Though not all children learn to read in the same way and at the same time, there are predictable relationships between some of their steps.
This lesson will define decoding and encoding and detail their interplay in a developing reader.
Defining Decoding and Encoding
Although children are unique and develop their reading ability in different ways, there are a few signposts to use when instructing. Teachers of developing readers can look for and become familiar with these signposts and use them to drive instruction.
Developing decoding and encoding skills is essential for a solid understanding of reading. Decoding is the process of reading words in text. When a child reads the words ‘The ball is big,’ for example, it is necessary to understand what the letters are, the sounds made by each letter and how they blend together to create words.Encoding is the process of using letter/sound knowledge to write. If a student were to write that same sentence, instead of making sense of the letters in text, it is necessary to recall sounds and the symbols assigned to them to write the letters together to form words.
Let’s take a look at how this works.
The Difference Between Decoding ; Encoding
With the teaching of letters and sounds, the skill known as phonological awareness develops. Children show their phonological skills when they are able to recognize and manipulate letter sounds in specific ways, like beginning, middle and end sounds of words, words that sound the same, and syllables.This manipulation takes us to the final step in teaching reading – putting these concepts together to instruct children how to read words or, decoding. It requires children to process several steps:
- Recognize the letter
- Associate the sound of the letter
- Understand how the letter sounds work together to make words
- Blend the letter sounds together to create speech
You’ve probably forgotten how challenging this is to a reader in the earliest stages.
Decoding a simple sentence, such as ‘She is happy’ means the child needs to know all the letters contained in the sentence, the sounds assigned to each letter, and the way we put these sounds together to read.The same process is NOT used when readers take this knowledge and write. Instead they are encoding, somewhat reversing the process. Take a look at the steps:
- Understand how sounds work to form words
- Take a word apart sound by sound
- Remember the letter that goes with the sound, including what the letter looks like
- String or blend the letters together on paper to create words
When children are encoding, they are using the same skills in reading but in a different process.
If a student wanted to write ‘She is happy,’ the first step is to be able to recognize and understand that the sounds made from those words are separate. Then it is necessary to break apart the sounds, assign letters, remember rules and write words. Whew!
Analyzing a Reader’s Skills
When children read out loud to you and write words on a page, they’re giving you a special peek into their heads.
Teachers can use what they see and hear to determine what an emerging reader knows about decoding and encoding to help developing readers grow. How do they do this?One method is to analyze the encoding, or spelling patterns, readers are using. Teachers can see what skills a child is applying when they write a word.
For example, if a child spells the word ‘apple’ using the letters ‘a/p/l,’ a teacher will be able to tell the student is aware of how letters work to make the three phonemes in the word, beginning, middle and end sounds. This student is not yet aware of some spelling conventions, or rules of spelling, such as the double /p/ or silent /e/.Looking closely as a child writes, or encodes, will feed the teacher knowledge about the child’s understanding of phonics. So what do they do with all this information?
How They Are Reliant on Each Other
As you may have noticed the interplay between decoding and encoding is almost seamless; the two work side by side in a developing reader, and though sometimes they emerge at differing rates, they always depend on the other.
Teachers can use their analysis of how a child spells words to determine what level a child is on developmentally and teach to the next level of phonics and spelling. In the apple example, the teacher recognized the child’s solid understanding of phonics in terms of letter sounds but unawareness of some of the more nuanced rules of spelling.Educators have determined specific stages of spelling and phonics development and many models exist. Though different in some ways, their most basic premise, that all children develop in predictable steps, is the same. For example, take the stages a child goes through to learn to spell the word ‘pleasurable.
As the child is exposed more to print and reading, decoding, his grasp of the patterns and rules of writing, or encoding, grow. Teachers use the child’s current level of understanding to assess phonics knowledge, then build lessons in spelling to strengthen phonics skills. Eventually he can both read and correctly write the word ‘pleasurable.
Not all children are the same, and although they develop differently, they all go through the same predictable sequence of steps when learning to read and write. Teachers can use a child’s writing to examine and determine a level and build future lessons in both reading, or phonics, and writing to push a child to the next level of understanding.With the use of decoding, reading words on a page, and encoding, writing words down, children show teachers what they know and understand about language.
Understanding and using this relationship between decoding and encoding will help a teacher create meaningful, powerful lessons.