Learning to Read: Basic Research and Its Implications

Learning to Read: Basic Research and Its Implications

Learning to Read: Basic Research and Its Implications

Learning to Read: Basic Research and Its Implications

Synopsis

How does a young child begin to make sense out of squiggles on a page? Is learning to read a process of extending already acquired language abilities to print? What comprises this extension? How children learn to read, and especially how children are taught to read, are problems of sustained scientific interest and enduring pedagogical controversy. This volume presents conceptual and theoretical analyses of learning to read, research on the very beginning processes of learning to read, as well as research on phonological abilities and on children who have problems learning to read. In so doing, it reflects the important discovery that learning to read requires mastering the system by which print encodes the language. The editors hope that some of the work offered in this text will influence future research questions and will make a difference in the way instructional issues are formulated.

Excerpt

How children learn to read, and especially how children are taught to read, are problems of sustained scientific interest and enduring pedagogical controversy. The scientific problems are clear and engaging to anyone who has thought about them. How does a young child come to make sense out of squiggles on a page? Is learning to read largely an extension of the already acquired language abilities to print? If so, what comprises this extension? A new code? If not, what is the nature of the new learning? The questions multiply.

Fortunately, there has been considerable research progress in addressing some of these questions over the years. Although one can argue that we still lack a credible theory of the acquisition of reading that is both specific in detail and developmentally sensitive to the long-range nature of the acquisition process, much has been learned about the basic processes that occur as part of learning to read. One of the most important things to have been learned is that learning to read requires mastering the system by which print encodes the language (i.e., the orthography). This mastery, in turn, requires the child to attain understanding of how the spoken language works. If the child is learning to read an alphabetic orthography, then this mastery specifically requires that the child come to appreciate, at some level, that the speech stream contains units that correspond to the orthographic units.

There is much more that has been learned about reading acquisition, but the preceding reflects some of the most important aspects of learning to read. It turns out that some of this, so obvious to most researchers in this area, has escaped notice in some important places, including some of the training grounds for teachers of reading. Controversies continue, long after the debate has been settled empirically, about whether children ought to be taught to decode, whether phonological awareness is significant, etc. Many teachers of reading continue to be trained in the spirit of whole word and, its offspring, whole language. Such approaches are fine to the extent that they allow the principles of decoding, especially the alphabetic principle, to be acquired by the child. But in some of their purest versions, these pedagogical approaches ignore much of what has been learned in research on reading.

All of which finally brings us to why we have compiled a book on learning to read. The idea for the book sprang from what was for one of us . . .

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