Word Recognition

When I think of how children learn word recognition, I reflect back to learning how to drive a car. As a young adult, I had a clear vision of my purpose and goal. I had years of previous experience watching my parents model this complex task, along with joyful tag alongs with friends. I had the expertise of a patient instructor in driver school who ensured my goal was achieved. And I had recently acquired my first teaching job one hour away from my home. What perfect conditions to finally learn how to drive!

Many isolated skills and pieces of knowledge were needed along the way. For me, smooth gear shifting and accurate parallel parking seemed to require extra coaching. But most of all I just needed to drive – on new roads, busy highways and in unfamiliar neighbourhoods. Each driving session provided different opportunities to integrate all my knowledge and skill to make decisions, solve problems and have fun along the way.

Teaching word recognition with our emerging readers is much the same. Regardless of the instructional program, philosophy or learning activity used, children will learn isolated skills and pieces of knowledge about how words work. What is essential however, is helping our young learners understand how to apply and transfer their growing repertoire to make decisions, solve problems and have fun along the way. Real reading experiences that require flexible use of work work skills and knowledge is our ultimate goal.

Drivers must constantly monitor and self-correct as road conditions (and other drivers) vary. So must readers, who notice, adjust and alter techniques. Drivers and readers interpret many clues, and integrate skills and knowledge automatically or thoughtfully. And of course this depends on the circumstances (context) and previous experiences.

Keeping our instructional focus on the road ahead helps our students become independent, self-determined readers. In other words, an essential transfer goal of word recognition is suggested: To build, apply and integrate a repertoire of word recognition techniques.

We want students to understand that various techniques may be used to identify a word (meaning, visual and structural/sound information). We want students to understand that good readers simultaneously integrate techniques to recognize, learn new words, monitor and self correct when reading does not look right, sound right, or make sense. We want students to  understand that flexible word work (use of techniques) is beneficial as a reader tries to problem solve and make meaning at both the word and text level. And we want students to build confidence, competence and have fun along the way!

Spring weather in my area means unexpected snow storms, icy conditions and knowledge of numerous driving techniques. Here’s hoping I will confidently and competently apply and integrate this repertoire of techniques to effectively (and happily) reach my destination.


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