What Is the Language Literacy Connection for Skilled Reading?


Share This: Facebooktwitterlinkedin

Volume 8, Issue 2
June 2019

By Nancy Hennessy, M.Ed.

 

Literacy is a secondary system, dependent on language as the primary system, so effective teachers know a good deal about language (Snow, Griffin, & Burns, 2006, p. 17).

I sometimes wonder whether the critical contribution of language to literacy receives the attention it deserves. I am concerned that it does not. Discussions with educators, related to this topic, often yield comments that indicate interest or surprise—but lack relevant connections.

As teachers, our knowledge affects teaching and student outcomes. What we know determines what we do and why we do it.

So why does it matter? As teachers, our knowledge affects teaching and student outcomes. What we know determines what we do and why we do it. Louisa Moats has consistently reminded us that to teach children to read, it is important that we are knowledgeable about the relationship between written and spoken English. In her words: “Expert teaching of reading and writing is only possible when the teacher knows not just the meanings conveyed by language, but how language itself works” (Moats, 2010, p. 2). The authors of Knowledge to Support the Teaching of Reading: Preparing Teachers for a Changing World (Snow, Griffin, & Burns, 2006) also provide guidance regarding what needs to be included in professional development models for teachers of reading:

  • Contributions and instructional implications of language systems
  • Connections to component skills/abilities
  • Examination of the complexity of skilled reading.

More recently, the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Knowledge and Practice Standards (2018, p. 9) reiterated that all teachers of reading should “understand the (5) language processing requirements of proficient reading and writing: phonological, orthographic, semantic, syntactic, discourse.” A basic understanding of these systems is considered foundational. How familiar are you with these brief definitions?

  • Phonology: the sound system of a language including the rules that govern how speech sounds are combined.
  • Morphology: the system of meaningful units and word formation patterns within words.
  • Semantics: the knowledge of word meanings, phrases, sentences and their relationships.
  • Syntax: the order and organization of words in phrases, clauses, and different types of sentences.
  • Pragmatics: the rules that govern use of language for communication and conversation in varied social contexts.
  • Discourse: the units of language larger than a single sentence.
  • Orthography: the print or written language system; spelling patterns and conventions.

The Contributions of Language to Literacy

Literacy is an achievement that rests on language competence at all levels, from the elemental sounds to the most overarching structures of text (Moats, 2010, p. 2).

Literacy is an achievement that rests on language competence at all levels, from the elemental sounds to the most overarching structures of text (Moats, 2010, p. 2).

The evidence for critical connections and contributions abounds. Skilled reading is a language-based ability. Its development depends on linguistic knowledge and processes that initially develop for speaking and listening. This relationship between language and literacy is reciprocal in nature and changes over time.

“Young children need writing to help them learn about reading, they need reading to help them learn about writing, and they need oral language to help them learn about both” (Roskos, Christie, & Richgels, 2003, p. 3).

“Young children need writing to help them learn about reading, they need reading to help them learn about writing, and they need oral language to help them learn about both” (Roskos, Christie, & Richgels, 2003, p. 3).

The ability to produce and comprehend spoken language is one of the earliest predictors of literacy achievement (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). Not surprisingly, those with a history of oral language difficulties are at risk of experiencing reading difficulties. It has been estimated that approximately half of all students with reading disabilities have concomitant oral language disorders (Lerner, 1975; Lyon, 1995).

Are word identification difficulties language based? Is dyslexia a language-based learning disability? Consider this response found on the FAQ section of the IDA website: “Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms that results in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading” (IDA, n.d.-b). IDA’s definition of dyslexia (2002, n.d.-a) further clarifies that difficulties with word identification, spelling, and decoding “typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.” A similar question could be posed about reading comprehension problems. The literature indicates that extracting meaning from text involves multiple levels of language and cognitive processes (Oakhill, Cain, & Elbro, 2014). The research also tells us that measures of language ability in kindergarten are predictive of subsequent difficulties in reading comprehension (Catts, Nielsen, Bridges, & Liu, 2016). Finally, in a study focused on the basis for reading comprehension problems, Spencer, Quinn, and Wagner (2014, p. 3) concluded, “Individuals with problems in reading comprehension that are not attributable to poor word recognition have comprehension problems that are general to language comprehension rather than specific to reading.” Obviously, language systems play a role in the development of the two major factors of skilled reading: word identification and language comprehension (Gough & Tunmer, 1986).

…language systems play a role in the development of the two major factors of skilled reading: word identification and language comprehension (Gough & Tunmer, 1986).

The Language Systems and Skilled Reading

How do these language systems interact with and contribute to what are generally recognized as subskills and instructional components of skilled reading? The following chart is a starting point for understanding that spoken language systems and written language systems are intertwined but not interchangeable. The chart identifies instructional implications, primary components, and competencies for word identification and comprehension, and examples of related tasks. Of note, while represented individually, reading competencies develop in concert and work with each other.

 

Language Systems

Instructional Connections

Instructional Component

Related Instructional Task

Phonology

The sound system of our language including the rules that govern how speech sounds are combined.

Many studies have affirmed the role of phonological awareness in acquiring early reading (Soifer, 2018).

Word Recognition

•       Phonological Awareness

•       Phonics

How many speech sounds are in this word?

Blend the sounds together to pronounce this word.

Morphology

The system of meaningful units and word formation patterns within words.

Morphological knowledge not only contributes to improved word recognition, but also to reading comprehension by helping readers understand the meanings or syntactic roles of unknown words 
(Carlisle, 2003).

Word Recognition

Advanced Phonics/Word Study

 

Comprehension

Vocabulary

Do you recognize the parts in this word that carry meaning? Can you use these chunks to read this unfamiliar word?

 

Do you know the meaning of the base and prefix within this word? Can you infer the meaning of the word?

Semantics

The knowledge of word meanings, phrases and sentences and their relationships.

Making meaning is dependent on the ability to work with the words, their meaning at the word, sentence level (Oakhill, Cain & Elbro, 2014).

Comprehension

Vocabulary

 

Written Expression

Word Choice

Do you know the meaning of this word?

Why did the author chose this word?

Which words stand out in this passage?

 

What word best expresses your meaning?

Syntax

The order and organization of words, phrases, clauses to convey meaning through different types of sentences.

One by one the sentences add up to the meaning of the text (Scott, 2012).

Comprehension

Sentence comprehension

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written Expression

Sentence construction

Can you find the evidence in this sentence…?

What is happening in this sentence?

What words does the author use to connect ideas within and between these sentences?

Why did the author use this type of sentence?

 

Does this sentence choice convey your meaning?

Pragmatics

Use of words or expressions for specific purposes orally and in writing—necessary for expressing meaning.

Understanding the intent of the writer is another pragmatically-based aspect of comprehension. This involves appreciating information that is not presented explicitly (Soifer, 2018).

Comprehension

Purpose

•       Dialogue

•       Punctuation

What word or words convey the tone of the author?

What does that punctuation mark tell you about…?

Discourse

Units of language larger than a single sentence.

 

 

Understanding of discourse structure is essential to communicating intended meaning… helps the reader establish critical relations between information, whether causal relations in narrative or informational text”

(Oakhill, Cain & Elbro, 2014).

 Comprehension

•       Text structures

Why did the author choose this type of paragraph?

What is the problem in this story?

What is being compared?

How is the organization of this text different from…?

Orthography

Print or written language system; spelling patterns.

Orthographic mapping is the process readers use to store written words for immediate effortless retrieval. It is the means by which readers turn unfamiliar written words into familiar instantaneously accessible sight words (Kilpatrick, 2015).

Word Recognition

•       Alphabetic principle

•       Phonics

What letters typically are used to spell…?

Why is ck used to spell /k/ in this word?

Nancy Hennessy© 2016


Caution:
The relationship between spoken and written language is complex. While this discussion addresses foundational information regarding this relationship, we have a responsibility to continue to read, discuss, and deepen our knowledge of this topic. 

Finally, it is essential to remember that while oral language develops naturally, written language is a cultural invention. Print is “bolted onto speech” in a structured, logical manner. A knowledge of written language structure and principles of effective instruction (explicit, systematic, cumulative, diagnostic) is also necessary to develop reading proficiency.


References

Carlisle J. F. (2003). Morphology matters in learning to read: A commentary. Reading Psychology, 24(3-4), 291–322.

Catts, H. W., Nielsen, D., Bridges, M., & Liu, Y. (2016). Early identification of reading comprehension difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 49(5), 451–465.

Gough, P., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7(1), 6–10.

International Dyslexia Association. (n.d.-a). Definition of dyslexia. Retrieved June 5, 2019, from https://dyslexiaida.org/definition-of-dyslexia/

International Dyslexia Association. (n.d.-b). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved June 5, 2019, from https://dyslexiaida.org/frequently-asked-questions-2/

International Dyslexia Association. (2018). Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Author.

Kilpatrick, D. A. (2015). Essentials of assessing, preventing, and overcoming reading difficulties. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

Lerner, J. W. (1975). Remedial reading and learning disabilities: Are they the same or different? Journal of Special Education, 9(2), 119–131.

Lyon, G. R. (1995). Toward a definition of dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 45(1), 1–27.

Moats, L. C. (2010). Speech to print: Language essentials for teachers (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

National Early Literacy Panel. (2008). Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

Oakhill, J., Cain, K., & Elbro, C. (2014). Understanding and teaching reading comprehension: A handbook. New York, NY: Routledge.

Roskos, K. A., Christie, J. F., & Richgels, D. J. (2003). The essentials of early literacy instruction. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Shanahan, T. (2013, December 10). Grammar and comprehension: Scaffolding student interpretation of complex sentences [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/grammar-and-comprehension-scaffolding-student-interpretation-of-complex-sentences

Snow, C., Griffin, P., & Burns, M. S. (Eds.). (2006). Knowledge to support the teaching of reading: Preparing teachers for a changing world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Soifer, L. (2018). Oral language development and its relationship to literacy. In J.R. Birsh & S. Carreker (Eds.), Multisensory teaching of basic language skills (4th ed., pp. 82-128). Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

Spencer, M., Quinn, J. M., & Wagner, R. K. (2014). Specific reading comprehension disability: Major problem, myth, or misnomer? Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 29(1), 3–9.

 


Nancy Hennessy, M.Ed., LDT-C, educational consultant and Past President of the International Dyslexia Association, is an experienced teacher and administrator. She has designed and delivered keynote addresses, virtual and live workshops and training courses for educators. Nancy co-authored Module 6 of LETRS, Digging for Meaning: Teaching Text Comprehension (2nd edition) and authored the chapter, “Working With Word Meaning: Vocabulary Instruction,” in Multisensory Teaching of Basic Skills(4th edition). She was the recipient of IDA’s Margaret Byrd Rawson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

 

 


Copyright © 2019 International Dyslexia Association (IDA). Opinions expressed in The Examiner and/or via links do not necessarily reflect those of IDA.

We encourage sharing of Examiner articles. If portions are cited, please make appropriate reference. Articles may not be reprinted for the purpose of resale. Permission to republish this article is available from info@dyslexia.org.