Stuck On Decoding: 5 Ways To Scaffold Instruction

Have you ever had a student that struggles with blending words or over-emphasizes the strategy of letter-by-letter decoding? Or a student who segments, or pulls apart, individual sounds in words but cannot blend them to read the word? What can you do to move a student forward? 

It can be incredibly frustrating for the student who can isolate the sounds - or decode letter-by-letter but then struggles to bring that knowledge together to read the word. 

Dyslexic students learning to read need more instructional time and practice addressing decoding and spelling applications, but what happens when students get stuck on letter-by-letter decoding? Are there scaffolds we can use to move them to fluent reading?

What is Scaffolding in Instruction?

Scaffolding is integral to working with diverse learners and those with dyslexia. It is an instructional strategy in which learning is broken into smaller chunks, providing a tool, structure, or strategy to help students grasp new materials or concepts so they can tackle increasingly more complex skills or material. Simply put, they are temporary instructional tools or strategies used to help learners grow.

Scaffolding Strategies to Aid Decoding Difficulties

The phonological component of language is a challenge for many dyslexic learners. Many of the students I work with struggle to hold sounds in their phonological memory. They may segment phonemes in words correctly, but when blending that word, they omit or ultimately change sounds. When students do this, scaffolding is a perfect strategy to implement - but knowing when, where, and which ones to use is necessary to move learning forward. Careful observation of students will determine when and where to implement scaffolding techniques.

5 ways I Scaffold Instruction to Help Students with the Blending Task of Decoding Words

1. Determine skills in segmenting and blending

It is essential that students correctly identify the individual phonemes (sounds) in words. Before students are fluent in blending or decoding, we must determine if they can orally say each phoneme and blend the sounds to say a word sans letters. Oral blending and segmenting are an early phonological awareness skill, but it will tell much about where the breakdown occurs for students. Are they able to orally segment and blend, or is it only when the task of connecting to reading or spelling sounds are omitted? Typically, for some students, especially those with dyslexia, segmenting phonemes (sounds) can tax the phonological memory as it requires students to hold two, three, four, or more phonemes in their phonological memory. 

To aid students in segmenting tasks, develop this skill first without letters. I have students use manipulatives to represent each phoneme as we pull apart or segment sounds within words and then blend them back together to say the complete word. Segmenting lays the foundation for reading, spelling, and phoneme manipulation. Students will pull apart each sound. Scaffolds include incorporating multi-sensory strategies to engage the learning through techniques that integrate visual-auditory-kinesthetic/motor-and-tactile connections to aid in working memory and cognition. These include, but are not limited to, having students tap each sound, move a chip to represent each sound, etc. Read more about multi-sensory strategies in structured literacy lessons here

Specific instruction in developing phonemic awareness is needed to bridge speech to print. Once students understand the segmenting and blending skills orally with manipulatives, I add in those letter representations explicitly taught. We aim to get students to this one-to-one correspondence as quickly as possible to practice decoding words. If a student struggles with segmenting individual phonemes within a word, pulling back to manipulatives may benefit the student. Read more here.

2. Successive blending

Successive blending is an early scaffold for students who tend to drop the initial phoneme. This strategy is best for students to work with short vowel sounds where you do not have a vowel situation like silent e or vowel team since you are uncovering one grapheme at a time. Students identify the initial phoneme, then add the second phoneme, and read from the beginning to the second phoneme. Then, students add the next phoneme and so on until they have read the word. This strategy is beneficial for students who struggle with phonological working memory or who need additional help with blending. 

3. Continuous blending

This scaffold is best when students are at the beginning stages of reading. You may also hear this referred to as additive blending or connected phonation. Teaching continuous blending is a great strategy to help students connect sounds with decoding. Students that struggle with holding individual speech sounds with their phonological memory benefit from this instruction. Within this scaffold, it is recommended that you start with continuous sounds (those sounds that are able to be stretched out until you run out of breath - /m/, /s/, /f/, Read about and watch a video on continuous blending here

4. Body-Coda Blending

Body Coda blending is more effortless than onset and rime work, especially for students with difficulty linking sounds/phonemes. When we speak, the vowel is the loudest part of the syllable. Children can hear this more audible part (accented vowel sound) and can stretch out the vowel sound. When working with body-coda blending, the student will read or say the sounds from the beginning to the vowel (body) and then add the consonants after the vowel (coda). This practice is helpful for students who are distorting sounds within words or may have phonological mapping or retrieval difficulties.

Body-Coda examples:




5. Backward blending

This strategy is one that I use most often with error correction in my dyslexia sessions. When a student struggles with vowel sound production or sound omission, I will cover the beginning portion of the word up to the vowel and have the student begin with the vowel sound and read to the end. (See image) Then, I will uncover each grapheme, one at a time, that comes before the vowel, blending the word as we go. The student will then read the word as a whole. 

When we look at the characteristics of dyslexia and understand that the difficulties lie in the area of accurate and/or fluent word recognition and poor spelling and decoding abilities, we see the link between the need to teach and provide scaffolds for students as they link speech-to-print in reading. 

In upcoming blogs, I will address scaffolds for decoding multisyllabic words. What are your favorite scaffolds for helping students with decoding challenges? 

I've had many requests for a PDF with these scaffolds. I've included that resource in the Resource Library for you to download. I hope you find it helpful. To download the PDF, Decoding: 5 Ways to Scaffold Instruction, click HERE to access the Resource Library. Haven't joined the Resource Library? Be a part of The Dyslexia Classroom Resource Library HERE.

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