Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Nature of Skilled Adult Reading Varies with Type of Instruction in Childhood

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Nature of Skilled Adult Reading Varies with Type of Instruction in Childhood

Article excerpt

Does the type of reading instruction experienced during the initial years at school have any continuing effect on the ways in which adults read words? The question has arisen in current discussions about computational models of mature word-reading processes. We tested predicted continuing effects by comparing matched samples of skilled adult readers of English who had received explicit phonics instruction in childhood and those who had not. In responding to nonwords that can receive alternative legitimate pronunciations, those adults having childhood phonics instruction used more regular grapheme-phoneme correspondences that were context free and used fewer vocabulary-based contextually dependent correspondences than did adults who had no phonics instruction. These differences in regularization of naming responses also extended to some low-frequency words. This apparent cognitive footprint of childhood phonics instruction is a phenomenon requiring consideration when researchers attempt to model adult word reading and when they select participants to test the models.

Psychology Lab A produces data on accuracy levels for the naming of nonwords from a sample of skilled adult readers, but Lab B, using the same stimuli and procedures, produces highly divergent results from another sample matched in age and reading skill. This is not an imaginary illustration. It was our prediction on the basis of (1) knowledge of the divergent types of reading instruction with which the two samples of adults learned to read when they entered elementary school, (2) published research on the differential effects of these types of instruction on children's reading processes, and (3) theory on developmental continuity in reading processes from early childhood to adulthood.

What justifies a prediction of developmental continuity into adulthood of reading processes arising from the type of instruction received in early childhood? Justification comes only from theory, since there is no relevant empirical evidence. In the theory of Ziegler and Goswami (2005), orthographic-phonological units can be of various grain sizes. When children learn to read English, traditional explicit phonics instruction is said to influence them toward use of the smallest grain size, letter-phoneme units, rather than toward larger units. Nevertheless, it is argued that in English orthography, these small grain size correspondences are often inconsistent, and beginning readers have to learn additional correspondences of larger grain size that can offer greater consistency. Continuity of reading processes from childhood to adulthood is a feature of the theory, although there is no reference to continuity of the influence of the type of instruction.

On the other hand, in the influential theory of acquisition of reading skill presented by Share (1995), there is a major shift in cognitive processes beyond the beginner level. There is also the claim that satisfactory progress by beginning readers requires teaching of simple explicit grapheme-phoneme correspondences. Children's processes of mapping orthographic information into phonological information are said to shift from use of these taught letter-sound relationships (predominantly context free) to use of those relationships that children implicitly induce from their acquired reading vocabulary of familiar words, including those relationships dependent on context in words. Share cited as evidence the developmental decline of regularization errors and of the regularity effect that gives a reading performance advantage for words with regular spellings over those with irregular ones. This theory, then, implies a major developmental shift rather than continuity. Evidence (V. Coltheart & Leahy, 1992, 1996; Treiman, Kessler, Zevin, Bick, & Davis, 2006), nevertheless, suggests that if any such shift occurs, it happens as early as the end of the child's 1st year of school reading instruction.

The explicit form of phonics involves teaching the child to respond to words with sounds for successive individual graphemes. …

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