Thursday, November 15, 2012

Guest Blog Post: Getting from Decoding to Blending--All Skills Connect

Getting from Decoding to Blending--All Skills Connect

By Alexandra Berube,

Decoding and blending are interrelated skills, and some understanding of decoding is necessary before blending can occur. Decoding is breaking down a word into manageable parts (phonemes) so you can sound out the word (c-a-t is the decoded, three-phoneme version of the word cat). A student does not necessarily have to have mastered every letter-sound relationship in order to begin decoding, because some of that skill can be learned along the way with decoding, overlapping and contributing to greater growth in both skills. Children will begin decoding by sounding out the first letter, the initial sound. The medial vowel is often the hardest, because vowels have so many variations in their sounds. The best words to begin decoding with are C-V-C words--consonant-vowel-consonant--that have the most common form of the vowel sound, usually the short vowel sound. So words such as 'sat,' 'cat,' 'bed,' 'dog,' etc. are great to begin with, because each letter has a clear sound or phenome.

It's usually best to start with word families, such as the -at family, and group together a bunch of words with this word ending. This will act as a shortcut, because they will learn that -at is a chunked sound, that they can recognize two letters at a time, rather than letter by letter. This is the basis behind blending.

Many kids get stuck here at decoding, and are sounding words out but not putting them together (this is blending). They need to take 'c-a-t' to 'cat' to make meaning of the word, either by isolating each phenome or by isolating the initial sound and then connecting it to the -at word family. Reading word family mini books, such as in the link provided below, and practice with saying individual letter sounds such as in the games described earlier, will all contribute to growth and the ability to decode and blend.

These skills can all be instructed together, because I am a strong believer that we do not need to instruct on a step-by-step basis, making sure the child completely masters one individual skill before moving onto the next. Many children are still mastering their letter-sound relationships as they continue to decode and blend, and this is okay.

You have to begin working with them on real books, even simple mini books, early in the process, because they have to understand that they are reading for a purpose. They are reading to make meaning of text in front of them. If they learn the letter sounds in isolation from reading text, it serves no purpose after a certain point. The excitement that the child feels from finally being able to make meaning of words in front of them propels them forward and generates greater understanding of all previous skills.

About Alexandra Berube
Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

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