Phonics and Decoding

Teaching Children to Read Irregular Words: A Comparison of Three Instructional Methods

Colenbrander, D., Kohnen, S., Beyersmann, E., Robidoux, S., Wegener, S., Arrow, T., Nation, K., & Castles, A. (2022). Teaching children to read irregular words: A comparison of three instructional methods. Scientific Studies of Reading,

Children learning to read in English must learn to read words with varying degrees of grapheme-phoneme correspondence regularity, but there is very little research comparing methods of instruction for words with less predictable or irregular spellings. In this study, the researchers compared three methods of instruction for beginning readers in kindergarten — Look and Say (LSay), Look and Spell (LSpell), and mispronunciation correction (MPC). Findings indicate that active processing of a word’s orthography is crucial for learning irregular words. These results have implications for initial reading instruction. Further research is required to determine whether differences between LSpell and MPC conditions emerge after longer periods of training.

Cognitive flexibility in beginning decoding and encoding

Vadasy, P. F., Sanders. E. A., & Cartwright, K. B. (2022). Cognitive flexibility in beginning decoding and encoding. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR).

The development of beginning decoding and encoding skills is influenced by linguistic skills as well as executive functions (EFs). These higher-level cognitive processes include working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility, and individual differences in these EFs have been shown to contribute to early academic learning. The present study extends the prior research on EFs by examining the relationship between one type of EF — cognitive flexibility — and decoding and encoding development in English-speaking kindergarteners with limited alphabet knowledge. Results showed that initial cognitive flexibility significantly positively predicted word-level decoding and spelling gains, but the effect on decoding gains was stronger for children with lower incoming alphabet skills (5-7 letters or fewer). These findings are consistent with the earlier research on EFs and reading acquisition with older children, and also indicate that greater alphabetic skills may compensate for lower initial EF in decoding development for children learning alphabetic languages.

The Role of Word-, Sentence-, and Text-Level Variables in Predicting Guided Reading Levels of Kindergarten and First-Grade Texts

Hiebert, E.H. and Tortorelli, L.S., The Role of Word-, Sentence-, and Text-Level Variables in Predicting Guided Reading Levels of Kindergarten and First-Grade Texts. The Elementary School Journal, Volume 122, Number 4, June 2022.

Texts classified according to guided reading levels (GRL) are ubiquitous in U.S. beginning reading classrooms. This study examined features of texts across three grade bands (kindergarten, early first grade, final first grade) and the 10 GRLs within these bands. The 510 texts came from three programs with different functions in beginning reading instruction: core, intervention, and content areas. Text features were decoding, semantics, structure, and syntax from the Early Literacy Indicators system, mean sentence length (MSL) and mean log word frequency (MLWF) from the Lexile Framework, and word count. Five variables predicted GRLs of texts: semantics, structure, syntax, MSL, and word count. Differences in decoding and MLWF across grade bands were few and neither variable predicted levels of texts. Intervention texts had lower decoding and MLWF demands than core or content-area texts. Implications of a lack of discernible progressions in decoding and MLWF are discussed.

From Hand to Eye: a Meta-Analysis of the Benefit from Handwriting Training in Visual Graph Recognition

Araújo, Susana & Domingues, Miguel & Fernandes, Tânia. (2022). From Hand to Eye: a Meta-Analysis of the Benefit from Handwriting Training in Visual Graph Recognition. Educational Psychology Review. 10.1007/s10648-021-09651-4. 

Handwriting (HW) training seems to boost recognition of visual graphs (letters) and learning to read more than other learning experiences. However, effects across studies appear to be variable and the underlying cognitive mechanism has been elusive. Researchers conducted a meta-analysis to determine the magnitude of this HW benefit in letter recognition, while better understanding the underlying cognitive mechanism. The benefit from HW training was moderate-to-large and significant and was also modulated by the type of control training (larger relative to motor than to visual control), phonological training (larger when it was absent than present), and granularity of visual discrimination (larger for fine-grained than coarse-grained). These results seem consistent with other observations that the advantage from HW training in letter recognition is about perceptual learning rather than the motor act. Researchers conclude that HW training is effective to improve letter recognition, and is still relevant for literacy instruction in the present digital era.

Beyond Labels and Agendas: Research Teachers need to Know about Phonics and Phonological Awareness

Mesmer, H. A., & Kambach, A. (2022). Beyond Labels and Agendas: Research Teachers need to Know about Phonics and Phonological Awareness. The Reading Teacher, 76, 62– 72.

This article describes the current findings on phonics and phonological awareness instruction. It uses a question & answer format to explore 10 common questions that teachers ask about teaching phonics and phonemic awareness. Here are a few key questions addressed in the article: What are phonics and phonemic awareness? Should phonemic awareness be paired with print and taught together? Should phonological awareness be coordinated with phonics instruction? What is the best sequence for teaching phonics?

Key Knowledge to Support Phonological Awareness and Phonics Instruction

Piasta, S. B., & Hudson, A. K. (2022). Key Knowledge to Support Phonological Awareness and Phonics Instruction. The Reading Teacher, 76 (2), 201-210.

The authors provide a concise summary of the key concepts and strategies that primary and early childhood teachers can use to support the development of phonological awareness and phonics in their daily instruction. They provide a summary of current research findings and apply those findings to practical classroom applications.

What Does “Below Basic” Mean on NAEP Reading?

White TG, Sabatini JP, White S. What Does “Below Basic” Mean on NAEP Reading? Educational Researcher. September 2021. doi:10.3102/0013189X211044144

The fourth-grade 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Reading assessment shows that 34% of the nation’s students perform below the NAEP Basic level. However, because there is no achievement-level description for below Basic, educators and policymakers lack information on the nature of the reading difficulties that these students face. To help fill this gap, we analyze data from the 2018 NAEP Oral Reading Fluency study. We find that, compared with students who perform at the NAEP Basic level and above, students who perform below NAEP Basic level are much more likely to have poor oral reading fluency and word reading skills.

Connected Phonation is More Effective than Segmented Phonation for Teaching Beginning Readers to Decode Unfamiliar Words

Selenid M. Gonzalez-Frey & Linnea C. Ehri (June 2020) Connected Phonation is More Effective than Segmented Phonation for Teaching Beginning Readers to Decode Unfamiliar Words, Scientific Studies of Reading. DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2020.1776290

Two methods of decoding instruction were compared. Participants were kindergartners who knew letter sounds but could not decode nonwords. The segmented phonation treatment taught students to convert graphemes to phonemes by breaking the speech stream (“sss – aaa – nnn”) before blending. The connected phonation treatment taught students to pronounce phonemes without breaking the speech stream (“sssaaannn”) before blending. The CVC nonwords contained continuant consonants that could be stretched and connected. Following learning to criterion, students completed a transfer task to decode CVCs with stop consonants that are harder to blend because of intrusion from schwa vowels. Results showed that connected phonation training facilitated learning to decode as well as reading nonwords accurately on the transfer task compared to segmented phonation training. An error analysis suggested that breaking between phonemes caused students to forget initial phonemes during blending. Findings suggest how to teach decoding more effectively.

The Science of Learning to Read Words: A Case for Systematic Phonics Instruction

Ehri, L.C. (2020). The Science of Learning to Read Words: A Case for Systematic Phonics Instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S45– S60.

A review of theory and research by Ehri and her colleagues to document how a scientific approach has been applied over the years to conduct controlled studies whose findings reveal how beginners learn to read words in and out of text. Words may be read by decoding letters into blended sounds or by predicting words from context, but the way that contributes most to reading and comprehending text is reading words automatically from memory by sight. The evidence shows that words are read from memory when graphemes are connected to phonemes. This bonds spellings of individual words to their pronunciations along with their meanings in memory. Readers must know grapheme–phoneme relations and have decoding skill to form connections, and must read words in text to associate spellings with meanings. Readers move through four developmental phases as they acquire knowledge about the alphabetic writing system and apply it to read and write words and build their sight vocabularies. Grapheme–phoneme knowledge and phonemic segmentation are key foundational skills that launch development followed subsequently by knowledge of syllabic and morphemic spelling–sound units. Findings show that when spellings attach to pronunciations and meanings in memory, they enhance memory for vocabulary words. This research underscores the importance of systematic phonics instruction that teaches students the knowledge and skills that are essential in acquiring word-reading skill.

Teaching irregular words: What we know, what we don’t know, and where we can go from here

Colenbrander, D., Wang, H. C., Arrow, T., & Castles, A. (2020). Teaching irregular words: What we know, what we don’t know, and where we can go from here. Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 37(2), 97–104. 

Instruction in regular letter-sound relationships is a key element of teaching children to read. However, in the English language, many words have irregular spellings (e.g. said, are, yacht). What is the best way to help children learn to read these words? To date, a number of different viewpoints have been put forward, but these viewpoints are seldom directly compared, and there is very little empirical evidence to adjudicate between them. In this review, the authors outline the theoretical arguments for and against different methods of instruction, and synthesize the empirical research that does exist. They make recommendations for practice, and outline key areas where further evidence is required.

Self-regulation and the development of literacy and language achievement from preschool through second grade

Lori E. Skibbe, Janelle J. Montroy, Ryan P. Bowels, and Frederick J. Morrison. Self-regulation and the development of literacy and language achievement from preschool through second grade. Early Childhood Research Quarterly (April 2018).

This study found that children who demonstrated self-regulation earlier had higher language and literacy skills throughout preschool to second grade. More specifically, earlier self-regulation trajectories were associated with both higher levels and earlier development of both decoding and reading comprehension, but not faster development. Children with early self-regulation trajectories developed phonological awareness earlier than those with late self-regulation trajectories. Finally, children with early self-regulation trajectories had higher levels of vocabulary than children with intermediate trajectories, but did not differ on the rate or timing of vocabulary development. Findings point to the enduring and interconnected nature of self-regulation and children’s language and literacy development.

Structured Literacy and Typical Literacy Practices: Understanding Differences to Create Instructional Opportunities

Swerling, Louise Spear. Structured Literacy and Typical Literacy Practices: Understanding Differences to Create Instructional Opportunities (January 23, 2018). Teaching Exceptional Children: Volume: 51 issue: 3, page(s): 201-211.

A key feature of structured literacy (SL) includes, “explicit, systematic, and sequential teaching of literacy at multiple levels — phonemes, letter–sound relationships, syllable patterns, morphemes, vocabulary, sentence structure, paragraph structure, and text structure. SL is especially well suited to students with dyslexia because it directly addresses their core weaknesses in phonological skills, decoding, and spelling. If implemented in Tier 1 instruction and tiered interventions, SL practices may also prevent or ameliorate a wide range of other reading difficulties.

Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert

Castles, A., Rastle, K., & Nation, K. (2018). Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(1), 5–51.

A comprehensive tutorial review of the science of learning to read, spanning from children’s earliest alphabetic skills through to the fluent word recognition and skilled text comprehension characteristic of expert readers. The authors explain why phonics instruction is so central to learning in a writing system such as English. They also review the research on what else children need to learn to become expert readers and considering how this might be translated into effective classroom practice. The authors call for an end to the reading wars and recommend an agenda for instruction and research in reading acquisition that is balanced, developmentally informed, and based on a deep understanding of how language and writing systems work.

Invented spelling in kindergarten as a predictor of reading and spelling in Grade 1

Ouellette, Gene; Sénéchal, Monique. Invented spelling in kindergarten as a predictor of reading and spelling in Grade 1: A new pathway to literacy, or just the same road, less known? Developmental Psychology, Vol 53(1), Jan 2017, 77-88.

This study evaluated whether the sophistication of children’s invented spellings in kindergarten was predictive of subsequent reading and spelling in Grade 1, while also considering the influence of well-known precursors. Children in their first year of schooling were assessed on measures of oral vocabulary, alphabetic knowledge, phonological awareness, word reading, and invented spelling; approximately one year later they were assessed on multiple measures of reading and spelling. The researchers found a direct line from invented spelling leading to improved reading scores at the end of first grade. The study suggests that invented spelling integrates phonological and orthographic growth and is a unique predictor of growth in early reading skills, over and above children’s alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness.

Comparing and validating methods of reading instruction using behavioural and neural findings in an artificial orthography

Taylor, Joanne; Davis, Matthew; Rastle, Kathleen. Comparing and validating methods of reading instruction using behavioural and neural findings in an artificial orthography (April 20, 2017) Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

This study showed that learning to read by sounding out words (a teaching method known as phonics) has a dramatic impact on the accuracy of reading aloud and comprehension. Researchers tested whether learning to read by sounding out words is more effective than focusing on whole-word meanings. In order to assess the effectiveness of using phonics the researchers trained adults to read in a new language, printed in unfamiliar symbols, and then measured their learning with reading tests and brain scans. The results were striking; people who had focused on the meanings of the new words were much less accurate in reading aloud and comprehension than those who had used phonics, and the MRI scans revealed that their brains had to work harder to decipher what they were reading. Results suggest that early literacy education should focus on the systematicities present in print-to-sound relationships in alphabetic languages, rather than teaching meaning-based strategies, in order to enhance both reading aloud and comprehension of written words.

The Impact of Transitional Kindergarten on California Students

Karen Manship et al. The Impact of Transitional Kindergarten on California Students: Final Report from the Study of California's Transitional Kindergarten Program (June 2017). Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.

This study revealed that California students who attended transitional kindergarten were more engaged in the learning process and better prepared for math and reading when they entered kindergarten than children who did not. Transitional kindergarten helps to improve the language development of English Learners and math skills for low-income students, which includes problem solving and symbol recognition.Transitional kindergarten students recognized more letters and words and had a better understanding of phonetic sounds and vocabulary when entering kindergarten.

Writing and Reading: Connections Between Language by Hand and Language by Eye

Berninger, V. W., Abbott, R. D., Abbott, S. P., Graham, S., & Richards, T. (2002). Writing and Reading: Connections Between Language by Hand and Language by Eye. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35(1), 39–56.

Four approaches to the investigation of connections between language by hand and language by eye are described and illustrated with studies from a decade-long research program. In the first approach, multigroup structural equation modeling is applied to reading and writing measures given to typically developing writers to examine unidirectional and bidirectional relationships between specific components of the reading and writing systems. In the second approach, structural equation modeling is applied to a multivariate set of language measures given to children and adults with reading and writing disabilities to examine how the same set of language processes is orchestrated differently to accomplish specific reading or writing goals, and correlations between factors are evaluated to examine the level at which the language-by-hand system and the language-by-eye system communicate most easily. In the third approach, mode of instruction and mode of response are systematically varied in evaluating effectiveness of treating reading disability with and without a writing component. In the fourth approach, functional brain imaging is used to investigate residual spelling problems in students whose problems with word decoding have been remediated. The four approaches support a model in which language by hand and language by eye are separate systems that interact in predictable ways.

Hemispheric specialization for visual words is shaped by attention to sublexical units during initial learning

Yoncheva, Y.N., Wise, J., and McCandliss, B. Hemispheric specialization for visual words is shaped by attention to sublexical units during initial learning, Brain and Language, Volumes 145–146, June–July 2015, pages 23-33.

This study investigated how the brain responds to different types of reading instruction. Results indicate that beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships, or phonics, instead of trying to learn whole words, increase activity in the area of their brains best wired for reading. To develop reading skills, teaching students to sound out "C-A-T" sparks more optimal brain circuitry than instructing them to memorize the word "cat." And, the study found, these teaching-induced differences show up even on future encounters with the word. The study provides some of the first evidence that a specific teaching strategy for reading has direct neural impact. The research could eventually lead to better-designed interventions to help struggling readers.

See this article about the research study: Brain wave study shows how different teaching methods affect reading development.

Glutamate and Choline Levels Predict Individual Differences in Reading Ability in Emergent Readers

Fulbright, R. et al (2014) Glutamate and Choline Levels Predict Individual Differences in Reading Ability in Emergent Readers, The Journal of Neuroscience, 12 March 2014, 34(11): 4082-4089.

The research team measured levels of glutamate, choline, and other metabolites in 75 children, aged 6 to 10, whose reading abilities ranged from what is considered impaired to superior. The researchers conducted behavioral testing to characterize the children’s reading, language, and general cognitive skills, and used MR spectroscopy to assess metabolite levels. They found that children with higher glutamate and choline levels in their brains tended to have lower composite scores for reading and language. In follow-up testing two years later, the same correlation still existed for initial glutamate levels. This study is believed to be the first to examine neurochemistry in a longitudinal study of children during the critical period when they are considered "emergent readers" — the age at which neurocircuits that support skilled reading and speaking are still developing.

Orthographic Mapping in the Acquisition of Sight Word Reading, Spelling Memory, and Vocabulary Learning

Linnea C. Ehri (2014) Orthographic Mapping in the Acquisition of Sight Word Reading, Spelling Memory, and Vocabulary Learning, Scientific Studies of Reading, 18:1, 5-21, DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2013.819356

Orthographic mapping (OM) involves the formation of letter-sound connections to bond the spellings, pronunciations, and meanings of specific words in memory. It explains how children learn to read words by sight, to spell words from memory, and to acquire vocabulary words from print. This development is portrayed as a sequence of overlapping phases, each characterized by the predominant type of connection linking spellings of words to their pronunciations in memory. During development, the connections improve in quality and word-learning value, from visual nonalphabetic, to partial alphabetic, to full grapho-phonemic, to consolidated grapho-syllabic and grapho-morphemic. OM is enabled by phonemic awareness and grapheme-phoneme knowledge. Recent findings indicate that OM to support sight word reading is facilitated when beginners are taught about articulatory features of phonemes and when grapheme-phoneme relations are taught with letter-embedded picture mnemonics. Vocabulary learning is facilitated when spellings accompany pronunciations and meanings of new words to activate OM. Teaching students the strategy of pronouncing novel words aloud as they read text silently activates OM and helps them build their vocabularies. Because spelling-sound connections are retained in memory, they impact the processing of phonological constituents and phonological memory for words.

The influence of decodability in early reading text on reading achievement: a review of the evidence

Cheatham, J.P., Allor, J.H. The influence of decodability in early reading text on reading achievement: a review of the evidence. Reading and Writing 25, 2223–2246 (2012).

This review synthesizes the existing research on decodability as a text characteristic examining how reading decodable text impacts students’ reading performance and growth. Collectively the results indicate that decodability is a critical characteristic of early reading text as it increases the likelihood that students will use a decoding strategy and results in immediate benefits, particularly with regard to accuracy. The studies point to the need for multiple-criteria text with decodability being one key characteristic in ensuring that students develop the alphabetic principle that is necessary for successful reading, rather than text developed based on the single criterion of decodability.

Reconceptualizing Spelling Development and Instruction

Templeton, S., & Morris, D. (2001, October). Reconceptualizing spelling development and instruction. Reading Online, 5 (3).

This professional article, drawn from the Handbook of Reading Research, Volume III, provides an overview of the English spelling system and contrasts traditional and contemporary approaches of spelling instruction. The authors present a summary of current research in word study and offer broad instructional recommendations.

Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read

Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read (April 2000). National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and U.S. Department of Education.

In 1997, Congress asked NICHD, through its Child Development and Behavior Branch, to work with the U.S. Department of Education in establishing a National Reading Panel that would evaluate existing research and evidence to find the best ways of teaching children to read. The 14-member panel included members from different backgrounds, including school administrators, working teachers, and scientists involved in reading research. The report summarized research in eight areas relating to literacy instruction: phonemic awareness instruction, phonics instruction, fluency instruction, vocabulary instruction, text comprehension instruction, independent reading, computer assisted instruction, and teacher professional development. The National Reading Panel's analysis made it clear that the best approach to reading instruction is one that incorporates: explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, systematic phonics instruction, methods to improve fluency, and ways to enhance comprehension.

Getting Ready for Reading: Early Phoneme Awareness and Phonics Teaching Improves Reading and Spelling in Inner-city Second Language Learners

Stuart, M. (1999). Getting ready for reading: early phoneme awareness and phonics teaching improves reading and spelling in inner-city, second language learners. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 69, 587-605.

Previous studies demonstrate that phoneme awareness training, particularly when combined with letter–sound teaching, results in improved reading and spelling development. This study builds upon those findings by including children learning English as a second language, who have typically been excluded from previous studies.

Why Reading Is Not a Natural Process

Lyon, G. Why reading is not a natural process (1998). Educational Leadership, 55(6), 14-18.

Nearly four decades of scientific research on how children learn to read supports an emphasis on phonemic awareness and phonics in a literature-rich environment. These findings challenge the belief that children learn to read naturally.

Saying the "P" Word: Nine Guidelines for Exemplary Phonics Instruction

Stahl, S. (1992). Saying the “p” word: Nine guidelines for exemplary phonics instruction. The Reading Teacher, 45, 618-625.
Exemplary phonics instruction should build on a child's rich concepts about how print functions and build on a foundation of phonemic awareness. Effective phonics instruction is clear and direct and integrated into a total reading program. It focuses on reading words, not learning rules and may include onsets and rimes and invented spelling. Exemplary phonics instruction develops independent word recognition strategies, focusing attention on the internal structure of the word and develops automatic word recognition skills so that attention can be devoted to comprehension.

Beginning Reading

Juel, C. (1991). Beginning reading. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, Vol. 2. (pp. 759-788). New York: Longman.

Teaching Spelling

Henderson, E.H. (1990). Teaching Spelling. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

This book is a developmentally-based approach for teaching spelling in Grades 1-6. Treating spelling as an integral part of an effective language arts program, it has a full chapter that shows how to apply direct spelling instruction to reading and writing.

Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print

Adams, M.J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

This book reconciles the debate that has divided theorists for decades over the "right" way to help children learn to read. Drawing on a rich array of research on the nature and development of reading proficiency, Adams shows educators that they need not remain trapped in the phonics versus teaching-for-meaning dilemma. She proposes that phonics can work together with the whole language approach to teaching reading and provides an integrated treatment of the knowledge and process involved in skillful reading, the issues surrounding their acquisition, and the implications for reading instruction.

Learning to Read and Write: A Longitudinal Study of 54 Children From First Through Fourth Grades

Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 243-255.

In this study, of particular concern were these questions: Do the same children remain poor readers year after year? Do the same children remain poor writers year after year? What skills do the poor readers lack? What skills do the poor writers lack? What factors seem to keep poor readers from improving? What factors seem to keep poor writers from improving? The probability that a child would remain a poor reader at the end of 4th grade if the child was a poor reader at the end of 1st grade was 0.88. Early writing skill did not predict later writing skill as well as early reading ability predicted later reading ability. Children who become poor readers entered 1st grade with little phonemic awareness. By the end of 4th grade, the poor readers had still not achieved the level of decoding skill that the good readers had achieved at the beginning of 2nd grade. Good readers read considerably more than the poor readers both in and out of school, which appeared to contribute to the good readers' growth in some reading and writing skills. Poor readers tended to become poor writers.

Why Johnny Can't Read: And What You Can Do About It

Flesch, R. (reprint, 1986). Why Johnny Can't Read: And What You Can Do About It. New York: Perennial Currents.

The classic book on phonics — the method of teaching recommended by the U.S. Department of Education. Contains complete materials and instructions on teaching children to read at home.

Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability

Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6-10.

To clarify the role of decoding in reading and reading disability, a simple model of reading is proposed, which holds that reading equals the product of decoding and comprehension. It follows that there must be three types of reading disability, resulting from an inability to decode, an inability to comprehend, or both. It is argued that the first is dyslexia, the second hyperlexia, and the third common, or garden variety, reading disability.

Learning to Read: The Great Debate

Chall, J.S. (1967). Learning to read: The great debate. New York: McGraw-Hill.

From Diane Ravitchs' tribute to Jeanne Chall, in the American Educator, Spring 2001:
In 1961, as the debate about how to teach reading continued, the Carnegie Corporation of New York commissioned Jeanne Chall, who was well established as a careful reading researcher, to review the controversy. Chall spent three years visiting hundreds of classrooms, analyzing research studies, and examining textbooks; she interviewed textbook authors, reading specialists, and teachers.

Chall found that studies of beginning readers over the decades clearly supported decoding. Early decoding, she found, not only produced better word recognition and spelling, but also made it easier for the child eventually to read with understanding. The code emphasis method, she wrote, was especially effective for children of lower socioeconomic status, who were not likely to live in homes surrounded with books or with adults who could help them learn to read. For a beginning reader, she found, knowledge of letters and sounds had more influence on reading achievement than the child's tested mental ability or IQ.

The Role of Set for Variability in Irregular Word Reading: Word and Child Predictors in Typically Developing Readers and Students At-Risk for Reading Disabilities

Steacy, L. M., Wade-Woolley, L., Rueckl, J. G., Pugh, K. R., Elliott, J. D., & Compton, D. L. (2019). The role of set for variability in irregular word reading: Word and child predictors in typically developing readers and students at-risk for reading disabilities. Scientific Studies of Reading, 23(6), 523–532. 

In a quasi-regular orthography like English, children inevitably encounter irregular words during reading. Previous research suggests successful reading of an irregular word depends at least partially on a child’s ability to address the mismatch between decoded form and stored word pronunciation — referred to as a child’s “set for variability” — and the word’s relative transparency, measured here using a spelling-to-pronunciation transparency rating. From the study, significant predictors included general word reading, general set for variability performance, and item-specific set for variability performance; word frequency and spelling-to-pronunciation transparency rating; and an interaction between word reading and the transparency rating. Results underscore the importance of considering both general and item-specific factors affecting irregular word reading.

"Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!" — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1943