For Reading Instruction, Pictures Aren’t Worth 1,000 Words

July 8, 2022

Reading Instruction

A story in NPR detailed how a school district in Pennsylvania sought to boost reading proficiency by re-evaluating the way that reading was being taught. The district’s reading methods focused on instructing children to look at the pictures to decipher meaning. If a student didn’t know a word, the picture, in theory, could help the child figure it out.

However, in reading instruction pictures aren’t worth 1,000 words. The reason why children were falling behind was due to a lack of decoding skills. Using pictures to ascribe meaning was noted by one expert cited in the article as a “guessing approach.”

Unfortunately, this approach led to children not really grasping how to fully break down a word and decipher meaning by sounding out the word or ‘decoding.’ NPR noted that some teachers were taught to use the guessing method, but this particular approach “… assumes learning to read is a natural process and that with enough exposure to text, kids will figure out how words work.”

Do All Teachers Use the Guessing Approach?

The ‘guessing’ approach might be a common teaching method, and many children might be learning to read by using the associated pictures to help them decipher a word. Unfortunately, this reliance on imagery and illustrations could trip up a child when pictures aren’t readily available and they might fall behind in learning how to decode a word correctly if they rely on guessing.

Every school district relies on its own approach to literacy instruction. Parents of children who are not meeting grade-level reading benchmarks and reading below their grade-level might review the literacy instruction in their school or district.

Parents can talk to their child about how they are being taught to read. If parents discover that children are relying on using pictures to help them decipher a word, parents might begin to teach children how to use the letters and sounds to break down a word and decode it.

When a child is taught a method in school that is causing them to fall behind, parents might be frustrated. However, a district might embrace a method because it’s being heralded as the best approach.

Reading Instruction

How to Teach Decoding Skills

Parents can begin to teach decoding skills when children are in preschool. Decoding skills simply start with the alphabet and learning and mastering the letters. For toddlers and preschoolers, sing the alphabet song. Use alphabet games and puzzles, too.

Preschoolers also can begin to work on the sounds of each letter in the alphabet. There are so many books that parents can find at the library that help children learn sounds and letters; some books might feature favorite characters.

Parents also can play memory games at home with children. Make two cards for every letter of the alphabet (one upper case and one lowercase). Shuffle them, place them face down and take turns flipping over two cards. Children can learn how to match up the upper and lower letters to make matches.

In preschool and kindergarten, children also can begin reading small words. Teach children how to sound out each letter to read the word. Before learning to sound out words, though, children should understand the sounds that each letter makes; focus on sound mastery before moving younger kids into decoding.

What about older children? What if older children are still struggling with decoding? Parents might need to review phonics skills with them. There also could be underlying reasons why children struggle with reading or decoding.

Parents who are concerned about older children who have struggles with decoding and letter identification can contact their child’s pediatrician; the doctor might refer the child to a specialist for further evaluations.

In addition, parents also can touch base with the child’s teacher about how to help with reading and decoding. Parents could contact the school to inquire about any available reading intervention programs or to ask about the process for educational evaluations for these programs.

Reading Instruction

Breaking the Habit of Guessing

Some children might struggle with reading simply because they are in the habit of guessing a word from the image context. This could be a tough habit for parents to break.

However, one of the best tips on helping children who struggle because of how they were taught to read is simply to read with children daily. Parents can sit with children and help them embrace a decoding habit.

Again, decoding skills can be taught at a young age; these skills begin with learning the alphabet and the sounds of each letter. Many children are taught these skills, but they might simply rely on that photo context to help them decipher the meaning.

Read together with children and help them sound out each word. This could be a slow process as children work to actually decode different words.

Be patient with children as they begin to embrace a new reading strategy. If they were taught the ‘guessing’ approach, suddenly changing their reading habit could be a bit overwhelming.

Should Parents Cover Up the Photos?

Children might rely on using the pictures in a story to decipher a word. Should parents cover up the pictures? Should children read books without illustrations?

For struggling readers, photos and illustrations can break up the text so that the story isn’t too overwhelming. A long block of text could be daunting to a child.

Parents don’t need to cover up a picture or read children picture-less books. Instead, they simply need to work with children to help them break the guessing habit and sound out words that they don’t know.

How a Reading App Can Help Children with Decoding

Children who need additional help and instruction on decoding could use a reading app like Readability to focus on this necessary literacy skill. Readability includes a built-in AI tutor that features voice-recognition software. Children read stories and books aloud in Readability; if they can’t decode a word or if they struggle with a word, the tutor provides help.

Readability is leveled to meet the unique literacy needs of every child. Parents can set their child’s reading level on the program, or Readability can work with the child to better understand the best beginning reading level.

Each book in Readability also includes a list of vocabulary words. In addition, children also can tap any word in a story to hear its definition or listen to the word used in a sentence. Every word a child discovers is added to their vocabulary list; they can access this list to review their words anytime they wish.

Readability also helps children who struggle with reading comprehension. At the end of each book, the AI tutor asks questions related to the story. If a child answers the question incorrectly, the tutor shows them the section of the book that provides hints about the answer. The tutor also reads this section aloud. The child then has another opportunity to answer the question.

Readability is appropriate for children in preschool through fifth grade. Parents can follow their child’s progress via their own private portal, which displays their child’s reading data. Parents can see their child’s reading level, their reading fluency (measured in words read per minute) and their comprehension, too. Parents also can see how long their child used the program.

Parents might wonder if Readability can help their child boost their decoding skills and reading fluency. Readability offers a free seven-day trial period, which allows parents to explore the program with their child to better understand if the program is a good fit. Interested in trying out Readability? Sign up for a free trial today!