Magazine article Perspectives on Language and Literacy

Theme Editors' Introduction: SYNTAX: ITS ROLE IN LITERACY LEARNING

Magazine article Perspectives on Language and Literacy

Theme Editors' Introduction: SYNTAX: ITS ROLE IN LITERACY LEARNING

Article excerpt

Since the 1980s, literacy researchers and educators have directed considerable attention to three crucial areas of instruction. One area is phoneme-level and word-level instruction, with emphasis placed on phonemic and phonological awareness, phonics, spelling, word study, and strategies for decoding and encoding words. Vocabulary instruction is a second area that has received considerable attention. Researchers and educators have stressed that successful readers must carefully learn the meanings of the words they read and that reading builds strong vocabularies. A third focal point has been reading comprehension. Research and professional development trends have led to an expansion of methods for teaching and assessing comprehension and for accentuating reader engagement with text. But something is still missing in this instructional paradigm-something somewhere between the ability to read words and comprehension of text passages- and that something is skillful sentence-level reading. Learning about sentences involves instruction in syntax and grammar- two areas of language arts and literacy instruction that have received comparatively little investigation in the past few decades. The authors of this issue of Perspectives on Language and Literacy (Perspectives) have given the topic more attention by exploring how syntax and grammar are the missing link between skillful word reading and the global comprehension of extended passages of text.

The authors address how sentence-level skills are important in and of themselves; but they also cover how sentence skills allow readers to acquire vocabulary knowledge by understanding the meaning of words in the context of sentences. In addition, the authors describe how comprehension of extended text is often a matter of understanding the meaning of each sentence in a text. By extension, syntax and grammar are the needed tools for writing clearly worded sentences that convey information or express the writer's experiences. The authors consider strategies for helping learners develop sentence writing skills and knowledge of grammar because these skills are beneficial supports for learning vocabulary and enhancing reading comprehension. Students' successful learning of academic subject matter is often dependent upon how well they understand the information that is contained in the sentences that they read and how well they write sentences that tell what they have learned.

Sentence comprehension and production skills factor into student attainment of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS; Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2010), which stress that students must acquire the ability to process and produce complex text. Text that is complex not only carries complicated meaning; it is composed of sentences that employ varying structures and sophisticated grammatical forms. Each article in this issue of Perspectives explores sentence-level literacy skills and provides examples of practices that teachers can use to help students attain the reading and writing performance standards set by the CCSS.

In the first article, "Syntax Development in the School-Age Years: Implications for Assessment and Intervention," Nickola Wolf Nelson provides an overview of how children develop oral syntax and describes how the syntax of written language presents different demands. Nelson presents specific suggestions for enhancing students' morphosyntax skills (i.e., building words for use in sentence contexts) and for informal assessment of the length and complexity of students' sentences. She also summarizes potential signs of difficulty in sentence writing in students with dyslexia and other language-learning disabilities.

Next, in their article "The Role of Complex Sentence Knowledge in Children with Reading and Writing Difficulties" Cheryl Scott and Catherine Balthazar enumerate the characteristics of the sentence-based language difficulties that affect students' listening comprehension, oral language, reading comprehension, and written expression. …

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