In English we translate sounds into letters when going from a spoken message to a written one. Reading is looking at letters and translating them back into spoken sounds. Picture someone reading out loud. Sound really easy? You might be surprised at how common sense the 4 basic stages of reading progress are from here.
Saying the Sounds
The first stage in reading is to get all the sounds that you will be using ready to go. There are 46 sounds that are specifically English. A child getting ready to read has to have these 46 sounds on the tip of their tongue. It's okay if some sounds are still under construction. For instance, there is a lisp that is being worked on. If on the other hand, a child uses one sound for both "f'" and "v", or switches "y" and "l" sounds then they need more practice in pronunciation.
Next, a preparing reader needs to recognize that all the funny lines and curves on a written page are individual letters. Details like knowing double "t" is still two letters and not one, or "m" is different from "n" are critical and need to be mastered. Not to be overlooked, beginners need to know that marks like "!" and numbers are not letters. You don't want them trying to sound these out down the road.
What shall we name the letters? Experts are split on teaching just letter shapes and sounds or letter names as well. If you use letter names, like I do, then readers learn them first in order and then mixed up. Skipping letter names works with structured or scripted lessons.
Sound Letter Connection - Ideas Stage
Now that sounds and letters are in place, the next step is to connect the two in general terms. At first, your child just understands that letters stand for sounds. This means when you read a story book they know you are reading the letters and not the pictures (and not making it up as you go along). Later, a child can hear, and tell you the first, last and middle sounds in a word.
Connecting Specific Sounds to Letters
Now for the grand finale! Connect specific letters to specific sounds and blend them. There are 71 letters or groups of letters used in English. Each one of these has one or more sounds that goes with it, depending on the reading program used. Readers learn the sounds the letters make. These sounds are then blended.
These are the basic reading stages. They are not difficult. I think most parents are really satisfied when they know them because they make measuring a child's progress a relaxed observation. They also allow you to consider a reading program with more experienced eyes. That's a big deal in a world full of hype.
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