Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Decoding and Fluency: Foundation Skills for Struggling Older Readers

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Decoding and Fluency: Foundation Skills for Struggling Older Readers

Article excerpt

Abstract. A large number of secondary students read between the 2.5 and the 5.0 grade level. What separates many of these students from their higher performing peers is their inability to read multisyllabic words and to read fluently. These students need instruction in decoding long words using one of three approaches: reading segmented words part by part, decoding different syllable types, or using a flexible strategy for reading long words. These students also need sufficient reading practice to increase their reading rates. This practice might include oral guided reading, choral reading, partner reading, and/or repeated reading activities. The authors suggest that significant gains in reading are more likely to occur when teachers implement research-validated programs that have a well-designed sequence, provide systematic instruction to students, and furnish adequate practice.


The current emphasis in reading is on robust beginning instruction to reduce the number of students later having reading challenges. Despite this laudable focus on prevention of reading problems, a staggering number of middle and high school students read significantly below grade-level expectations. The National Education Goals Panel (1995) reported that only 28% of eighth graders and 34% of twelfth graders achieve proficient reading standards. Unfortunately, 74% of students identified with reading disabilities in third grade continue to have significant reading challenges in ninth grade (Lyon, 1995).

Struggling secondary readers often have challenges in all areas of reading: decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Many of them have listening comprehension that is significantly higher than their reading comprehension. When listening comprehension exceeds reading comprehension, inaccurate and slow word recognition is likely to be the cause (Shankweiler et al., 1999). Thus, decoding and fluency are the critical foundation on which all other reading skills are laid.


What Are the Decoding Challenges of Struggling Secondary Readers?

Many researchers have determined that word recognition is the foundational process of reading and is needed to support vocabulary attainment and reading comprehension (Stanovich, 1996). Poorly developed word recognition skills are believed to be the most pervasive and debilitating source of reading challenges (Adams, 1990; Perfetti, 1985; Share & Stanovich, 1995). Although difficulty in pronouncing the individual words in the text is the common denominator of reading disability (Shankweiler, 1989, 1999), there are two distinct groups of secondary struggling readers with regard to decoding skills. Students in the smaller group are still reading at first- and second-grade levels. They have not mastered beginning reading skills: the phonemic awareness skills of blending and segmenting, letter-sound associations, reading of decodable words, recognition of high-frequency irregular words, and reading of decodable text (National Reading Panel, 2000).

In order for these students to make significant gains in reading, an adequate amount of time, perhaps as much as two hours a day, must be dedicated to systematic instruction using age-appropriate materials (Moats, 2001). Because the time left before these students leave school is short and the need is great, intensive instruction must be offered using a research-validated program (e.g., Corrective Reading; Engelmann, Carnine, Johnson, Meyer, Becker, & Eisele, 1999; Language!; Greene, 2000; or Wilson Reading System; Wilson, 1996) that will quickly close the gap between these readers and their higher performing peers.

In this article, the authors address the larger group of struggling secondary readers. These students read between the 2.5 and the 5.0 grade level. They generally can decode single-syllable words and recognize some high-frequency irregular words. Their major decoding difficulty is with multisyllabic words. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.