Good Readers Read by Sight and Sound
Who are the good readers then? Most children, about 85 percent, learn to read with relative ease through proper instruction. The stages of reading begin with children reading short words as though they were pictures, that is, they are not aware of the relationship between the letters or syllables and their sound. A word such as bath may be visually similar to the word bat. A child who reads the whole word as though it is a picture may not be able to distinguish between them.
After three years of reading instruction, reading becomes an auto-matic process. Good readers read almost all familiar words by sight, although they are not aware of how they are reading. However, when they are reading fluently, they will sound out unfamiliar words. Research into reading shows that familiar words are read by sight, whereas unfamiliar words are read by sound.
So a child may read the words, man, cup, boy, or girl, by sight—as a whole picture—while at the same time spelling out new words such as tied or cobbler. When a child is breaking down a word like cobbler into segments he/she follows the sounding of the word, for example, cobb-ler. These points will be discussed again in the next chapter.
Word Identification and Comprehension— One or Two Processes
Sometimes we read words in isolation, but mostly we read them in a sentence. Often the sentence is a part of a paragraph which tells a story or discusses an idea or an event. Therefore, although reading a single word is the beginning of all reading, even the child in Grade 1 is given words to read in sentences and gauges their meaning from the context of the sentence. Recognizing a word by itself is important, but understanding the word in its context is more frequently demanded.
No wonder reading includes both reading a word in isolation as well as understanding the word in context. However, for many years we did not separate word identification, or word decoding as it is called, from word comprehension. We thought that reading meant just recognizing a word and understanding it within a context.
But then it became clear that among schoolchildren, there are some who can read but cannot understand, and then there is an opposite group, those who cannot read but have no difficulty in understanding words or sentences read aloud to them.
Facts like these have forced researchers to consider word identification (word decoding) and comprehension as two separate processes. There is no doubt that it is possible to assist the first group to understand by having someone read the word or sentence aloud to them, and teach the second group to read fluently.