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10 Decoding Scaffolds for Early and Older Learners

diagnostic gradual release perscriptive scaffolds

Have you ever had a student who 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? 

This can be incredibly frustrating for the student who can isolate the sounds or decode letter-by-letter but still 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? Absolutely!

What is Scaffolding in Literacy Instruction?

Scaffolding is the process where a teacher or tutor provides support for a student and then gradually removes those supports as the student demonstrates learning. 

These supports can come in the form of:

  • Breaking learning into smaller chunks
  • Providing a new tool, structure, or strategy to grasp new material or concepts

Imagine a painter who uses a scaffold. It is a temporary tool used by the painter to support them. And, it’s removed when it is no longer needed. Similarly, scaffolds in literacy instruction are temporary instructional tools or strategies to help our learners grow. 

What Does It Mean to Be Diagnostic and Prescriptive?

Working with students in different places on their journey with reading and dyslexia means that we need to be diagnostic and prescriptive in our approach. This means knowing when scaffolds are needed and using them appropriately to move learning forward based on the diagnostic student performance and teacher observations. 

The diagnostic and prescriptive approach to teaching is a never-ending cycle.

Diagnostic and prescriptive teaching includes:

  • Identify a student’s academic and individual strengths and areas of need 
  • Prescribe an appropriate course of action to address these needs 
  • Conduct ongoing progress monitoring
  • Continue this instructional flow by circling back to back to the first bullet point

For more, watch: What Does it Mean to Be Diagnostic and Prescriptive?

5 Early Scaffolds for Decoding Difficulties

  1. Segmenting - First, determine if oral segmenting and blending is something your student can do. 
  2. Successive blending - This is where words are sounded out by adding one phoneme at a time to blend a word. 
  3. Continuous blending - This is when you sound out words without stopping between sounds. 
  4. Body-coda work - When working with body-coda blending, your student will read or say the sounds from the beginning of the word to the vowel (the body) and then the consonants after the vowel (the coda).
  5. Backward blending - This is when you cover the beginning of the word and have the student read starting from the vowel to the end of the word. You then uncover each grapheme that comes before the vowel until you reach the beginning of the word. 

For more on these five scaffolds, read: Stuck On Decoding: 5 Ways To Scaffold Instruction!

5 Decoding Scaffolds for Older Students 

  1. Pull off the morphology - You can start with compound words, simple suffixes, etc.
  2. Look to special situations - Particularly, consonant digraphs, vowel teams, r-controlled vowel patterns, etc.
  3. Look to vowels to be sounded -
  4. Syllable division/scoop the syllables - Marking words is a scaffold. 
  5. Read the word

Remember: Scaffolds are designed to be temporary! 

For our full conversation on scaffolds for decoding, check out our latest episode of the Together in Literacy podcast. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a positive review, and subscribe!

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