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 After you read Pressley’s chapter, summarize the 5 major subheadings per section. Specifically, name the subheading (i.e., EMERGENT LITERACY) then provide the brief summary/your understanding of the section.  Be sure not to simply restate Pressley’s statements.  

CHAPTER 14

Psychology of Literacy and Literacy Instruction

MICHAEL PRESSLEY

333

EMERGENT LITERACY DURING
THE PRESCHOOL YEARS 334
Emergent Literacy 334
Phonemic Awareness 336

FIRST GRADE AND THE PRIMARY YEARS 337
Word Recognition 337
Teaching Primary-Level Students to

Sound Out Words 338
Reading Recovery 339
Studies of Exceptional Primary-Level Teachers 340
Summary 342

COMPREHENSION 343
Fluent Word Recognition 343

Vocabulary 343
Comprehension Strategies 343
Summary 344

WRITING 344
ENCOURAGING ADULT LITERACY 346

Basic, Word-Level Difficulties 346
Comprehension Difficulties 346
Writing Difficulties 347
Summary 348

CLOSING COMMENTS 348
REFERENCES 348

When first asked whether I could prepare a chapter summa-
rizing literacy research, my initial response was that the
request was impossible. What came to mind immediately
were the three volumes of the Handbook of Reading Re-
search (Barr, Kamil, Mosenthal, & Pearson, 1991; Kamil,
Mosenthal, Pearson, & Barr, 2000; Pearson, Barr, Kamil, &
Mosenthal, 1984), the most prominent compendiums of read-
ing research, which collectively include 3,000 pages to sum-
marize just reading research (although some writing research
found its way into those volumes).

Even more daunting than just the volume of research, how-
ever, is its diversity. From a methodological perspective, there
are experimental and correlational traditions in literacy studies.
In recent years, however, such traditional and quantitative ap-
proaches have been supplanted largely by more qualitative
methods, including ethnographies (Florio-Ruane & McVee,
2000), verbal protocol analyses (Afflerbach, 2000; Pressley &
Afflerbach, 1995), narrative approaches (Alvermann, 2000),
and single-subject designs (Neuman & McCormick, 2000).

Conceptually, literacy at one time was primarily seen from
a behavioral perspective, with such behaviorism yielding to
cognitivism in the 1970s and 1980s. Although there is still
much cognitive study of reading, sociocultural emphasis in
the field has been increasing, beginning in the 1990s and mov-
ing into the twenty-first century (Gaffney & Anderson, 2000).

Literacy is also a decidedly international field of study;
exciting ideas have come from Australia and New Zealand
(Wilkinson, Freebody, & Elkins, 2000), the United Kingdom
(Harrison, 2000), Latin America (Santana, 2000), and in-
creasingly from former Iron Curtain countries (Meredith &
Steele, 2000). Although much of literacy instruction has
been and remains focused on kindergarten through Grade 12
instruction, in recent decades a great deal of work has been
done on literacy development during the preschool years
(Yaden, Rowe, & McGillivray, 2000) as well as research ex-
tending into the college years (Flippo & Caverly, 2000) and
beyond (Kirsch, Jungeblut, Jenkins, & Kolstad, 1993). Also,
there has been a clear shift away from thinking about literacy
as a development that occurs purely in the schools; it is now
conceived as more an acquisition that occurs in families,
(Purcell-Gates, 2000) in the workplace, and in the larger, in-
creasingly technological community (Reinking, McKenna,
Labbo, & Kieffer, 1998).

Of course, one way to deal with this enormous and multi-
dimensionally expanding literature would be to focus only on
the parts that are decidedly psychological because much of lit-
eracy research was not carried out by psychologists and seems
rather far afield from psychological issues; in fact, that is a
tactic taken in this chapter. The downside of this approach is
that some of the most interesting and cutting-edge directions

334 Psychology of Literacy and Literacy Instruction

are neglected. Some ideas that might start psychologists
thinking about new directions they might pursue are not put
before readers’ eyes. The serious scholar in literacy—or any-
one who wants to have a broadly informed opinion—will (at
a minimum) spend much time with the 3,000 Handbook pages
now available at the beginning of this millennium.

Another tactic that I employ here is to focus on primary and
significant issues and questions—ones that have been of con-
cern for a very long time. This approach in particular makes
sense because it does lead to some answers—that is, a number
of important issues in reading and writing have been studied
long enough that replicable findings have emerged. This em-
phasis on replicable findings—on the surface at least—makes
this chapter consistent with the approach of the National Read-
ing Panel (2000). I am inconsistent with the National Reading
Panel, however, in that I am willing to consider a greater di-
versity of methods than that group was. That group generally
limited itself to experimental studies; it admitted only the oc-
casional quasi-experimental study and distanced itself from
qualitative approaches entirely. This chapter certainly does
present much coverage of outcomes produced in true experi-
ments and approximations to experiments, but these out-
comes are complemented by other scientific findings as well.
In particular, descriptive methods, including ethnographies,
have provided rich understandings about the complexities of
some important instructional approaches—understandings
that never would be produced in true experiments or repre-
sented in the write-ups of experimental studies.

This chapter could have been organized in a number of dif-
ferent ways; I have decided to organize this one along devel-
opmental lines. In fact, there have been studies of literacy
development beginning in late infancy and proceeding through
adulthood. Of course, what develops varies with each develop-
mental period; the development of general language compe-
tencies is particularly critical during the preschool years.
Although beginning reading instruction during the early ele-
mentary school years focuses on the development of letter- and
word-level competencies in reading and writing, this focus
eventually gives way to the development of fluent reading as a
goal and increasing concerns with comprehension and compo-
sition in the later elementary and middle school grades. By
high school and college, much of the emphasis is on honing lit-
eracy skills in the service of the learning demands of secondary
and postsecondary education. Researchers interested in adult
literacy have often focused on adults who did not develop lit-
eracy competencies during the schooling years; such research
generally attempts to develop interventions to promote literacy
in these populations, whose members often suffer socio-
economic and personal disadvantages directly attributable to
their reading problems.

EMERGENT LITERACY DURING
THE PRESCHOOL YEARS

What happens to children during the preschool years relates
to later literacy development. Many developmentalists inter-
ested in literacy have focused on what is known as emergent
literacy, which is the development of the language skills un-
derlying literacy through interactions with the social world.
Other developmentalists who have been interested in chil-
dren’s beginning letter-level and word-recognition skills have
focused more on a competency known as phonemic aware-
ness, which is the awareness that words are composed of
sounds blended together.

Emergent Literacy

One of the more heavily researched topics by developmental
psychologists is the nature of mother-infant attachment.
When interactions between the principal caregiver and an in-
fant are constructive and caring, the attachment that develops
can be described as secure (Bowlby, 1969). In particular,
when parents are responsive to the child and provide for its
needs, secure attachment is more likely. The securely at-
tached baby interacts with the world comfortably in the care-
giver’s presence and responds favorably to the caregiver after
a period of caregiver absence.

Matas, Arend, and Sroufe (1978) made a fundamentally
important discovery. Children who experience secure at-
tachment during infancy engage in more effective problem
solving with their parents during the preschool years. When
parents are securely attached to their children, they are more
likely to provide appropriate degrees of support as their chil-
dren attempt to solve problems (Frankel & Bates, 1990;
Matas et al., 1978).

A related finding is that when parents and preschoolers are
securely attached, they interact more productively in situa-
tions involving literacy. Bus and van IJzendoorn (1988)
observed both securely attached and insecurely attached
mother-child pairs as they watched Sesame Street together,
read a picture book, and went through an alphabet book. The
interactions involving securely attached parents and children
were much more positive than were the interactions between
insecurely attached parents and children. Securely attached
preschoolers were more attentive and less easily distracted
during interactions, and much more literate activity was ob-
served in the interactions of securely attached pairs compared
to those of insecurely attached pairs. Storybook reading was
more intense with the secure pairs than with the insecure
pairs; the secure parent-child pairs talked more about the
story than did the insecure pairs. An especially interesting

Emergent Literacy During the Preschool Years 335

finding was that securely attached parents and their 3-year-
old children reported doing more reading together (Bus &
van IJzendoorn, 1995).

That storybook reading brings greater rewards when at-
tachment security is greater is an important finding because
high-quality storybook reading during the preschool years
clearly promotes literacy development. There are clear corre-
lations between the amount of storybook reading during the
preschool years and subsequent language development, chil-
dren’s interest in reading, and their success as beginning
readers (Sulzby & Teale, 1991); this is sensible because
storybook reading at its best is a rich verbal experience, with
much questioning and answering by both reader and child.
Storybook reading permits practice at working out meaning
from words in text and pictures, as well as opportunities for
the child to practice relating ideas in stories to their own lives
and the world as they understand it (Applebee & Langer, 1983;
Cochran-Smith, 1984; Flood, 1977; Pelligrini, Perlmutter,
Galda, & Brody, 1990; Roser & Martinez, 1985; Taylor &
Strickland, 1986). As a child matures and gains experience
with storybook reading, the conversations between reader and
child increase in complexity (Snow, 1983; Sulzby & Teale,
1987). Older preschoolers who have had much storybook
reading experience are much more attentive during such read-
ing than are same-age peers who have had relatively little op-
portunity to experience books with their parents or other adults
(Bus & van IJzendoorn, 1988). Many correlational data sup-
port the hypothesis that storybook reading is beneficial for
children’s cognitive development—that it stimulates language
development and sets the stage for beginning reading.

This body of evidence in the context of storybook read-
ing is complemented by other data substantiating striking
connections between the richness of preschoolers’ verbal
worlds and subsequent language development. One of the
most ambitious and most cited analyses was made by Uni-
versity of Kansas psychologists Hart and Risley (1995).
They observed 42 families for 2.5 years, beginning in the
second semester of a child’s life. During these observations,
they recorded all actions and interactions. The first im-
portant finding was that there were significant differences
between families in both the quality and the extensiveness
of verbal interactions. The quality of interactions in terms of
completeness and complexity of language was greater in
professional homes than in working-class homes, and lan-
guage complexity in working-class homes was greater than
in welfare homes—that is, in homes of higher socioeco-
nomic status, parents listened more to their children, they
asked their children to elaborate their comments more, and
they taught their children how to cope verbally when con-
fronted with ideas that were challenging for the children to

communicate. Quantitatively, the differences in verbal inter-
actions were really striking: Whereas a child in a profes-
sional home might experience 4 million verbalizations a
year, a child in a welfare family could be exposed to only
250,000 utterances. Did these vast differences in experience
translate into later performance differences? There was no
doubt about it; superior language was detected by age 3 in
the children raised in professional families compared to
children in working-class and welfare families.

Of course, the problem with correlational data is that
causality is never clear. Yes, it could be that the richer experi-
ences promoted language development, or it could be that
more verbal children stimulated richer language interactions
during storybook reading and throughout their days. Fortu-
nately, complementary experimental studies establish more
definitively that high-quality verbal interactions result in
linguistic advances in children.

Grover Whitehurst and his colleagues (Whitehurst et al.,
1988) hypothesized that if parents were coached in order to
improve their verbal interactions with their children during
storybook reading, the language functioning of the children
would improve. Whitehurst et al. worked for a month with
the parents of 14 children between the ages of 1.5–3 years. In
particular, the parents were taught to use more open-ended
questions as they read storybooks with their children; they
were also taught to ask more questions about the functions
and attributes of objects in stories. Whitehurst et al. (1988)
also taught the parents to elaborate and expand on comments
made by their children during reading. In short, the parents
were taught the tricks of the trade for stimulating productive
and verbally rich conversations with young children. In
contrast, parents and children in a control condition simply
continued to read together for the month corresponding to
treatment for the experimental participants.

First, the intervention worked in that it did increase the
verbal complexity and extensiveness of communications
between parents and children. Although experimental and
control parent-child interactions were similar before the
study, the experimental group conversations during book
reading were much richer following the intervention. More-
over, clear differences appeared in the language functioning
of the experimental group children following the interven-
tion, reflected by performance on standardized tests of psy-
cholinguistic ability and vocabulary. These effects have been
replicated several times, both by Whitehurst’s associates
(Valdez-Menchaca & Whitehurst, 1992; Whitehurst et al.,
1994) and by others (Crain-Thoresen & Dale, 1995; Dickinson
& Smith, 1994; Lonigan, Anthony, & Burgess, 1995).

In short, evidence suggests that preschool verbal experi-
ences promote language development, potentially in ways

336 Psychology of Literacy and Literacy Instruction

promoting subsequent development of reading. Whether
these effects are great enough to inspire enthusiasm, how-
ever, depends on the eye of the observing scientist; some sci-
entists see large and important effects (Bus, van IJzendoorn,
& Pelligrini, 1995; Dunning, Mason, & Stewart, 1994;
Lonigan, 1994), whereas others who examine the same out-
comes see small effects that might be explained away as due
to factors other than verbal stimulation (Scarborough &
Dobrich, 1994). I tend to favor the former rather than the lat-
ter conclusion; the experimental work of Whitehurst and his
colleagues especially affects my thinking on this matter. In
general, my optimism is consistent with the general optimism
of the field that rich early language experiences affect lan-
guage development in ways that should affect later reading
development (Sulzby & Teale, 1991; Yaden et al., 2000).

Phonemic Awareness

In recent years, no prereading competency has received as
much attention from researchers and practitioners as phone-
mic awareness has. Understanding that words are composed
of blended sounds seems essential for rapid progress in
learning letter-sound associations and learning to use those
associations to sound out words (Adams, 1990; Pennington,
Groisser, & Welsh, 1993; Stanovich, 1986, 1988). This is not
an all-or-none acquisition, however; Adams (1990) provides a
conceptualization of phonemic awareness subcompetencies,
listed as follows from most rudimentary to most advanced:
(a) sensitivity to rhymes in words, (b) being able to spot words
that do not rhyme (e.g., picking the odd word out if given can,
dan, sod), (c) being able to blend sounds to form words (e.g.,
blending the sounds for M, short A, and T to produce mat),
(d) being able to break words down into sound components
(e.g., sounding out mat to indicate awareness of M, short A,
and T sounds), and (e) being able to split off sounds from
words (e.g., dropping the M sound from mat to say at; drop-
ping the T sound from mat, producing ma).

Why is there such great interest in phonemic awareness?
When phonemic awareness is low at ages 4–5, there is in-
creased risk of difficulties in learning to read and spell (Bowey,
1995; Griffith, 1991; Näsland & Schneider, 1996; Pratt &
Brady, 1988; Shaywitz, 1996; Stuart & Masterson, 1992).
Perhaps the best-known study establishing linkage between
phonemic awareness at the end of the preschool years and later
reading achievement was Juel (1988). She studied a sample of
children as they progressed from first through fourth grade.
Problems in reading during Grade 1 predicted problems in
reading at Grade 4—that is, problem readers in first grade do
not just learn to read when they are ready! Rather, they never

seem to learn to read as well as do children who were strong
readers in Grade 1. More important to this discussion is that
low phonemic awareness in Grade 1 predicted poor reading
performance in Grade 4, a result generally consistent with
other demonstrations that low phonemic awareness between
4 and 6 years of age predict later reading problems (Bowey,
1995; Griffith, 1991; Näsland & Schneider, 1996; Pratt &
Brady, 1988; Shaywitz, 1966; Stuart & Masterson, 1992).

Given that phonological awareness is so critical in learning
to read, it is fortunate that phonological awareness has proven
teachable; when taught, it influences reading performance
positively. Perhaps the best known demonstration of the po-
tency of phonemic awareness instruction is that provided by
Bradley and Bryant (1983). They provided 5- and 6-year-olds
with 2 years of experience categorizing words on the basis of
their sounds, including practice doing so with beginning, mid-
dle, and ending sounds. Thus, given the words hen, men, and
hat with the request to categorize on the basis of initial sound,
hen and hat went together; in contrast, hen and men was the
correct answer when the children were asked to categorize on
the basis of middle or ending sound. The students in the study
first read pictures and made their choices on the basis of
sounds alone; then they were transferred to words and could
make their choices on the basis of letter and orthographic
features as well as sounds.

The training made a substantial impact on reading mea-
sured immediately after training, relative to a control condi-
tion in which students made judgments about the conceptual
category membership of words (e.g., identifying that cat, rat,
and bat go together as animals). Even more impressive was
that the trained participants outperformed control participants
in reading 5 years after the training study took place (Bradley,
1989; Bradley & Bryant, 1991).

Bradley and Bryant’s work was the first of a number of
studies establishing that phonemic awareness could be de-
veloped through instruction and influence reading perfor-
mance (Ball & Blachman, 1988, 1991; Barker & Torgesen,
1995; Blachman, 1991; Byrne & Fielding-Barnsley, 1991,
1993, 1995; Cunningham, 1990; Foster, Erickson, Foster,
Brinkman, & Torgesen, 1994; Lie, 1991; Lundberg, Frost, &
Peterson, 1988; O’Connor, Jenkins, & Slocum, 1995; Tangel
& Blachman, 1992, 1995; Vellutino & Scanlon, 1987;
Williams, 1980; Wise & Olson, 1995). Although the instruc-
tional procedures varied somewhat from study to study, in
general, phonemic awareness training has included at least
several months of exercises requiring young children to attend
to the component sounds of words, categorizing and dis-
criminating words on the basis of sound features. Thus, some-
times children were asked to tap out the syllables of words,

First Grade and the Primary Years 337

sometimes asked to say the word with the last sound deleted,
and sometimes requested to identify the odd word out when
one does not share some sound with other words in a group.

Bus and van IJzendoorn (1999) provided especially com-
plete and analytical review of the phonemic awareness in-
structional data. Collapsing data over 32 research reports, all
of which were generated by U.S. investigators, Bus and van
IJzendoorn (1999) concluded that there was a moderate rela-
tionship between phonemic awareness instruction and later
reading. When long-term effects (i.e., 6 months or more fol-
lowing training) were considered, however, the phonemic
awareness instruction had less of an impact on reading—a
small impact at best. Thus, although delayed effects of phone-
mic awareness training can be detected, they are not huge.

All scientifically oriented reviewers of the early reading
literature have concluded that phonemic awareness is impor-
tant as part of learning to read (e.g., Adams, 1990; Adams,
Treiman, & Pressley, 1998; Goswami, 2000; National Read-
ing Panel, 2000; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). The available
correlational and experimental data converge on the conclu-
sion that phonemic awareness is probably an important pre-
requisite for learning to read words. After all, if a child does
not understand that words are composed of sounds blended
together, why would reading instruction emphasizing the
component sounds of words make any sense to the child? Of
course, the answer is that it would not, which explains why
phonemic awareness is so critical for a child to learn to read
(e.g., Fox & Routh, 1975). Acquiring phonemic awareness is
just a start on word recognition competence, which is a criti-
cal task during the primary grades.

In summary, much progress in literacy development can
and does occur before Grade 1, which has traditionally been
viewed as the point of schooling for beginning reading in-
struction. Much of it is informal—the learning of language in
a language-rich environment that can include activities such
as storybook reading with adults. Increasingly, high-quality
kindergarten programs include activities explicitly intended
to develop phonemic awareness.

FIRST GRADE AND THE PRIMARY YEARS

There has been tremendous debate in the past quarter century
about the best approach to primary-grades reading educa-
tion. This debate somewhat reflects a much longer debate (i.e.,
one occurring over centuries to millennia) about the nature
of beginning reading instruction (see Pressley, Allington,
Wharton-McDonald, Block, & Morrow, 2001). In recent
years, at one extreme have been those who have advocated an

approach known as whole language, which posits that chil-
dren should be immersed in holistic reading and writing tasks
from the very start of schooling—that is, reading trade books
and composing their own stories. At the other extreme are
those who argue that skills should be developed first. The
skills-first advocates particularly favor phonics as an ap-
proach to developing word-recognition abilities; they argue
that if students learn letter-sound associations and how to
blend the component sounds in words to recognize words,
their word recognition will be more accurate and more certain.

Word Recognition

Even preschoolers can read some words, such as McDonald’s
when in the context of the company’s logo, Coca-Cola when
encountered on a bottle or aluminum can, and Yankees when
scripted across a ballplayer’s chest. Young children learn to
recognize such logographs from their day-to-day experiences.
When presented the words McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and
Yankees out of their familiar contexts, preliterate children
cannot read them. Even so, encountering words as logographs
somehow seems to make it easier for preschoolers to learn
words out of context. When Cronin, Farrell, and Delaney
(1995) taught preschoolers words as sight words, previously
encountered logographs were learned more easily than were
control words never encountered as logographs. At best, how-
ever, logographic reading is just a start on word-recognition
skills and is very different from most of word recognition.

Well before children can sound out words using all the let-
ters of a word, they sometimes can read words based on a few
letters, a process Ehri (1991) referred to as phonetic cue read-
ing. Thus, as a little boy, I learned the very long word ele-
mentary because I encountered it often during first grade. As
a consequence, I could read elementary wherever I encoun-
tered the word. The problem was that I was reading the word
based on a couple of cues (probably the beginning e and the
fact that it was a long word) shared by other words. Thus, for
quite a while, I thought that label on the escape hatch in the
school bus was labeled elementary door, when in fact it was
an emergency door! Such mistakes are common in children
who are 5–6 years old (Ehri & Wilce, 1987a, 1987b; Gilbert,
Spring, & Sassenrath, 1977; Seymour & Elder, 1986).

Many children do reach the kindergarten doors knowing
the alphabet. One reason is that as a society, we decided to
teach the alphabet to preschoolers—for example, through ef-
forts such as those in Sesame Street; it is clear from the earliest
evaluations that such environmental enrichment did affect ac-
quisition of alphabetic knowledge (e.g., Anderson & Collins,
1988; Ball & Bogatz, 1970; Bogatz & Ball, 1971). It is now

338 Psychology of Literacy and Literacy Instruction

known that Sesame Street contributes to alphabetic learning
over and above the contributions made by family and others
(Rice, Huston, Truglio, & Wright, 1990).

Knowing letter names and letter-sound associations alone
does not result in word recognition competence, however.
Children must also learn the common blends (e.g., dr, bl) and
digraphs (e.g., sh, ch). In general, primary education includes
lots of repetition of the common letter-sound associations,
blends, and digraphs—for example, through repeated reading
of stories filled with high-frequency words. Walk into any
Grade 1 classroom: It will be filled with many single-syllable
words, including lists of words featuring the common di-
graphs and blends. Word families also will be prominent (e.g.,
beak, peak, leak). Grade 1 teachers spend a lot of time model-
ing for their students how to sound out words by blending the
component sounds in words and using common chunks; they
also spend a lot of time encouraging students to sound out
words on their own, including doing so to write words in their
compositions (Wharton-McDonald, Pressley, & Hampston,
1998).

The students most likely to make rapid progress in learn-
ing to sound out words are those who already have phonemic
awareness and know their letter-sound associations (Tunmer,
Herriman, & Nesdale, 1988). Even so, a large body of evi-
dence indicates that teaching students to sound out words by
blending components’ sounds is better than alternative ap-
proaches with respect to development of word-recognition
skills.

Teaching Primary-Level Students to Sound Out Words

One of the most important twentieth-century contributions to
reading research was Jeanne Chall’s (1967) Learning to
Read: The Great Debate. After reviewing all of the evidence
then available, Chall concluded that the best way to teach be-
ginning reading was to teach students explicitly to sound out
words—that is, she felt that early reading instruction should
focus on teaching letter-sound associations and the blending
of letter sounds to recognize words, an approach she referred
to as synthetic phonics. Based on the available research,
Chall concluded that synthetic phonics was superior to other
approaches regardless of the ability level of the child, al-
though synthetic phonics seemed to be especially beneficial
to lower-ability children. After the publication of the first
edition of the Chall book, there was a flurry of laboratory
studies of phonics instruction, and most researchers found
synthetic phonics to be better than alternatives (Chall, 1983,
Table I-2, pp. 18–20).

The next book-length treatment of the scientific founda-
tions of beginning reading instruction was Marilyn Adams’

(1990) Beginning to Read. By the time of that publication, a
great deal of conceptualization and analysis of beginning
reading had occurred. Adams reviewed for her readers the ev-
idence permitting the conclusion that phonemic awareness is
a critical prerequisite to word recognition. So was acquisition
of the alphabetic principle, which is the understanding that
the sounds in words are represented by letters. Researchers
interested in visual perceptual development had made the
case that children gradually acquire understanding of the
distinctive visual features of words, gradually learning to
discriminate Rs from Bs and Vs from Ws (Gibson, Gibson,
Pick, & Osser, 1962; Gibson & Levin, 1975). Consistent with
Chall (1967, 1983), Adams also concluded that instruction
in synthetic phonics promoted beginning word-recognition
skills.

Since Adams’ (1990) book, a number of demonstrations
have shown that intensive instruction in synthetic phonics
helps beginning struggling readers. For example, Foorman,
Francis, Novy, and Liberman (1991) studied urban first-grade
students who were enrolled either in a program emphasizing
synthetic phonics or in a program downplaying phonics in
word recognition in favor of whole language. By the end of
the year, the students in the synthetic phonics program were
reading and spelling words better than were students in the
other program. Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, Schatschneider,
and Mehta (1998) reported a similar outcome; a program em-
phasizing synthetic phonics produced better reading after a
year of instruction than did three alternatives that did not
provide systematic phonics instruction. Maureen Lovett
treats 9- to 13-year-olds who are experiencing severe reading
problems; she and her colleagues have presented consider-
able evidence that systematic teaching of synthetic pho-
nics improves the reading of such children (Lovett, Ransby,
Hardwick, Johns, & Donaldson, 1989; Lovett et al., 1994).
Similar results have been produced in a number of well-
controlled studies (Alexander, Anderson, Heilman, Voeller, &
Torgesen, 1991; Manis, Custodio, & Szeszulski, 1993; Olson,
Wise, Johnson, & Ring, 1997; Torgesen et al., 1996; Vellutino
et al., 1996), permitting the clear conclusion that intensive
(i.e., one-on-one or one teacher to a few students) synthetic
phonics instruction can help struggling beginning readers.

In recent years, a popular alternative to synthetic phonics
has been teaching students to decode words by recognizing
common chunks (or rimes) in them (e.g., tight, light, and
sight include the -ight chunk