Foundational Skills

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foundational skills

What Are Foundational Skills?

Foundational skills are a clear indicator of future reading success and should be explicitly and systematically taught. Mastery of foundational literacy skills such as phonics and phonological awareness, including phonemic awareness, supports long-term educational achievement.

Understanding Foundational Skills

Foundational skills encompass the early process of reading and the building blocks for reading success. The following foundational skills and related terms will help teachers understand more about these processes so that they can implement them in the classroom.

Concept Definition Example
Print concepts Knowing how printed text operates and holds meaning Holding a book correctly and pointing to one written word for each spoken word
Phonological awareness Identifying and manipulating units of sound in oral language Hearing and making rhymes
Phonemic awareness Identifying and manipulating phonemes, the smallest unit of sound in oral language Segmenting to say each sound in a word
Phoneme Smallest unit of sound in oral language The /b/ in boy
Grapheme Written representation of a sound (generally written letters or letter combinations) Dog is spelled d-o-g
Alphabet knowledge Knowing letter names, sounds, and forms Recognizing the upper and lowercase forms of alphabet letters
Phonics Mapping letters and letter combinations to sounds F represents the /f/ sound
Morphology Identifying and manipulating morphemes, the smallest units of meaning in language When a word begins with the prefix re-, it often changes the meaning of the word to add “again.” Retake means to take again.
Word recognition Identifying a word (automatic, effortless, accurate recognition is the goal) Word list assessments are often telling us if a child is recognizing words automatically and accurately
Orthography Representing sounds and meanings with written letters and letter patterns /sh/ /i/ /p/ is spelled s-h-i-p
Orthographic mapping Mapping spelling, pronunciation, and meaning of a word in memory /sh/ /i/ /p/ is spelled s-h-i-p and means “boat”
Decoding Using knowledge about grapheme/phoneme correspondences to read a word Reading a word by saying each sound and blending together
Encoding Using knowledge about grapheme/phoneme correspondences to spell a word Spelling a word by saying each sound and representing with print
Fluency Reading with prosody, accuracy, and automaticity Reading like a proficient adult reader

Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness refers to the ability to recognize the sounds of spoken language. When practicing this skill, students learn to recognize the number of words that make up a spoken sentence, as well as the ability to break up words into smaller chunks like syllables. For example, the word “pencil” can be broken up into two syllables, /pen/ and /cil/.

Phonics and Word Recognition

Phonics involves connecting words to their individual sounds and understanding the interactions between letters or groups of letters to form the correct pronunciation. Once the alphabetic principle is understood, students apply their knowledge to decode words in print, including single-syllable and multisyllabic words.

Word recognition refers to the ability to read words accurately and effortlessly. The goal of phonics instruction is to build word recognition as words become part of students’ sight word vocabulary.

Building Toward Reading Comprehension

Foundational skills are the building blocks of reading. The goal is to help students comprehend the texts they read. Students must develop proficiency with print concepts, phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency skills; which will help them better understand texts. Reading comprehension is the ability to process text one has read, understand its meaning, and pair that with the background knowledge a reader already knows to form conclusions. Reading comprehension is an ongoing skill allowing students to gain meaning from what they read. As students build on this skill, they will be able to read literature and informational texts, recall what happened, and make predictions based on what they read. If a student has strong reading comprehension skills, they should be able to answer questions like these:

  • How would you summarize the purpose of the text?
  • What is this text mostly about?
  • What lesson did you learn from this book?

Though there are other questions that can demonstrate comprehension, the ultimate goal is for students to build meaning, make connections, and enjoy the texts they read.

Foundational Skills in State and National Standards

Many of the foundational skills above are included in state and national standards. From phonological awareness to print concepts and fluency, the standards certainly see mastery of these skills as predictors of reading proficiency.

Improving Foundational Skills

Improving foundational skills lies in the effectiveness of instructional methods and the quality of resources used to do so. Time and time again, research has shown that the best way to improve foundational skills is to take an explicit, systemic, cumulative approach to instruction.

Unlike oral language, which comes naturally for most children in a language-rich environment, foundational skills are acquired best when students are directly instructed, rather than allowing them to reach their own conclusions. For example, instead of saying: “Bad and bike start with the same letter. What sound do we think this letter makes?” an instructor would say: “The letter B represents the sound /b/, like at the beginning of the word bike.”

In addition, taking a systematic approach refers to the idea that a scope and sequence allows concepts to be taught in order of complexity, allowing students to build and refine skills as they go.

How Learning A-Z Can Help

Here at Learning A-Z, we know that transitioning to systemic, explicit, cumulative foundational skills instruction can be tough. But don't worry, help is on the way! Foundations A-Z, our newest literacy solution, offers everything you need to confidently teach foundational skills. Built on Science of Reading research, Foundations A-Z takes the guesswork out of foundational skills instruction by providing:

  • Clearly modeled lesson plans
  • Expert-developed, embedded professional development
  • Research-based practice opportunities
  • Formative and end-of-unit assessments
  • Reporting to ensure maximum fidelity of instruction

Foundational skills are essential to developing proficient readers and, ultimately, lifelong learners. As you continue to teach foundational skills in your classroom, keep these tips in mind.

Build Sound Foundational Skills With Learning A-Z

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