Advanced Skills Necessary for Proficient Reading

Overview of Key Higher Level or Advanced Reading Skills


While correct phonologic processing provides the necessary foundation for accurate and effortless decoding, proficient reading is more complex and requires the development of higher level advanced skills.  To become a skilled or proficient reader, the student still needs to develop higher level advanced skills in handling multisyllable words, building fluency, expanding vocabulary and developing comprehension skills. This article reviews the higher level or advanced skills necessary for proficient or skilled reading.   For an overview of all the skills necessary for proficient or skilled reading see the article Overview and Visual Representation of the Process of Proficient Reading.


While a strong direct systematic phonics program establishes the foundation of correct phonologic processing, this is only the beginning. The student still needs to develop advanced skills. These advanced skills are all enhanced by direct instruction. You can effectively help your child or student acquire important higher level reading skills.  


Higher Level or Advanced Reading Skills



1.  Skill in handling multisyllable words


The multisyllable or longer words are harder to read than “short” words. To read multisyllable words the student needs to apply a more advanced strategy. Some students automatically develop the proper strategies for reading multisyllable words but many do not and struggle with multisyllable words. Direct instruction and guided practice teaches the student how to handle multisyllable words. The majority of English words are multisyllable so it is critical to read them effectively. 


Syllables are simply the hunks of sound within a spoken word that are said with a single puff of air.  Every syllable has at least one vowel sound with or without the surrounding consonant sounds. Multisyllable words are made up of a combination of these distinct sound hunks. To read multisyllable words the student has to break the word down by distinguishing and clumping the appropriate sounds to form the correct syllables and then smoothly combining these correct sound hunks with all the adjacent syllables into one fluid word.  The student needs to capture all the appropriate sound hunks in the word without missing one or adding one that should not be there. It is tricky and it absolutely takes practice to master this complex skill.


Many struggling readers have difficulty with multisyllable words. Also some students who have a strong reading base run into problems with higher reading levels as they begin to face many multisyllable words. These students need to learn strategies for handling multisyllable words. The general rule of thumb is 1st graders should easily read 1 syllable words, 2nd graders should easily handle 2 syllable words, 3rd graders 3-syllable words and 4th grade 4 or more syllables. It is also important to realize, this advanced skill of reading multisyllable words can not be proficiently mastered until after the student is able to automatically decode and blend the individual sounds.


You can help a student develop proficiency in reading multisyllable words by directly teaching strategies to handle these longer words and by providing guided practice in reading multisyllable words. Direct instruction in reading multisyllable words is important when helping beginner readers advance and when remediating struggling readers.


See the article  Handling Multisyllable Words for additional information on helping students learn how to read multisyllable words.  


2.  Fluency 


Fluency is ‘fast’ or ‘automatic’ reading.  Fluent readers are able to read quickly and accurately without effort. Fast oral reading with proper expression is a trademark of fluent reading. Fluency is critical to skilled reading and comprehension. By appearances, the student knows words instantly and reads the ‘fast way’ without slowly sounding out the word. It seems by simply ‘knowing’ the words the individual reads easily and quickly. However, it is important to realize appearances do not reveal the actual process involved in fluent reading. To help students become fluent readers, we need to learn specifically about the actual process of fluent reading and how fluent reading is developed. The necessary answers lie in the amazing field of modern neuroscience.


The remarkable advances in neural imaging research allow scientists to look closely at the process of fluent reading and how fluent reading is developed.  Researchers are learning fluent or ‘fast’ reading utilizes a neural ‘expressway’ to process words. This ‘fast reading area’ of fluency is different from the slow phonologic processing pathways used by beginning readers. With fluent reading, a quick look at the word activates a stored neural model that allows not only ‘fast’ reading but also includes correct pronunciation and understanding of the word.


Importantly, the neuroscientists are learning more about how this fluency is developed. Fluent reading is established after the individual reads the word at least four times using accurate phonologic processing (slow accurate sounding out). Fluency is build word by word and entirely dependent on repeated, accurate, sounding out the specific word.  Fluency is not established by ‘memorizing’ what words look like but rather by developing correct neural-phonologic models of the word. Repeated accurate phonologic processing is the essential precursor for developing ‘fast’ neural pathways. In simplified terms, the repeated accurate phonologic processing engraves a neural model of the word that then is stored in the ‘fast reading area’ available for rapid retrieval.   We now know fluency is not the apparent visual recognition of an entire word but rather the retrieval of the exact neural model created by proper repeated phonologic processing.


Neuroscientists also discovered dyslexic readers do not develop these fluent or ‘fast reading’ pathways. Struggling readers do not convert print to sound using phonologic processing pathways. Consequently, they fail to develop fluent ‘fast’ reading pathways. Without these express reading pathways, reading remains slow and takes much effort. Because they are not utilizing phonologic processing pathways the neural ‘engraving’ of the word is never made and fluent reading is not developed. Even if they work hard and learn to read accurately, reading remains laborious. For reading to become ‘easy’ the student must first repeatedly sound out the word using phonologic processing pathways. Students who fail to use correct phonologic processing do not develop fluency.  In other words reading a word over and over does not develop fluency unless the student is processing the print phonetically.


Effective reading instruction can directly help a student develop these fluent or ‘fast’ neural pathways.  First, intentionally establish correct phonologic processing of print.  Then provide guided practice so the student repeatedly sounds out individual words consequently expanding their storehouse of rapid retrieval neural models, allowing them to read more and more words quickly and effortlessly. Fluency is developed word-by-word and is dependent on repeated accurate print to sound (phonologic) processing.   


See the article Reading Fluency Explained for additional information and instructions on how to help your child or student develop reading fluency.  


3) Vocabulary


As can be expected, vocabulary knowledge is important to reading development. Vocabulary is beyond correct decoding. It is understanding the meaning of the word.  Expanding the student’s knowledge bank of vocabulary words is important to comprehension. The greater the student’s vocabulary the easier it is to make sense of and understand text.  Vocabulary is generally related to understanding individual words where ‘comprehension’ generally refers to understanding larger parts of the text. Vocabulary and overall comprehension are related.


Vocabulary knowledge is distinct from the skill of decoding print. A student can fully understand words that he is not able to read/decode. For example a five year old has a much larger speaking and understanding vocabulary than a printed reading vocabulary. He may not be able to decode the printed words ‘gorilla’, ‘vacation’ or ‘chocolate’ but has the vocabulary knowledge to understand exactly what these words mean. In contrast a student may be able to correctly decode a strange word perfectly and still now know what it means. The student may correctly decode the word  ‘placid’, ‘leviathan’ or ‘mizzen’ but have no idea what these words mean. This would be a vocabulary knowledge issue. Of course for comprehension, the student needs to both accurately decode the word and know what the word means.  Expanding a student’s vocabulary knowledge is important to reading development.  


See the article Expanding Vocabulary Knowledge for additional information and specific techniques for helping your student develop vocabulary.  


4) Comprehension


Comprehension is deriving meaning from the text. Obviously, comprehension is critically important to the development of skilled reading. Comprehension is an active process that requires thoughtful interaction between the reader and the text. Vocabulary development is critical to comprehension. Comprehension, or reading for meaning, obviously is the goal of reading instruction.


Remember, to achieve comprehension, the student must first develop accurate phonological decoding skills and build fluency. Fluency and accuracy are critical to reading comprehension. If the student struggles with accurate fluent decoding this inability to easily convert print into language will continue to limit reading comprehension. If decoding takes significant effort, the student has little energy left to devote to thinking about what they are reading.  When the student can easily, accurately and fluently decode the printed text, he then is able to focus energy on higher level comprehension skills.


Reading comprehension is a skill that needs to be developed. Comprehension is a complex higher level skill that is much greater than decoding. It is important for students to develop comprehension strategies. Comprehension strategies focus on teaching students to understand what they read not on building skills on how to read/decode. While readers acquire some comprehension strategies informally, explicit or formal instruction in the application of comprehension strategies has been shown to be highly effective in enhancing understanding (from the Report of the National Reading Panel). In other words you can take specific actions to help students develop comprehension skills.


See the article Developing Reading Comprehension for additional information and specific actions you can take to help your child or student develop reading comprehension.




Skilled reading requires the mastery, integration and application of numerous skills and knowledge.  An effective direct-systematic-phonics program provides the essential foundation for accurate effortless decoding so the student can begin to achieve the higher goals of reading. Help the student develop higher level skills in handling multisyllable words, building fluency, expanding vocabulary and developing comprehension. Other essential language curriculum areas in spelling, grammar, creative and technical writing, exposure to literature, appreciation and enjoyment of writing and ability to extract and research information are also essential to education.  Directly help your child build advanced reading skills.


Additional information, articles and resources on teaching children to read proficiently can be found on the Free Reading Information page of the Right Track Reading website.



This article was written by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a successful reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to empower parents and teachers with information on teaching children how to read. We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at a time!  More information is located at   ~ Copyright 2007 Miscese R. Gagen