Science has proven that reading is a complex process requiring mastery of five foundational reading skills, which together, allow us to read confidently.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words and the understanding that spoken words are made up of sequences of speech sounds, e.g. /m/ /oo/ /n/ is “moon”.
Phonics involves understanding the relationship between letters and individual speech sounds (phonemes).
Fluency involves reading words sufficiently quickly and accurately, and with correct phrasing and intonation, so that reading sounds like spoken language. Fluent readers read effortlessly, which allows them to focus on comprehending what they read.
A strong oral vocabulary is essential for the development of both reading fluency and comprehension.
Comprehension involves getting meaning from what has been read by connecting it to what the reader already knows and thinking about what has just been read, until it is understood. It is the goal of reading instruction.
It has also been determined that systematic and explicit instruction is the most reliably effective approach in teaching the foundational skills. Systematic instruction refers to a carefully thought-out step-by-step approach, where skills and concepts are taught in a very specific sequence. Explicit instruction refers to how the skills are presented in a very direct way. Students are given clear objectives and then lots of practice to master each new skill. Repeated review is also a vital part of this process.
The Ooka Island Program
Phonemic awareness and phonics instruction is the foundation of the Ooka Island program. The 44 phonemes in the English language are taught in a very specific sequence starting with sounds that are easiest to hear and blend with other sounds. Then, building on the skills acquired with these easier sounds, the child is prepared to work through the more difficult ones. Practice with rhyming, hearing and recognizing single speech sounds, connecting sounds with letters, breaking syllables and words into their single sounds and blending sounds together, builds up the skills needed to be an efficient, capable reader. Using a focused, clear, systematic approach means that mastery of these underlying essential skills becomes possible so that reading becomes effortless.
For a child to develop reading fluency– reading that sounds like spoken language-listening to fluent reading is essential, as is lots of practice. In the Ooka Island program, the child listens to the fluent reading of each book and then reads along with “Zobot”. S/he is then given the opportunity to read by him/herself and work toward the goal of becoming a fluent reader.
Vocabulary used in the Ooka Island Emergent books is limited to words that will be known by most young children. If a word is unfamiliar, a child may be able to pronounce it through the use of their decoding skills, but if they cannot match it to a word they have in their oral vocabulary, it slows them down and affects their understanding of what they have read.
To be effective, rather than being presented in isolation, the introduction of new words needs to be hooked to something meaningful. The Ooka Island program presents new words in a way that connects them to the reading. This is done through the book narration, where new words are briefly discussed as the book is read, and in the activities following the reading. (Any interruption to the reading must be done carefully to avoid interfering with the flow of the story.) To help the child recall and retain the new words that are introduced, these words are often used again in later stories.
Comprehension is the final goal of reading instruction. To ensure that the Ooka Island books provide the best possible opportunity for readers, particularly emergent readers, to comprehend what is read, the language and vocabulary are carefully controlled. Though some new vocabulary is introduced, most of what the child sees in print in the early books will already be part of their oral language. Another aspect of the program that encourages comprehension is the narrator who provides information to help the child think about the story as it is read. In addition, having the same characters throughout the series of books and having stories that deal with experiences familiar to most children, strongly reinforces understanding.
Ooka Island teaches all of these foundational reading skills through 80 hours of purposeful play and 85 eBooks, all designed to engage children through a 24-level learning adventure.