Handbook of Reading Research - Vol. II

By Rebecca Barr; Michael L. Kamil et al. | Go to book overview

16
WORD RECOGNITION: CHANGING PERSPECTIVES Keith E. Stanovich

Gough ( 1984) began his review of word recognition in the first volume of the Handbook of Reading Research by noting that "Word recognition is the foundation of the reading process" (p. 225). It would indeed be surprising if such a fundamental conclusion were no longer true. Fortunately, no such surprise is in store. Research continues to indicate that word recognition is the foundational process of reading.

Importantly, the context for the statement that word recognition is the foundational process of reading is becoming more widely understood. It is now generally acknowledged that to emphasize the centrality of word recognition is not to deny that the ultimate purpose of reading is comprehension ( Daneman, Chapter 19 of this volume; Juel, Chapter 27 of this volume). Neither does an emphasis on the fundamental role of word recognition in models of reading necessarily translate into particular instructional practices. The interface between models of reading and instructional practices is so complex that instructional prescriptions cannot be assumed simply from a knowledge of which processes receive emphasis in a particular model of reading.

Nevertheless, skill at word recognition is so central to the total reading process that it can serve as a proxy diagnostic for instructional methods. That is, while it is possible for adequate word recognition skill to be accompanied by poor comprehension abilities, the converse virtually never occurs. It has never been empirically demonstrated, nor is it theoretically expected, that some instructional innovation could result in good reading comprehension without the presence of at least adequate word recognition ability. Since word recognition skill will be a by-product of any successful approach to developing reading ability -- whether or not the approach specifically targets word recognition -- lack of skill at recognizing words is always a reasonable predictor of difficulties in developing reading comprehension ability.


THE CENTRALITY OF WORD RECOGNITION: INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES

It has been amply documented that skill at recognizing words is strongly related to the speed of initial reading acquisition ( Bertelson, 1986; Biemiller, 1977-1978; Curtis, 1980; Gough & Hillinger, 1980; Juel, this volume; Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Liberman, 1982; Perfetti, 1985; Rayner & Pollatsek, 1989; Stanovich, 1982, 1985, 1986b; Stanovich, Cunningham, & Feeman, 1984a). Additionally, there is evidence that this relationship is causal -- that the development of word recognition skill leads to increases in reading comprehension ability ( Biemiller, 1970; Blanchard, 1980; Chall, 1989; Herman, 1985; Lesgold, Resnick, & Hammond, 1985; Lomax, 1983; Stanovich, 1985); although the situation is undoubtedly characterized by reciprocal causation ( Stanovich, 1986b). It is true, however, that as the general level of reading ability increases, the proportion of variance in reading ability accounted for by word recognition decreases

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