‘We need to get on board and do it’: Grand Strand author pushes for decoding reading practices in schools

Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 6:50 PM EST
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - When children learn to read, there are several techniques their parents or teachers may use, but for children with learning disabilities, some techniques may not work as well.

One technique, decoding, is a practice of reading phonetically, allowing children to sound out words rather than guessing from pictures or other clues. It is a strategy that has existed for many years but is not consistently used throughout the state or the country. Murrells Inlet resident and author Sue Mariscuilo hopes to change this.

Mariscuilo, a former special education teacher, said when she was teaching, she didn’t have access to many decodable books, so she would make up her own stories for her students to read. When she retired, she wrote her own book called “Hot Chips, Mad Fish & Other Tales.”

“My stories, I had to write them according to a list of words that were decodable to this pattern that the children would be familiar with... all short vowel words,” said Mariscuilo. “So I had my list, and then I just tried to make it funny because I know that if kids have a funny book, they’re going to be wanting to read it.”

Decoding is part of the science of reading, a research-based practice that claims phonics instruction plays a critical role in learning to read. One approach that includes decoding is LETRS-- Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling.

A spokesperson for Horry County Schools said Loris Elementary is the only school in the district currently going through LETRS training, but Lexia Learning said several elementary school educators throughout South Carolina are beginning to adopt the practice.

HCS added that all elementary schools in the district provide daily systematic phonics and phonemic awareness instruction to students through the Imagine It! Reading Instruction Program.

Mariscuilo said she not only is pushing for decoding in schools but also hopes libraries will begin adding decodable books to their collections. She said it not only helps kids learn to read but also makes them more confident in their abilities.

“Kids are feeling terrible about themselves; they feel that they’re not smart, they have low self-esteem and they need to learn how to read,” she said. “It’s very doable, we have all of the information, we have the research, c.”