Initial Reading Schemes and Their High Frequency Words

Article excerpt

The authors investigated three initial reading schemes, PM Library, Story Box, and the Young Australia Series, to identify their high frequency words from a bank of almost 10,000 words. In this article they discuss these words and the need for teachers to be aware of high frequency words in early reading materials.

Word recognition is an essential component in the mastery of reading (Compton, 1997; Freebody & Byrne, 1988; Strickland & Morrow, 1991; Szeszulski & Szeszulski, 1987), and considerable evidence suggests that the major difficulty confronting the beginning reader is the development of rapid, automatic word recognition skills (Adams, 1990; Byrne, Freebody & Gates, 1992; Chall, 1983; Ehri, 1991). Efficient readers use a variety of orthographic data to recognise word units, such as individual letters, letter clusters, morphemes, word stems, and word patterns (Stanovich, 1980; Taft, 1991). It is the rapid visual processing of word units that seems to evade children with reading problems and reduces their motivation to continue to read (Barron, 1986; Gipe, 1995; Samuels, 1994; Stanovich, 1986). In the process of rapid word recognition, rather than converting the letter group into a sequence of sounds, blending the sounds, and matching them to a known spoken pattern, readers retrieve stored information simultaneously about how a word looks and sounds.

The automatic visual recall of words assists in the decoding and comprehension of written text. The greater children's exposure to print, the more likely they are to develop this visual orthographic representation, to automatise this information, and retrieve words from their long-term memory word bank (Blanton & Blanton, 1994; Reid, 1988). In addition, children's early levels of attention to print and oral language influence their ability to identify words, understand the text, and achieve success with reading (Gillet & Temple, 1994; Strickland & Morrow, 1991).

Clay (1991) claimed that limited word recognition and fluency were the probable causes of young readers' lack of comprehension. This concurs with the research that indicates that at the early stages of learning to read children use all their working memory capacity to decode the symbols and text units and thus meaning is lost at the expense of decoding (Brown, 1982; Samuels, 1994; Spear-Swerling & Sternberg, 1994). For a child to free up working memory in order to be more engaged in comprehension, the automatic processing of orthographic information is required. The automaticity of word recognition allows children to devote the majority of their mental resources to understanding the text and acquiring new concepts and information (Mauer & Kamhi, 1996; Perfetti, 1985).

To enhance automaticity of word recognition, practice and overlearning are often required by some students. Rather than isolated drill, however, this needs to be embedded in motivating activities that include reading high interest text, games and activities. Once a child has a knowledge of the separate words the focus shifts, when reading aloud, to grouping words together as phrasing (Clay, 1991, 1993). Phrasing needs to be practised on known text, as new, unfamiliar text requires the use of monitoring and self-correcting strategies that slow down the reading process and the acquisition of meaning. Assisting the child to know the words is setting the child up for success with reading.

To facilitate the process of developing a child's word bank, reading researchers have focussed on core lists of high frequency words. Some of the main word lists historically used in Australian schools are: the Salisbury Word List (Bishop, Wilkinson & Agnew, 1978-79); the Fry New Instant Word List (Fry, 1980); the Dolch Sight Words List (Dolch, 1953); the Holdaway Word List (Holdaway, 1972); and the Thomas Word List (Thomas, 1977). These lists were derived from a range of countries, collection times and text sources. …