Helping students to read more accurately

This page discusses the key knowledge and skills that students with word reading difficulties need to learn for fluency, accuracy and speed.

Before planning a learning program that will support students to read more accurately, create a literacy profile to help you to determine a student’s existing literacy knowledge and skills, their areas of need, and other factors or obstacles to their learning. This will help you to identify areas to focus on in your teaching.

Word reading difficulties

Word reading difficulties are typically caused by one or more of the following factors:

  • poor phonemic awareness
  • poor ability to process the sounds of the English language
  • poor rapid automatised naming
  • difficulty understanding the relationship between graphemes and their corresponding phonemes (phonics).

Students learn to read and spell words when they combine skills and knowledge in these areas.

Once you have created a student’s literacy profile and collected assessment data about their existing knowledge and skills, you will be able to locate where the student is at on a developmental pathway, such as the Victorian Curriculum F–10: English or National Literacy Learning Progressions. These indicate a student’s existing knowledge and skills and the subsequent knowledge and skills that they should be taught.

Set targeted goals

When setting goals for students with word reading difficulties, it is important to determine their developmental level rather than their year level. Literacy is componential; more complex knowledge and skills build on foundational knowledge and skills. Most literacy difficulties are the result of not having learned or fully mastered these foundational skills.

Once you have determined a student's existing knowledge and skills, choose an appropriate goal. This may be drawn from the National Literacy Learning Progressions or Victorian Curriculum F–10: English or include phonological and word reading goals.

Break the developmental pathway for this knowledge or skill down into smaller steps. For example, when blending sounds to make words, students may need to start by learning how to identify sounds in words or how many different sounds there are in a particular word.

Automaticity (poor rapid automatised naming)

Students will be most motivated when learning a new idea or skill for the first time. It is essential that they make continued efforts to master these to the point where they can draw on knowledge or use a skill automatically. This is the result of learning, repetition and practise.

The more students practise and link this learning with what they already know, the more they will be able to use it with less effort and the more their literacy will improve.

For example, when word recognition is automatic while reading, students use only a very small amount of their cognition to decode words, allowing them instead to focus on the important task of understanding word meaning and comprehending texts.

Teaching should be tailored to each student's individual needs and based on assessment data.

Supporting positive engagement with literacy

Explicitly teaching students to engage positively with literacy learning includes helping them see they are making progress in learning to read and spell words, to monitor and track their success and learn to have positive self-efficacy as learners and users of literacy.

You can target this knowledge by:

  • using dialogue that helps the student see the value of learning to read and spell words
  • encouraging students to link positive feelings with reading and spelling activities
  • encouraging risk taking and experimenting with new words to help develop curiosity about learning and using them
  • encouraging students to read unfamiliar words outside the classroom
  • supporting the student to replace negative attitudes and negative self-efficacy toward reading and spelling.

Teaching students to manage and self-direct their learning

Students are more likely to engage positively with literacy learning when they can manage and direct their learning activity. This helps them become self-teachers or self-learners of steps in literacy knowledge and skills.

You need to teach them explicitly to use self-talk to plan how they will learn, to monitor how they are learning a new skill, and to review or consolidate what they have learned at any point. You can teach a student to do this by asking them to reflect on what they did to learn during a session. They can practise saying the actions they used.

Teaching self-management and self-talk for each skill they learn helps a student to decide when to use that skill in future. You can scaffold the student to learn to use the strategies independently. It also helps them to automatise that aspect of their literacy knowledge.

The goal is that the student learns that they can manage and control their literacy learning and use these skills to enhance their word level knowledge and skill.

For more information visit key literacy knowledge and skills for students in Prep to Year 2, years 3–6 and years 7–10.