Research has identified elements that are critical in implementing an effective structured literacy program. These elements include phonological awareness, phonics, syllable instruction, sight word recognition, morphology, syntax, semantics, comprehension, as well as oral and silent reading fluency. In addition, effective instruction will include spelling, grammar and syntax focus for written expression. Instruction incorporates programs that simultaneously utilize multi-sensory, systematic, cumulative, and explicit methodologies for improved reading and written expression skills.
Phonological Awareness: is the ability to distinguish and analyze phonemes articulated. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in language. Phonological awareness allows an individual to distinguish different phonemes, understand the order in which they occur, and be able to manipulate them internally. Furthermore, the process and ability to segment words into individual sounds is phonemic awareness, which is also important to gaining strong phonological awareness skills.
Phonics: is the sound (phoneme) – letter (grapheme) association in the English language. Phonics needs to be taught systematically beginning with one letter to one sound and progress to more complicated patters of digraphs and diphthongs. This is a cumulative process introducing new information to previously mastered skills. Instruction must include receptive and expressive drills. Blending of sounds into words and segmenting words into sounds is also a crucial component of effective phonics instruction.
Syllable Instruction: includes teaching of the six basic syllable types in the English language … closed, vowel-consonant-e, open, consonant-le, r-controlled, and vowel pair. Knowledge of syllable types is an important organizing idea. By knowing the syllable type, the reader can better determine the sound of the vowel in the syllable. Syllable division rules heighten the reader’s awareness of where a long, unfamiliar word may be divided for great accuracy in reading the word.
Sight Word Recognition: is important for automatic and rapid reading the most commonly used words in English print. Approximately 15% of our English words do not follow a recognizable orthographic pattern. These “unfair” or “sight” words must be committed to visual memory in order for an individual to recognize the word immediately while reading connected text.
Morphology: is the study of units of meaning (morphemes) in words. Teaching morphemes assists students in understanding the meaning of the higher-level reading and vocabulary words. Effective programs must include the study of root words, prefixes, and suffixes. In addition, the program should include Latin and Greek word origins to facilitate vocabulary study.
Syntax: represents the order words are combined in a phrase or sentence in order to convey meaning. Instruction includes but not limited to detecting structural ambiguity in sentences, recognizing synonyms, correcting word order, and completing sentences with missing words.
Semantics: represents the meaning of phrases and sentences. The relationship between words and what they signify. An effective program will include comprehension instruction of written language to address meaning of connected text.
Comprehension: is the ability to read text, process it and understand its meaning. An individual’s ability to comprehend text is influenced by their traits and skills, one of which is the ability to make inferences. If word recognition is difficult, students use too much of their processing capacity to read individual words, which interferes with their ability to comprehend what is read.
Oral and Silent Reading Fluency: Oral reading fluency is the ability to read aloud connected text quickly, accurately, and with expression. In doing so, there is no noticeable cognitive effort that is associated with decoding the words on the page. Oral reading fluency is one of several critical components required for successful reading comprehension. Silent reading fluency is critical as students transition from being primarily an oral reader to a silent reader around the 4th grade level, it is critical for advancement assessment testing, and nearly all adult level reading is silent reading.
Structured Literacy is distinctive in the principles that guide how critical elements are taught:
Systematic and Cumulative: Structured Literacy instruction is systematic and cumulative. Systematic means that the organization of material follows the logical order of the language. The sequence must begin with the easiest and most basic concepts and elements and progress methodically to more difficult concepts and elements. Cumulative means each step must be based on concepts previously learned.
Explicit Instruction: Structured Literacy instruction requires the deliberate teaching of all concepts with continuous student-teacher interaction. It is not assumed that students will naturally deduce these concepts on their own.
Diagnostic Teaching: The teacher must be adept at individualized instruction. That is instruction that meets a student’s needs. The instruction is based on careful and continuous assessment, both informally (for example, observation) and formally (for example, with standardized measures. The content presented must be mastered to the degree of automaticity. Automaticity is critical to freeing all the student’s attention and cognitive resources for comprehension and expression.