The Simple View of Reading and the Strands of Early Literacy Development

Teachers of reading share the goal of helping students develop skillful reading comprehension. As mentioned previously, the Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) is a research-supported representation of how reading comprehension develops. It characterizes skillful reading comprehension as a combination of two separate but equally important components—word recognition skills and language comprehension ability. In other words, to unlock comprehension of text, two keys are required—being able to read the words on the page and understanding what the words and language mean within the texts children are reading (Davis, 2006). If a student cannot recognize words on the page accurately and automatically, fluency will be affected, and in turn, reading comprehension will suffer. Likewise, if a student has poor understanding of the meaning of the words, reading comprehension will suffer. Students who have success with reading comprehension are those who are skilled in both word recognition and language comprehension.

Ch 3 Figure 1

Figure 1. Strands of early literacy development. Reprinted from Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice, by H. S. Scarborough, in S. B. Newman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.), 2002, Handbook of early literacy research, p. 98, Copyright 2002, New York, NY: Guilford Press. Reprinted with permission.

These two essential components of the Simple View of Reading are represented by an illustration by Scarborough (2002). In her illustration, seen in Figure 1, twisting ropes represent the underlying skills and elements that come together to form two necessary braids that represent the two essential components of reading comprehension. Although the model itself is called “simple” because it points out that reading comprehension is comprised of reading words and understanding the language of the words, in truth the two components are quite complex. Examination of Scarborough’s rope model reveals how multifaceted each is. For either of the two essential components to develop successfully, students need to be taught the elements necessary for automatic word recognition (i.e., phonological awareness, decoding, sight recognition of frequent/familiar words), and strategic language comprehension (i.e., background knowledge, vocabulary, verbal reasoning, literacy knowledge). The sections below will describe the importance of the three elements that lead to accurate word recognition and provide evidence-based instructional methods for each element. Chapter 4 in this textbook will cover the elements leading to strategic language comprehension.