Begin with the end in mind...

Literacy for Growing Minds

My name is France Di Vitto, and I love working with children to improve their reading and writing skills!

To be able to read with fluency and comprehension is the basis for all learning. To be able to write with accuracy, clarity, and creativity provides the wondrous means to communicate with the world around us. These are the ultimate end-goals.


The NICHD-led National Reading Panel, formed by Congress in the late 1990's, reviewed decades of research about reading and reading instruction to determine the most effective teaching methods. The panel found that specific instruction in the major parts of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) is the best approach to teaching most children to read. Instruction should also be systematic (well-planned and consistent) and clear. These findings on reading instruction are still relevant today. 


Phonemes are the smallest units composing spoken language. For example, the words "go" and "she" each consist of two sounds or phonemes. Phonemes are different from letters that represent phonemes in the spellings of words. Instruction in phonemic awareness (PA) involves teaching children to focus on and manipulate phonemes in spoken syllables and words. Correlated studies have identified PA and letter knowledge as the two best school-entry predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first 2 years of instruction. 

Students with learning disabilities in reading usually have problems in spelling as well. Spelling can be especially difficult for these students, for several reasons. First, the core deficit in reading disability (RD) typically involves word decoding, and many of the same weaknesses that impact word decoding in individuals with RD - such as poor phonemic awareness or poor knowledge of letter-sound relationships - also influence spelling.


The primary focus of phonics instruction is to help readers understand how letters are linked to sounds (phonemes) to form letter-sound connections and spelling patterns and to help them learn how to apply this knowledge in their reading.  Research reveals that systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students K-6, and for children having difficulty learning to read.  The goals of phonics instruction are to provide children with key knowledge and skills, and to ensure that they know how to apply that knowledge to their reading and writing.


Fluency is one of several critical factors necessary for reading comprehension.  Fluent readers are able to read orally with speed, accuracy, and proper expression.  If text is read in a laborious and inefficient manner, it will be difficult for the child to remember what has been read and to relate the ideas expressed in the text to his or her background knowledge.


The importance of vocabulary knowledge has long been recognized in the development of reading skills. As early as 1924, researchers noted that growth in reading power means continuous growth in word knowledge. Vocabulary is critically important in oral reading instruction. There are two types of vocabulary-oral and print. A reader who encounters a strange word in print can decode the word to speech. If it is in the reader's oral vocabulary, the reader will be able to understand it. If the word is not in the reader's oral vocabulary, the reader will have to determine the meaning by other means, if possible. Consequently, the larger the reader's vocabulary (either oral or print), the easier it is to make sense of the text.


Comprehension is critically important to the development of children's reading skills and therefore to the ability to obtain an education. Reading comprehension has come to be essential not only to academic learning in all subject areas but to lifelong learning as well. Research suggests that a combination of reading comprehension techniques is the most effective.  When used appropriately, they assist in text recall, question answering, question generation, and the summarization of texts.

To write well, students must develop a broad set of skills.

  • Basic writing skills: These include spelling, capitalization, punctuation, handwriting/keyboarding, and sentence structure (e.g., elimination of run-on and sentence fragments). Basic writing skills are sometimes termed "mechanics" of writing.
  • Text generation: Text generation involves translating one's thoughts into language, what might be thought of as the "content" of writing. Text generation includes word choice (vocabulary), elaboration of detail, and clarity of expression.
  • Writing processes: Especially beyond the earliest grades, good writing involves planning, revising, and editing one's work. These processes are extremely important to success in writing, and increasingly so as students advance into the middle and secondary grades.
  • Writing knowledge: Writing knowledge includes an understanding of discourse and genre - for example, understanding that a narrative is organized differently than an informational text. Another example of writing knowledge includes writing for an audience, that is, the writer's understanding of the need to convey meaning clearly and appropriately to the people who will be reading a particular piece of writing.

Learning to write well is challenging to most students, but students with reading difficulties often have particular difficulty with writing. Underlying weaknesses that affect reading - such as limited vocabulary knowledge, lack of understanding of text structure, poor phonemic awareness, lack of letter-sound knowledge - typically affect writing as well.


National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. NIH Pub. No. 00-4769. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from

Spelling and Students with Learning Disabilities, by Louise Spear-Swerling, 2005, Courtesy of Reading Rockets.

Reading 101:  In collaboration with the Center for Effective Reading Instruction and The International Dyslexia Association.  Developed by Reading Rockets.