The Stages of Literacy Development

According to Frith’s Literacy Acquisition Model (as cited in Heath, Hoben & Tan, 2008), we first begin to read and spell using logographic strategies whereby we focus on the visual appearance of words and remember words as single units. The problem with this as a long-term strategy is you can only read and spell words that you have seen and remembered. The next stage is the alphabet phase. This has two components. The first is having good phonological awareness. This involves identifying, manipulating and thinking about the sounds in speech. Students proficient in this area can break words into syllables ( e.g., den-tist) and individual phonemes ( e.g., d-e-n-t-i-s-t) and blend them back into words. They can delete phonemes (e.g., take the /1/ out of ‘clap’ to make ‘cap’) and . can substitute one phoneme for another (e.g., change the /a/ in ‘cat’ to lo/ to make ‘cot’). The research consistently shows a positive link between good phonological awareness ( especially ¬†proficiency in phoneme manipulation) and reading and spelling competency (e.g., McNamara, Scissons & Gutknecth, 2011, Kilpatrick, 2015).

The second component is learning the alphabet code. This requires learning to match graphemes with specific phonemes. Students with this knowledge are able to accurately and automatically decode and encode a large number of words, including words they have not previously seen. Mastery of this stage is readily tested by having students read nonsense words (e.g., trinneeth). The research consistently shows that direct, specific instruction in phonics is not only the most effective way of improving the reading and spelling skills of students having literacy difficulties, but also leads to changes in brain functioning ( e.g., Eden et al., 2004, Odegard et al., 2008).

However, competence in the third orthographic phase is necessary for true literacy (see research by Holmes & Quinn, 2008). Students competent in the last stage of literacy acquisition (the orthographic phase) are able to use their knowledge of spelling rules, syllabification strategies, affixes, and root words in the encoding and decoding process. At this stage, students realise that the meaning of a word, rather than simply a direct sound-symbol relationship, can provide key information as to the graphemes to ‘choose for the correct spelling or reading of a word. This is particularly true of words of Latin and Greek origin which are often found in higher levels of education.

All of these stages are incorporated into the Cracking the ABC Code programs which have been developed over many years and tried and tested on numerous students with excellent results. In addition, the programs utilise a range of memory techniques and a multisensory approach to maximum retention of the information taught (see for example Krafnick et al.’s 2011 study for the benefits of such an approach).