniques can be extracted from regular schoolwork or a packaged curriculum can be used. REWARDS, Megawords, and Abecedarian Level C are examples of user friendly curricula designed with an emphasis on teaching strategies that focus on decoding multi-syllable words by focusing on syllables, affixes, and morphemes. Each comes with both student and teacher guides and are suitable for either group or individual instruction.