Literacy Strategies for Students with Disabilities

Word Recognition: Decoding

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Effective instruction is based on scientifically-based research. An overview of the research for teaching decoding is included in this section.  
  • Reading and comprehending text is a complex process especially when interacting with the English language.  English is an alphabetic system that has a deep orthography, meaning it does not always have a one to one correspondence between a phoneme (sound) and a grapheme (spelling) and we spell based on meaning.  For example, English has 5 vowel letters (a, e, i, o, u) and approximately 18 vowel sounds.  Each vowel or a vowel grapheme has more than one sound.  Consider the different spellings for the long a sound in the following words:  rate, bait, play, steak, baby, weight, vein, hey.  We also maintain the spelling of a word based on morphemes (meaningful parts of words).  The best example is the spelling of the inflectional ending –ed.  It is always spelled –ed even though it represents three different sounds, as in played /d/, twisted /ed/, and hopped /t/.  The spelling is maintained to indicate a word is past tense (Moats, 2009b, Moats, 2009c, Moats, 2009d). 

    As Scarborough describes in the reading rope model, reading comprehension is the product of language comprehension and word recognition. 

    “The reader who has difficulty with decoding will not be able to derive meaning form the text…” (Carreker, 2011, pg. 208).

    If the goal of reading is comprehension of text, then decoding is a necessary skill for students to learn, especially in English which is a complex alphabetic system.  Beginning reading curriculum that includes explicit decoding instruction is more effective than programs that do not (Moats, 2009).  However, word recognition is only part of reading instruction.  Teaching comprehension skills should always be included in a comprehensive reading curriculum. 

    A student who can efficiently and effectively decode words has acquired many prerequisites such as an understanding of the concepts of print, phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle (Carreker, 2011). 

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This section includes a library of instructional strategies that teach students to decode unknown words.
  • Word Study for Students with Learning Disabilities and English Language Learners image
    This resource contains many activities to enhance decoding instruction.
    The decoding lessons in this document are designed specifically for 3rd grade
    students who experience persistent reading difficulties.  
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Videos show how instructional strategies look in the classroom.  These videos focus on teaching students to decode unknown words.
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This section contains additional resources related to decoding instruction.
  • The guidelines in this booklet can be used to evaluate the decoding instruction found in both basal reading programs and supplemental programs.

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  • Cara Wyly
    Project Manager, Progress in the General Curriculum Network
    (210) 370-5413