Simplifying the Simple View of Reading

For many parents, and even for some educators, the Simple View of Reading is not so simple.

The Simple View of Reading is an academic paper and a theoretical model in which the authors, Wesley Hoover and Philip Gough, proposed that there are two critical activities involved in learning to read. One is understanding the printed word (decoding and spelling); the other is understanding spoken language (listening comprehension). The two parts must work individually and together. Difficulties with either of these components means that learning to read will be very challenging.

In fact, deficits in either of the two areas are so significant that they have names of their own. We refer to listening comprehension deficits as Specific Language Impairment (SLI) and we refer to word reading deficits as Dyslexia. These problems may exist on their own, in a “pure” form, as well as mixed together in varying degrees.

While dyslexia is today a familiar part of our vocabulary, specific language impairment is a term that many parents hear for the first time when their child receives a diagnosis. SLI, also known as Listening Comprehension Disorder, is the second most common cause of reading problems after dyslexia. While 15% – 20% of individuals are on the dyslexia spectrum, only 5% – 7% of students are classified as SLI. According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, both SLI and dyslexia have strong genetic links, with 40% or more of students with these conditions having a parent or sibling with similar difficulties.

After nearly 30 years of testing the model, language scientists generally agree that Hoover and Gough were correct. Ongoing research has added to the depth of the definitions, but their Simple View is now used as a basis for structured literacy approaches, such as the Orton-Gillingham method, to improve the reading and spelling skills of students with dyslexia and specific language impairment. Where once children with reading challenges were drilled on word recognition and rote memorization, regardless of the nature of their difficulty, the Simple View highlighted the unique elements of learning and the need for specific and explicit treatment for deficits in each of those areas.

What the Simple View put forth is that students with both diagnoses benefit from a treatment approach that is individual, specific, and structured. Furthermore, early intervention works best. As the Lexercise Clinician’s Manual says, “Recent research (Alt, et al., 2017; Peyrin, et al., 2012) suggests that the underlying deficit(s) in dyslexia may be different for different individuals, highlighting the importance of treatment that is focused on individual patterns as opposed to one-size-fits-all programs.”

If you notice your student is struggling with reading and spelling but you aren’t sure where the trouble lies, have a look at the free Lexercise online learning disability tests. They are designed to help you sort out how much of the trouble might be due to weak listening comprehension and how much due to weak decoding and spelling. This is a vital first step in securing the kind of help that will turn a word-challenged child into a reader.

If you have questions about dyslexia or specific language impairment, please contact us to discuss your child’s options.

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