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Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert

Anne CastlesKathleen RastleKate Nation

Cognitive scientists have shown beyond doubt that fluent, accurate decoding is a hallmark of skilled reading (Adams, Treiman, & Pressley, 1997; Fletcher & Lyon, 1998; Rack, Snowling, & Olson, 1992; Share, 1995; Stanovich & Siegel, 1994; Vellutino, Scanlon, & Sipay, 1997).

Automatic word recognition, which is dependent on phonic knowledge, allows the reader to attend to meaning; likewise, slow, belabored decoding overloads short-term memory and impedes comprehension.

 

While this renewed interest in phonics is certainly a welcome development, we will make limited progress unless decoding instruction is grounded in what we know about the stages of reading development, the structure of the English language, and the strategies students employ to learn it.

 

With rare exception, classroom practice is not informed by these principles. As we shall see, problems abound not only with the approaches to decoding typically found in whole-language and “literature-based” programs but also with programs associated with traditional phonics.

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