Thursday, February 8, 2007

Reading Development

You'd think that with something so universal as reading, there'd be tons of research into the stages of reading development. At some point, we all go from the ABC song to "To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows ofoutrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles..." (Courtesy of

There are only a few books out there that have parsed out stages or reading development. An older one, Chall (1982) is an amalgamation of research that divides reading into 6 stages. Chall argues that reading is Piagetian in nature, in that you can't learn words if you don't know letters. These stages have been backed up in research previous entries in this blog. For instance, the author notes that most people attain adult-level sense of grammar by the age of 7; much like Friederici, et al (2004) came up with in their developmental N4/P6 study. Further, by the age of 10 (the age-range desired for my study), children make the transition from struggling to read to being able to read for learning. That is, by the age of 10, you make the transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn."

But this is only one argument, and I've found no one that's particularly cited Chall, though the work and research makes perfect sense. Having now immersed myself in that field, I can say that much of what she argues makes sense.

So why is it that there is no universally agreed upon stages of development in reading? I've read several books that discuss various stages, including linking them to Piagetian stages; as with Piaget, you need one stage to get to the next. You need to know the sound "ah" "p" and the rule of silent "E's" to make "apple." I perhaps should have taken some linguistics courses before making linguistics my Div3. But I'm more interested in how people ascertain these concepts, rather than the concepts themselves. There's always grad school. (Citation pending).

But that's all besides the point. There's a lot of bullwark out there regarding reading development. It's either focussed on going from the graphemic representations of letter to phonological sounds, or the transition into comprehension of entire chunks of speech or prose. In sum, people are wayyyyy too focussed.

Which is why it's exciting to read a summation of reading development that is as succinct as De Jong, PF (2006). I picked up the book that this essay is in (Pickering, 2006) not realizing what a breath of fresh air it would be. de Jong, in one paragraph, sums up reading development in a way that has taken other authors I've been reading an entire book to articulate. I'd quote the entire paragraph, but I think there are copyrights involved. But, in sum:
There are a few stages to reading: The beginning reader needs to acquire certain abilities: to know that there is a systematic correspondence between the written and the spoken form of words. To know that there are boundaries to words in written form that there aren't in spoken form (all words blend together when we talk, unless we're adding emphasis).

Why is this so exciting? Well, its succint-ness is definitely part of it. Another reason is for its grand implication in accent and other memes within language. In Dutch, the /a/ in ball, hand, cat are pronounced the same. We would sound pretentious if we, as Americans would pronounce these the same.

This becomes known as "decoding" or "phonological recoding" in which a person moves the orthographic (written form of a word) into the phonography (sound of a word).

More to follow...

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