When we read, there are four processors functioning in our brain.
- The phonological processor deals with sound (this part could be done in the dark, without seeing any text). In order to read, you must be able to manipulate sounds (segmenting and blending primarily). When you have a child who is older with underdeveloped phonological skills, it may be evident when they are able to sound out a word, but then cannot blend those sounds together to discover the word.
- The next processor is the orthographic processor. This is your knowledge of print. The English alphabet has a deep orthography - for each sound, there are multiple spelling patterns. For example, /A/ could be spelled a, ay, ai, ey, ei, eigh, ea. When you see letters and know the sound they represent, your phonological and orthographic processors are firing together (which we refer to as phonics). Once your student has built strong pathways between these two processors, they will be fluent. But what about comprehension?
- Next is the meaning processor. The meaning processor is the storing of vocabulary. Once your student can read fluently, they need to apply meaning to what they read to achieve comprehension.
- Last is the context processor. This entails understanding concepts, information, sentence context, and sentence structure. (For example, when a student adds the word "green" to their vocabulary lexicon, but then moves it to the context processor to decipher if it is the color, money, envy, etc.)
When students are struggling with reading, we should begin with assessing phonological and orthographic awareness, and then move to language comprehension assessments. We can then systematically fill in the gaps without guessing what the problem is.