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Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
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Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers

G. Reid Lyon

Dr. G. Reid Lyon is chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch within the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at NIH.

Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
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An Interview With G. Reid Lyon

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The rapid application of skills to print...
One of the things we've learned in the last decade is that we can get kids to understand the sounds and how they link to the letters, but one issue that a lot of our youngsters still have trouble with is the rapid application of those skills to print. That's called fluency, or the ability to apply skills, phonics and phonemic awareness skills, to the text in a rapid and automatic way.

We are just beginning to understand how, in fact, we can bolster that capability in youngsters, which had been, heretofore, probably the biggest impediment to making sure that what was read was understood. So reading does require a number of basic capabilities to include an understanding of the sound system, how the sounds relate to print, a fluent application, a fluent reading of text and the ability to structure yourself as you comprehend that text.
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Reading is like riding a bike...
Learning how to read requires the youngster to integrate a number of complex abilities and apply those. And so what they're going to be doing is applying sounds to letters and letter patterns and then applying sounds and letter patterns and so forth to a bigger textual display, a page of print. And in order to get any benefit out of reading, that application needs to be almost unconscious, automatic. It has to be extremely quick so that all of the energies are given over to understanding what's read, which is why we teach kids to read.

We don't teach kids to read for sound purposes or for phonics purposes; those are all meant to be a means to an end, which is making meaning, understanding. But if kids don't develop that automaticity, that quickness…

It's like riding a bike. You watch little ones beginning to ride a bike; they're wobbling all over the place. They fall down. They don't have the process well consolidated. But as we go along as kids and we begin to practice and practice and practice riding a bike, we don't even think about peddling anymore until it gets hard. We don't think about keeping the bike straight and we can ride with no hands. Same as with reading.
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