The first segment of the I Can Read® System sequence is called the I Can Read Preliminary Programme.  It teaches the following skills: 1] access to phonemes from spoken words and pictures 2] extraction and manipulation of phonemes and phonemic sequences from spoken words, 3]  blending of phoneme sequences into whole words, 4] the alphabetic principle and common invariance of sound to letter correspondence.

Some children approach literacy with no concept of the alphabet but may, by the time they enter the I Can Read Preliminary Programme, have heard of the letters of the alphabet and be able to extract the first sound from a spoken word. They may have no idea how single sounds can be blended together to create the words they speak and they may struggle to move past the belief that words are simply stand-alone blocks of meaning.  Some children may not realise that these smaller components of sound can also be represented by symbols and that these symbols can be written using a code called the alphabet.  Elements of the code, called letters, can be combined with one another in seemingly mysterious ways to create words that, for the accomplished reader, can be easily reproduced, can be easily understood, and automatically read.  For many children however, all this remains a mystery, but a mystery that ICR-Preliminary solves for them.

Three skills: [1] phonemic awareness, [2] use of the alphabetic principle and [3] blending skills (acquired developmentally and usually through explicit teaching approaches) are essential when teaching reading. Instructional practices that do not ensure that the child can apply phonemic awareness, does not have automatic access to letter names and sounds and is unable to apply knowledge of sequencing and processing to blend phono-graphemes are likely to place the child at risk of reading failure.

According to research, while there are core points of agreement about instructional practices in early reading, there are also crucial points of disagreement beyond these basic tenets.  However, most of these disagreements are resolvable empirically and there is a reasonable scientific consensus on many of the critical issues.  For example, the use of context and pictures to aid word recognition is not more characteristic of good readers than it is of poor readers; developing phonological sensitivity is critical for early success in reading acquisition; and instructional programmes that emphasise spelling-to-sound decoding skills result in better reading outcomes than those that do not, because alphabetic coding is the critical sub-process that supports fluent reading (in alphabetic scripts).  Recent conclusions about correct instructional practices are well supported by empirical research and, contrary to the cry that there is “no right way to teach reading”, research shows that some approaches are clearly more effective than others.

Current research into reading acquisition also demonstrates how well established and empirical findings can direct instructional practices.  Four specific contributions from research in cognitive psychology should be mentioned:

[1]    Skilled readers, though flexible in their comprehension, pay close attention to the words on the page.  They read most words, rather than skip them.

[2]    Skilled readers are not dependent on contextual cues to help with word recognition.

[3]    Contrary to popular beliefs, even skilled readers make use of phonology when they read.

[4]    Perhaps the most significant of all reading acquisition skills is that the child must learn to decipher the code.  Deciphering the code means understanding the particular way in which writing encodes speech in the child’s own language. Children do need to get meaning from print, but to do that, they need to know how to decipher the print so that they can use their already well developed language understanding skills to access the meaning.

Correct instructional approaches will identify how the beginning reader’s phonological awareness is applied and how the child uses knowledge of the alphabetic principle to apply word access strategies that are reliable and empowering for the child.  Approaches that start with basic phonemic awareness skills (called bottom-up approaches) are the preferred approach to teaching reading, and within bottom-up approaches the focus needs to be on developing the hierarchy of pre-requisite skills that lead the child through phonological awareness, the alphabetic principle, blending practices and into independent reading.