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The Interplay of Decoding and Comprehension: Unveiling the Complexities of Reading

The Interplay of Decoding and Comprehension: Unveiling the Complexities of Reading

The background for this blog post and research began with curiosity about my failure to read effectively in elementary school. That failure came to the fore when I became a literacy specialist, delving into other challenges students face that limit their literacy growth. Reading academic literature reinforced that there is more to literacy instruction than just teaching decoding.

This post aims to delve into the critical connection between decoding and comprehension in the context of reading. Many "easy" words, sight words, and consonant-vowel-consonant words are more complex than they might appear. These words include pronouns, words with multi-meanings, and verb tenses. These "simple" words can be problematic for students with learning disabilities.

The challenges of pronouns or "anaphora" is a stumbling block for readers. Skilled readers effortlessly discern the intended meaning based on the context, while less experienced readers may need help to make these connections, resulting in incomplete or inaccurate comprehension. Pronouns are meaningful. Skilled readers know or learn that they must reflect and "resolve" that word – they know that it has meaning and can be substituted with an appropriate antecedent. Students who struggle with literacy can struggle with "resolving" pronouns. Researchers Cain and Oakhill's studies on "pronoun resolution" and the authors' teaching experience provide practical demonstrations of the struggle and how these complexities can be eliminated.

Let me provide an example:

In the familiar early literacy book Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell, phrases are repetitive.

Phrases such as…He was too..  

                              I sent him back. 

Forty-one of the total number of words (123) in this text are pronouns. That is thirty (30%) of the text. This number does not include the multiple meanings in the word “back.”

The “he” is used repetitively. On each page, the “he” referenced changes.

On the first page, the antecedent is “the elephant.”

“The elephant was too big. I sent the elephant back…to the zoo.”

“The giraffe was too tall. I sent the giraffe back…to the zoo.”

Re-reading and re-writing the text, substituting the correct antecedent for the pronoun, aids comprehension and reinforces “reading is meaningful.”

My students are seeing “how the written language works.”

Secondly, sight words include words with multiple meanings. Dyslexic, autistic, or learning-disabled students often see the world "concretely." Students may need to comprehend the abstract implications of words.

 How we teach impacts how and what students learn.

Finally, connecting the student's oral language to the written language empowers students to know "we speak these words." Once students decode, comprehend, and utilize the skills of "how the written language works," student outcomes change for the most vulnerable.

In conclusion, intrinsically linked are both decoding and comprehension. Skilled readers effortlessly make leaps in literacy through abstract thinking and generalizing information, while less skilled readers grapple with the dual challenges of decoding and comprehension. Recognizing that even seemingly basic words can hold intricate complexities is crucial, further emphasizing the importance of decoding skills. Understanding and nurturing the interplay between decoding and comprehension enhances reading abilities and empower learners to become more proficient readers.

Call to Action:

Check a student’s comprehension of pronouns. Were pronouns being resolved?

Share this post with family and friends.

Grab a copy of Reversed: A Memoir

Connect with me if you have any further questions.

Thanks for Reading!


Lois Letchford’s dyslexia came to light at the age of 39, when she faced teaching her seven-year-old non-reading son, Nicholas. Examining her reading failure caused her to adapt and change lessons for her son. The results were dramatic. Lois qualified as a reading specialist to use her non-traditional background, multi-continental experience, and passion to assist other failing students. Her teaching and learning have equipped her with a unique skillset and perspective. As a teacher, she considers herself a “literacy problem-solver.”

Reversed:  A Memoir is her first book. In this story, she details her dyslexia and the journey of her son’s dramatic failure in first grade. She tells of the twist and turns that promoted her passion and her son’s dramatic academic turn-a-round - as in 2018, he received his Ph.D.

You may also contact Lois at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule her for speaking or leadership engagements.

Reversed A Memoir


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