Even though reading is a very complex process where we have to retrain our brain to use components that were originally designed for something else, it can be boiled down to three elements. These elements are decoding, language comprehension, and reading comprehension.

In 1970‘s and 1980’s the Whole Language approach to reading instruction was used widely across the world. In Whole Language reading instruction, the focus of teaching students how to read by immersing them in a literacy-rich environment and not spending a significant amount of time on phonics instruction. The thought was, if you spent time creating the love of reading among students, reading would come naturally to them.   Unfortunately, this instructional method does not work for all students and there were many students who were not able to read.

In 1986, Phillip Gough and  William Tumner wrote an article where the proposed the Simple View of Reading. In this article, they wanted to show the importance of teaching children how to decode or sound out the words they did not know.

So, they came up with a mathematical formula to show for an individual to understand what they have read (reading comprehension {RC}) they need to be able to recognize the word (decoding {D}) AND understand what the words meant (language comprehension {LC}).

The range of the scores each of these terms can only between the values of 0 (cannot do the skill at all) and 1 (has mastered the skill). Realistically there is a range of abilities when it comes to decoding, language comprehension, and reading comprehension so these values are going to be decimals.

Mathematically the formula looks like this:

D * LC = RC

When you look at this equation, you will notice that the operation is multiplication and not addition. This is because even though decoding and language comprehension are very different skills, they related to each other when it comes to an individual’s reading comprehension. If you were to simply added the values related to decoding and language comprehension together, the answer would not show how they are related to each other.

Using the Simple View of Reading’s formula, generally speaking, you will come up with four different types of students.

An individual who is a poor decoder will struggle with being able to figure out what word the letters make.  Poor decoding is problematic because if you don’t know what the word says, there is no way that you can access the meaning.

If someone is a poor decoder than as a teacher you need to figure out why this is the case.  First, you should assess their phonological awareness. This is the individual’s awareness of the sounds within a language and their ability to manipulate them.  You can do this with an informal screening measure such as the free Phonological Awareness Screening Tool (The PAST Test), by Dr. David Kilpatrick. If they struggle with any of the phonological awareness skills, then you should make sure at least part of the intervention focuses on these skills.

Then you should look into their phonics knowledge. A poor decoder may struggle with knowing the relationship between the letters of the alphabet and the sounds that they make.  Individuals with weaknesses in this area need support learning the relationships between the sounds in the English language and the letters that represent them in the written language.  This instruction needs to be systematic (teaching the letters in a logical sequence based on a frequency, not just alphabetical order) AND explicit because understanding these letter/sound relationships is a basic component of reading.

Poor decoding skills is a hallmark trait of individuals with dyslexia, which is a type of learning disability that affects an individual’s ability to read.

An individual who struggles with language comprehension will not have a problem with reading the words in the story. If you ask them to read a story they will be able to read the story without difficulty, but if you ask them about what they read, they would have not be able to tell you what the story was about.

There are several reasons this may happen and in order to help the student, you must figure out why.  It could be their vocabulary, their knowledge about the subject that they read, their ability to understand complex sentences, not knowing where to look for meaning along with other challenges. They could struggle in one of these areas or several of these areas.

An individual who struggles with both decoding the text and language comprehension will definitely struggle with reading comprehension. If they can’t read the words, or understand what they mean, how can they understand what they have read?

These individuals need support in all areas related to literacy and the effects of their problems will only get bigger over time if they don’t get help.

These individuals have no problem with reading the words on the page or understanding what they mean.  This is the ultimate goal of reading instruction.


Baker, S.K., Fien, F., Nelson, N. J., Petscher, Y., Sayko, S., & Turtura, J. (2017). Learning to read: “The simple view of reading”. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Special Education Programs, National Center on Improving Literacy. Retrieved from http://improvingliteracy.org

Gough, P. B. & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education7 (1): 6. doi:10.1177/074193258600700104.

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