Word Recognition Summary

As seen in the above section, in order for students to achieve automatic and effortless word recognition, three important underlying elements—phonological awareness, letter-sound correspondences for decoding, and sight recognition of irregularly spelled familiar words—must be taught to the point that they too are automatic. Word recognition, the act of seeing a word and recognizing its pronunciation without conscious effort, is one of the two critical components in the Simple View of Reading that must be achieved to enable successful reading comprehension. The other component is language comprehension, which will be discussed in Chapter 4. Both interact to form the skilled process that is reading comprehension. Because they are so crucial to reading, reading comprehension is likened to a two-lock box, with both “key” components needed to open it (Davis, 2006).

The two essential components in the Simple View of Reading, automatic word recognition and strategic language comprehension, contribute to the ultimate goal of teaching reading: skilled reading comprehension. According to Garnett (2011), fluent execution of the underlying elements as discussed in this chapter involves “teaching…accompanied by supported and properly framed interactive practice” (p. 311). When word recognition becomes effortless and automatic, conscious effort is no longer needed to read the words, and instead it can be devoted to comprehension of the text. Accuracy and effortlessness, or fluency, in reading words serves to clear the way for successful reading comprehension.

It is easy to see how success in the three elements that lead to automatic word recognition are prerequisite to reading comprehension. Learning to decode and to automatically read irregularly spelled sight words can prevent the development of reading problems. Students who are successful in developing effortless word recognition have an easier time reading, and this serves as a motivator to young readers, who then proceed to read a lot. Students who struggle with word recognition find reading laborious, and this serves as a barrier to young readers, who then may be offered fewer opportunities to read connected text or avoid reading as much as possible because it is difficult. Stanovich (1986) calls this disparity the “Matthew Effects” of reading, where the rich get richer—good readers read more and become even better readers and poor readers lose out. Stanovich (1986) also points out an astonishing quote from Nagy and Anderson (1984, p. 328): “the least motivated children in the middle grades might read 100,000 words a year while the average children at this level might read 1,000,000. The figure for the voracious middle grade reader might be 10,000,000 or even as high as 50,000,000.” Imagine the differences in word and world knowledge that result from reading 100,000 words a year versus millions! As teachers, it is worthwhile to keep these numbers in mind to remind us of the importance of employing evidence-based instructional practices to ensure that all students learn phoneme awareness, decoding, and sight word recognition—the elements necessary for learning how to succeed in word recognition.