Psychology of Literacy Research Paper

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When first asked whether I could write a research paper summarizing 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 Research (Barr, Kamil, Mosenthal, & Pearson, 1991; Kamil, Mosenthal, Pearson, & Barr, 2000; Pearson, Barr, Kamil, & Mosenthal, 1984), the most prominent compendiums of reading research, which collectively include 3,000 pages to summarize just reading research (although some writing research found its way into those volumes).

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Even more daunting than just the volume of research, however, is its diversity. From a methodological perspective, there areexperimentalandcorrelationaltraditionsinliteracystudies. In recent years, however, such traditional and quantitative approaches 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 moving 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 increasingly 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 extending 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, increasingly technological community (Reinking, McKenna, Labbo, & Kieffer, 1998).

Of course, one way to deal with this enormous and multidimensionally expanding literature would be to focus only on the parts that are decidedly psychological because much of literacy research was not carried out by psychologists and seems rather far afield from psychological issues; in fact, that is a tactic taken in this research paper. The downside of this approach is that some of the most interesting and cutting-edge directions are neglected. Some ideas that might start psychologists thinking about new directions they might pursue are not put before readers’eyes.

Another tactic that I employ here is to focus on primary and significant issues and questions—ones that have been of concern 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 emphasis on replicable findings—on the surface at least—makes this paper consistent with th eapproach of the National Reading Panel (2000). I am inconsistent with the National Reading Panel, however, in that I am willing to consider a greater diversity of methods than that group was. That group generally limited itself to experimental studies; it admitted only the occasional quasi-experimental study and distanced itself from qualitative approaches entirely. This research paper certainly does present much coverage of outcomes produced in true experiments and approximations to experiments, but these outcomes 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 represented in the write-ups of experimental studies.

This research paper could have been organized in a number of different ways; I have decided to organize this one along developmental 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 developmental period; the development of general language competencies is particularly critical during the preschool years. Although beginning reading instruction during the early elementary 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 composition in the later elementary and middle school grades. By high school and college, much of the emphasis is on honing literacy 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 literacy competencies during the schooling years; such research generally attempts to develop interventions to promote literacy in these populations, whose members often suffer socioeconomic and personal disadvantages directly attributable to their reading problems.

Emergent Literacy During the Preschoolyears

What happens to children during the preschool years relates to later literacy development. Many developmentalists interested in literacy have focused on what is known as emergent literacy, which is the development of the language skills underlying literacy through interactions with the social world. Other developmentalists who have been interested in children’s beginning letter-level and word-recognition skills have focused more on a competency known as phonemic awareness, 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 infant 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 attached baby interacts with the world comfortably in the caregiver’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 attachment 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 children attempt to solve problems (Frankel & Bates, 1990; Matas et al., 1978).

Arelated finding is that when parents and preschoolers are securely attached, they interact more productively in situations 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 observed 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 finding was that securely attached parents and their 3-yearold children reported doing more reading together (Bus & van IJzendoorn, 1995).

That storybook reading brings greater rewards when attachment security is greater is an important finding because high-quality storybook reading during the preschool years clearly promotes literacy development. There are clear correlations between the amount of storybook reading during the preschool years and subsequent language development, children’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 andtheworldastheyunderstandit(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 reading than are same-age peers who have had relatively little opportunity to experience books with their parents or other adults (Bus & van IJzendoorn, 1988). Many correlational data support 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 reading 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 University 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 important 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 language complexity in working-class homes was greater than in welfare homes—that is, in homes of higher socioeconomic 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 confronted with ideas that were challenging for the children to communicate. Quantitatively, the differences in verbal interactions were really striking: Whereas a child in a professional 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 experiences promoted language development, or it could be that more verbal children stimulated richer language interactions during storybook reading and throughout their days. Fortunately, 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. Moreover, clear differences appeared in the language functioning of the experimental group children following the intervention, reflected by performance on standardized tests of psycholinguistic ability and vocabulary. These effects have been replicated several times, both by Whitehurst’s associates (Valdez-Menchaca & Whitehurst, 1992; Whitehurst et al., 1994)andbyothers(Crain-Thoresen&Dale,1995;Dickinson & Smith, 1994; Lonigan,Anthony, & Burgess, 1995).

In short, evidence suggests that preschool verbal experiences promote language development, potentially in ways promoting subsequent development of reading. Whether these effects are great enough to inspire enthusiasm, however, depends on the eye of the observing scientist; some scientists see large and important effects (Bus, van IJzendoorn, & Pelligrini, 1995; Dunning, Mason, & Stewart, 1994; Lonigan, 1994), whereas others who examine the same outcomes 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 latter 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 language 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 phonemic 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; dropping 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 increased 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 potency 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, middle, 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 measured immediately after training, relative to a control condition 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 developed through instruction and influence reading performance (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 instructional 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 discriminating words on the basis of sound features. Thus, sometimes children were asked to tap out the syllables of words, 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 complete and analytical review of the phonemic awareness instructional 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 relationship between phonemic awareness instruction and later reading. When long-term effects (i.e., 6 months or more following 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 phonemic awareness training can be detected, they are not huge.

All scientifically oriented reviewers of the early reading literature have concluded that phonemic awareness is important as part of learning to read (e.g., Adams, 1990; Adams, Treiman, & Pressley, 1998; Goswami, 2000; National Reading Panel, 2000; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).The available correlational and experimental data converge on the conclusion that phonemic awareness is probably an important prerequisite 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 critical 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 instruction. 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 education. Thisdebatesomewhatreflectsamuchlongerdebate(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 children 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 approach 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, however, 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 letters of a word, they sometimes can read words based on a few letters, a process Ehri (1991) referred to as phonetic cue reading. Thus, as a little boy, I learned the very long word elementary because I encountered it often during first grade. As a consequence, I could read elementary wherever I encountered 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 efforts such as those in Sesame Street; it is clear from the earliest evaluations that such environmental enrichment did affect acquisition of alphabetic knowledge (e.g., Anderson & Collins, 1988; Ball & Bogatz, 1970; Bogatz & Ball, 1971). It is now 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 digraphs and blends.Word families also will be prominent (e.g., beak, peak, leak). Grade 1 teachers spend a lot of time modeling 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 learning 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 evidence indicates that teaching students to sound out words by blending components’ sounds is better than alternative approaches 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 beginning 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, although 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 foundations 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 evidence 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 emphasizing 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 considerable evidence that systematic teaching of synthetic phonics 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 wellcontrolled 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). Use of such chunks to decode, however, requires that students know something about letters and sounds and about blending (Ehri & Robbins, 1992; Peterson & Haines, 1992) because word recognition requires blending the sounds produced by individual letters with the sounds produced by a chunk (e.g., tight involves blending the t and ight sounds; Bruck & Treiman, 1992). In evaluations to date, when struggling readers have been taught to use common word chunks to decode words they have not seen before, this approach has been successful relative to controls who receive conventional instruction not emphasizing word recognition (e.g., Lovett et al., 2000). Students taught to use word chunks have fared as well after several months of such instruction as students taught to use synthetic phonics (Walton, Walton, & Felton, 2001). Thus, available data indicate that young children can learn to use both chunks and the sounding out of individual sounds as they learn to recognize words (Goswami, 2000). Perhaps most striking in the Walton et al. (2001) report was that weak first-grade readers tutored either to use chunks to decode or to sound out words using phonics caught up with good first-grade readers who continued to receive conventional reading instruction that emphasized neither use of chunks during reading nor synthetic phonics. These are powerful procedures for remediating the most salient problem in beginning reading, which is difficulty in recognizing words. Even so, they have not been the most popular procedures in recent years for remediating troubled beginning readers.

Reading Recovery

Reading Recovery™ is a widely disseminated approach to beginning reading remediation (Lyons, Pinnell, & DeFord, 1993).Typically, students in Reading Recovery are in Grade 1 and making slow progress in learning to read in the regular classroom. The intervention supplements classroom instruction and involves daily one-teacher-to-one-child lessons; each lesson lasts about a half hour, and lessons continue for as long as a semester.

A typical Reading Recovery lesson involves a series of literacy tasks (Clay, 1993; Lyons et al., 1993). First, the child reads a familiar book aloud to the teacher. Often, this task is followed by reading of another book that is not quite as familiar—one introduced to the child the day before. During this reading of yesterday’s new book, the teacher makes a running record, noting what the child does well during reading and recording errors. Information gleaned by the teacher as the child reads is used to make instructional decisions, and the teacher attempts to determine the processes being used by the child during reading.

For example, when the child makes an error during reading, the teacher notes whether the child relied on meaning clues to guess the word, syntactic cues, or visual cues; this analysis of processing informs instructional decision making.Thus, if the child misreads bit as sit, the teacher might focus the child’s attention on the it chunk in the word and prompt the child to blend the s sound and the sound made by it.After the reading, the teacher continues the lesson by asking the student to identify plastic letters or by having the child make and break words with plastic letters. For example, the teacher might focus on words with the it chunk, prompting the child to form new words with the it chunk, using magnetic letters to construct the words (e.g., bit, fit, mit, pit, etc.). Then the child might break these words to see that bit is b plus it, fit is f plus it, and so on. Then the child might do some writing in response to the story, with the teacher providing assistance as the child works on writing (e.g., writing a sentence about the story, such as The dog sits down). During writing, the teacher encourages the child to listen for the sounds in words in order to spell out the word in writing. Then, the teacher writes the sentence constructed by the student on a paper strip, using conventional spelling to do so, then cutting up the strip into individual words. The child reassembles the sentence and reads it for the teacher. The Reading Recovery lesson concludes with the teacher’s introducing a new book to the student, who attempts to read the book for the teacher. Homework involves taking home the books read during the lesson and reading them to a parent.

Reading Recovery is all about children’s reading strategies and the teaching of strategies to struggling readers (Clay, 1993; Lyons et al., 1993). Throughout a Reading Recovery lesson, the teacher attempts to determine how the child is processing during reading and writing and the what reading and writing strategies are used by the child. Specifically, the teacher attempts to determine the reader’s directions of processing (i.e., whether reading is left to right, from the top of the page down; whether writing is left to right, from the top to bottom of the page). The teacher also attempts to discern whether the child is processing individual words in a sequence—for example, whether the child is noticing the spaces between words read and putting spaces between words written. The teacher notes whether the child is monitoring reading and writing—for example, going back and attempting to reread a misread word or asking for help during writing regarding spelling an unknown word. The Reading Recovery teacher focuses on the nature of reading errors—whether they reflect attempts to sound out a word, a reliance on meaning or syntactic cues, or dependence on visual similarity of the attempted word with a word known by the child. In short, the assumption in Reading Recovery is that the struggling reader is attempting to problem-solve when reading and writing, and that the child’s errors are particularly revealing about her or his reading and writing strategies.

The teacher’s knowledge of the child’s strategies is used to guide teaching, and the teacher’s role is to stimulate use of strategies during reading and writing that are more effective than the ones currently being used by the young reader (Clay, 1993; Lyons et al., 1993). For example, to encourage the development of directionality, the teacher prompts the child to Read it with your finger, pointing to each word as it is encountered in text. At first, this can require the teacher actually holding and directing the child’s hand, but eventually the child internalizes the left-to-right and top-to-bottom movements during reading. In order to increase the child’s understanding of the concept of individual words, the teacher prompts the child to write words with spaces between them, using the strategy of putting a finger space between written words. The teacher teaches the child to sound out words by saying them slowly, breaking words into discrete sounds (e.g., cat into the C, short A, and T sounds). Consistent with the demonstration by Iversen and Tunmer (1993) that Reading Recovery is more effective when it includes systematic teaching of chunks and how they can be blended with letter sounds as part of reading, Reading Recovery now includes more making and breaking of words that share chunks (e.g., bake, cake, lake, make, take, etc.) to highlight blending of individual sounds and spelling patterns. The Reading Recovery teacher also teaches the young reader to check decodings by determining whether the reading of a word makes sense in that semantic context. In short, the Reading Recovery teacher instructs the struggling readers in the strategies that effective young readers use; the ultimate goal of Reading Recovery is the development of readers who use effective reading processes in a self-regulated fashion (Clay, 1991).

As is the case for many forms of strategy instruction (Duffy et al., 1987; Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Pearson & Gallagher, 1983; Pressley, El-Dinary, et al., 1992), there is a gradual release of responsibility during Reading Recovery; the teacher is more directive and explicit at first, and the child takes over as lessons proceed and competence develops—that is, the strategy instruction is scaffolded (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976). The teacher provides just enough support so that the child can complete the task; then the teacher reduces the support as the child becomes more competent and able to assume greater responsibility for reading. Of course, the intent of such an instructional approach is to develop self-regulation in the child—first by permitting the child to tackle a task that is beyond her or him and then by allowing self-controlled functioning as the child becomes equal to the task.

Also, as is the case with many forms of strategy instruction, evidence indicates that scaffolded teaching of processes well matched to the target task is effective—that is, a large proportion of children who experience Reading Recovery improve as readers, and improvement is greater than that occurring when comparable children do not receive Reading Recovery, at least when reading achievement is measured immediately after Reading Recovery occurs (see Pinnell, 1997). An important distinction is between Reading Recovery students who graduate and those who do not make enough progress in the program to graduate—that is, Reading Recovery does not always work; when it does work, however, it seems to produce substantial improvement (Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000).As is the case with many early childhood interventions, if students are simply returned to the classroom without additional support, however, the advantages of Reading Recovery fade, and such Reading Recovery students are often not discernibly different in reading achievement measured several years after the completion of the treatment (Hiebert, 1994).

Studies of Exceptional Primary-Level Teachers

Phonemic awareness instruction, phonics, and Reading Recovery are theory-driven educational interventions—that is, based on theory, researchers devised instruction they felt wouldpromotebeginningreading,andtheirinstructionalstudies served as tests of the theories that inspired the interventions. There is another way to discover effective instruction, however, which is to find very good reading teachers and notso-good ones and document what occurs in effective versus ineffective classrooms. Pressley and his colleagues have done exactly that with respect to Grade 1 in particular.

In bothWharton-McDonald et al. (1998) and Pressley et al. (2001), the researchers observed first-grade classrooms over the course of an academic year. In some classrooms, engagement and achievement was better than in other classrooms. For example, in some classrooms, a higher proportion of students were reading more advanced books than was observed in more typical classrooms; in some classrooms, students were writing longer, more coherent, and more mechanically impressive stories (i.e., stories with sentences capitalized, punctuation, correctly spelled high-frequency words, sensible invented spellings of lower-frequency words) than were students in other classrooms. Most striking was that the more engaged classrooms also tended to be the ones with more advanced reading and better writing.

What went on in the really impressive classrooms?

  • There was a lot of teaching of skills, and this instruction was very consistent. Much of this instruction was in response to student needs, however, with many minilessons on skills.
  • Fine literature was emphasized; students read excellent literature and heard it during teacher read-alouds.
  • The students did a lot of reading and writing.
  • Assignments were matched to students’ abilities, and the demands were gradually increased as students improved. Such matching requires different assignments for different students (e.g., one student being urged to write a two-page story and another a two-sentence story, with the demand in each case for a little more than the child produced previously).
  • Self-regulation was encouraged; the message was consistent that students were to make choices for themselves and were to keep themselves on task.
  • Strong connections were made across the curriculum; science and social studies occurred in the context of reading and writing, and science and social studies units were filled with good literature and composing.
  • The class was positive and very reinforcing, with much cooperation between students and between teachers, other adults, and students.
  • The teacher’s classroom management was so good that it was hardly noticeable at all, with little apparent need for disciplining of students.

How different the effective classrooms were really became apparent in analyses that contrasted the effective and ineffective classrooms explicitly—analyses designed to identify what was very different in the excellent compared to the not-so-excellent classrooms:

  • Many more skills were covered during every hour of instruction in the most effective compared to the least effective classrooms.
  • Word-recognition instruction involved teaching multiple strategies (i.e., using phonics, noting word parts, looking at the whole word, using picture clues, using semantic context information provided earlier in the sentence or story, using syntactic cues).
  • Comprehension strategies (e.g., making predictions, mental imagery, summarizing) were explicitly taught.
  • Students were taught to self-regulate.
  • Students were taught to plan, draft, and revise as part of writing.
  • Extensive scaffolding (i.e., coaching) took place during writing—for example, with respect to spelling and elaborating on meanings in text.
  • Printed prompts for the writing process (e.g., a card about what needs to be checked as part of revision) were available.
  • By the end of the year, high demands to use writing conventions (e.g., capitalizing, using punctuation marks, spelling of high frequency words) were placed on students.
  • Tasks were designed so that students spend more time doing academically rich processing (i.e., reading and writing) and relatively little time on nonacademic processing (e.g., illustrating a story).
  • The class wrote big books, which were on display.

In short, excellent first-grade classrooms are very busy— filled with teaching of skills and demands but also filled with support and opportunities for rich intellectual experiences. Although phonics is taught as skills advocates would have it be taught, it is only part of an enormously complex curriculum enterprise that includes many holistic experiences—that is, systematic skills instruction does not happen first before getting to literature and writing in effective first-grade classrooms; rather, skills are learned largely in the context of reading literature and writing. Although literature and writing are emphasized as the whole language theorists would have it, holistic experiences are constantly intermixed with the systematic and opportunistic instruction of specific skills, and skills were much more an emphasis than many whole language theorists would consider appropriate. Excellent primary-level classrooms—ones in which growth in reading and writing is high—cannot be reduced to a very few instructional practices; rather, they are a complex, articulated mix of practices and activities.

The most recent work of Pressley and colleagues (Raphael, Bogner,Pressley,Masters,&Steinhofer,2000)hastakenadecided psychological turn. They observed first-grade classrooms with the goal of determining how excellent first-grade teachers motivate their students to participate in literacypromoting activities. In part, this research was stimulated by the engagement perspective, which posits that literacy achievement depends on instruction that motivates literacy engagement (e.g., Guthrie & Alvermann, 1999). Such engagement is promoted when classrooms emphasize learning rather than student competition, meaningful interactions between students and ideas, student autonomy and self-regulation, interesting content, teaching of useful strategies, praise contingent on literacy engagement and progress, teacher involvement with students, and evaluations that make sense to students (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000). From this perspective, it was expected that classrooms loaded with mechanisms promoting literacy engagement in fact would be classrooms high in student literacy engagement.

What Raphael et al. (2000) found was that first-grade teachers who had students who were highly engaged in reading and writing constructed classrooms filled with positive motivational mechanisms compared to teachers overseeing classrooms in which engagement was not as certain. Thus, in classrooms where engagement was high, the following motivational mechanisms were observed:

  • Much cooperative learning took place.
  • Individual accountability (i.e., students were rewarded for doing well and held accountable when they did not) was demonstrated.
  • As they worked, students received much coaching.
  • Strong library connections were maintained.
  • Students were encouraged to be autonomous and given choices.
  • The teacher was gentle, caring, and inviting.
  • Much one-to-one interaction took place between teachers and students.
  • Strong home-school connections were maintained.
  • Many opportunistic minilessons were taught.
  • Deep connections with students were maintained.
  • Appropriate risk taking was supported.
  • The classroom was fun.
  • Strong connections to other classes in the school were maintained.
  • The teacher encouraged rich and detailed learning.
  • The class took a clear positive tone.
  • Assignments were appropriately challenging.
  • Students produced meaningful products (e.g., stories).
  • Depth in coverage was favored over breadth in coverage.
  • Assignments and units matched student interests.
  • Abstract content was made more personal and concrete.
  • The teacher encouraged curiosity and suspense.
  • Learning objectives were clear.
  • Praise and feedback were effective.
  • The teacher modeled interest and enthusiasm.
  • The teacher modeled thinking and problem–solving.
  • The teacher communicated that academic tasks deserve intense attention.
  • The teacher inserted novel material into instruction.
  • The teacher provided clear directions.
  • The teacher made apparent the relevance of learning to real life.
  • The teacher encouraged persistence.
  • The teacher encouraged cognitive conflict.
  • The teacher communicated a wide range of strategies for accomplishing academic tasks.
  • The teacher encouraged self-reinforcement by students when they did well.
  • The teacher provided immediate feedback.
  • The teacher urged students to try hard.
  • The teacher expressed confidence in students.
  • Theteacherencouragedstudentstoattributetheirsuccesses to hard work and their failures to a need to work harder.
  • The teacher had realistic ambitions and goals for students.
  • The teacher encouraged students to think they can get smarter by working hard on school work.
  • Classroom management was good.
  • The teacher provided rewards that stimulate students positively (e.g., gift book).
  • The teacher monitored the whole class.
  • The teacher monitored individual students carefully.

In short, consistent with the engagement perspective, engaging classrooms were filled with positive motivational mechanisms; less engaging classrooms showed many fewer of these mechanisms.

That is not to say that the teachers in the less engaging classrooms did not try to motivate their students. In fact, they did. In less engaging classrooms, however, teachers were much more likely than were those in the more engaging classrooms to use negative approaches to motivations— emphasizing competition between students; giving students tasks that were very easy, boring, or both; providing negative feedback; making students aware of their failures; scapegoating students; threatening students; and punishing students. Such negative approaches to motivation were almost never observed in the most engaged classrooms.


Many psychologists have been at the forefront of efforts to develop effective beginning reading instruction. One reason is that learning to read is a salient event in the life of the developing child—an event that is decidedly psychological in nature. There are huge cognitive conceptions to acquire, such as phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle, which develop in the context of much associative learning (i.e., learning letter-sound associations and chunk-sound associations) and development of subtle perceptual discriminations (e.g., the visual identity of each letter, both upper- and lowercase versions). An important hypothesis among psychologists is that beginning reading skills can be taught directly. In fact, quite a bit of evidence has accumulated making clear that direct teaching of synthetic phonics does in fact make development of word-recognition skills more certain. In recent years, there have also been validations of teaching involving emphasis on word chunks and blending of word parts in sounding out of words; this approach is now part of the prominent remedial approach to beginning reading known as Reading Recovery. Although Reading Recovery teachers are highly trained for their work, it is auspicious that even college students can tutor beginning struggling readers with substantial gains (Elbaum et al., 2000) because the need in the nation for tutoring primary-level readers in beginning reading skills is very, very great. This work on primary-level reading is an excellent example of how psychological theory and research can inform meaningful educational practice.

That said, the psychological theory related to beginning word recognition seems simple relative to the complexity of excellent first-grade instruction that can be observed in many (although certainly not all) classrooms. Although instruction to promote phonemic awareness, phonics, and word recognition in general is prominent in such classrooms, it occurs in a context that attends to student motivation and excellent holistic experiences, including the reading of much good literature and extensive writing.


Developing students who can understand what they read is a primary goal of reading instruction. This goal should be prominent beginning with the introduction to stories and books in the preschool years. Even so, it definitely becomes a more prominent purpose for literacy instruction during the middle and upper elementary grades, with a number of aspects of reading that can be stimulated to improve comprehension (Pressley, 2000).

Fluent Word Recognition

When a reader cannot decode a word, it is impossible for the reader to understand it (Adams, 1990; Metsala & Ehri, 1998; Pressley, 1998, chap. 6). When young readers are first learning to recognize words—either by blending individual sounds or blending sounds and chunks—such decoding takes a lot of effort, and hence it consumes much of the reader’s attention. This situation is a problem because human beings can only attend to a limited number of tasks at once (Miller, 1956). If that attention is totally devoted to word recognition, nothing is left over for comprehending the word, let alone the higher-order ideas encoded in sentences, paragraphs, and whole texts (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974). Thus, for comprehension to be high, not only must young readers learn how to recognize words, but they also must become fluent in word recognition (National Reading Panel, 2000). Although not every analysis has confirmed that comprehension improves as word recognition fluency improves (Fleisher, Jenkins, & Pany, 1979; Samuels, Dahl, & Archwamety, 1974; Yuill & Oakhill, 1988, 1991), some recent and especially well-done analyses have produced data in which fluency and comprehension have covaried (Breznitz, 1997a, 1997b; Tan & Nicholson, 1997). Unfortunately, little is known about how to develop fluency beyond the fact that fluency generally increases with additional practice in reading (National Reading Panel, 2000).


People with more extensive vocabularies understand text better than do individuals with less well-developed vocabularies (Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Nagy, Anderson, & Herman, 1987). In fact, some experimental studies have even suggested that the development of vocabulary knowledge resulted in improved comprehension (Beck, Perfetti, & McKeown, 1982; McKeown, Beck, Omanson, & Perfetti, 1983; McKeown, Beck, Omanson, & Pople, 1985). Although vocabulary is often taught extensively in school, for the most part, vocabulary is acquired incidentally as a by-product of encountering words in text and in real-world interactions (Sternberg, 1987). There have been a number of demonstrations that vocabulary knowledge increases with how much a reader reads (Dickinson & Smith, 1994; Elley, 1989; Fleisher et al., 1979; Pellegrini, Galda, Perlmutter, & Jones, 1994; Robbins & Ehri, 1994; Rosenhouse, Feitelson, Kita, & Goldstein, 1997; Valdez-Menchaca & Whitehurst, 1992; Whitehurst et al., 1988).

Comprehension Strategies

When mature readers are asked to think aloud as they read, they report using many strategies before, during, and after they read as part of processing the text. These processes include predicting what will be in the text based on prior knowledge and ideas encountered in the text already, constructing mental images of ideas expressed in the text, seeking clarification when confused, summarizing the text, and thinking about how ideas in the text might be used later (Pressley & Afflerbach, 1995). Because good readers consciously use such strategies, it was sensible to teach such strategies to young readers, with the hypothesis that the reading comprehension of young readers would improve following such instruction; that is exactly what happens.

There were many studies in the 1970s and 1980s in which a particular strategic process was taught to students in the elementary grades with comprehension and memory of texts that were read and then tested.These studies included those in which students were encouraged to activate prior knowledge (Levin & Pressley, 1981), generate questions as they read (Rosenshine & Trapman, 1992), construct mental images (Gambrell & Bales, 1986; Gambrell & Jawitz, 1993; Pressley, 1976), summarize (Armbruster, Anderson, & Ostertag, 1987; Bean & Steenwyk, 1984; Berkowitz, 1986; Brown & Day, 1983; Brown, Day, & Jones, 1983; Taylor, 1982; Taylor & Beach, 1984), and analyze stories into component parts (Idol, 1987; Idol & Croll, 1987; Short & Ryan, 1984). In general, all of these strategies proved to improve comprehension and memory of texts when taught to elementary readers who did not use such approaches on their own.

The problem with single-strategy instruction, however, is that good readers do not use single strategies to understand text; rather, they use a repertoire of strategies (Pressley & Afflerbach, 1995). Thus, in the early to middle 1980s, researchers began experimenting with teaching repertoires of strategies to elementary-level readers. Perhaps the best known of these efforts was reciprocal teaching, developed by Palincsar and Brown (1984). Small groups of students met together to practice four strategies to read text: They predicted what would be in the text, asked questions about the content of the text, sought clarification when confused, and summarized the text.Although at first the teacher modeled the strategies and led the group in applying them to text, control of the strategies was quickly transferred to the members of the group; the members took turns leading the group as they read. The leader made predictions, asked questions, and attempted summaries; the leader also asked for clarification questions from group members and for predictions about what might be coming next in the text. The assumption was that by participating approximately 20 sessions of reciprocal teaching, students would internalize the reciprocal teaching strategies and come to use them when they read on their own.

Reciprocal teaching did increase use of the cognitive processes that were taught (i.e., prediction, questioning, seeking clarification, summarization). With respect to performance on standardized tests, the approach produced more modest benefits. In general, reciprocal teaching was more successful when there was more up-front teaching of the four component strategies by the teacher (Rosenshine & Meister, 1994).

In general, when researchers directly taught elementary students to use repertoires of comprehension strategies, students have shown increases in comprehension. Teachers who teach comprehension strategies effectively begin by explaining and modeling the strategies for their students (Roehler & Duffy, 1984)—typically by introducing a repertoire of strategies over the course of several months or a semester (e.g., introducing previewing, then connecting to prior knowledge, generating mental images about text meaning, asking questions, seeking clarification when confused, and summarizing). Often, these strategies are practiced in small groups of readers, and the students choose which strategies to carry out and when to do so. Thus, as students read a story aloud, they also think aloud about which strategies they are employing to understand the text. Sometimes other students in the group react—perhaps coming up with a different mental image from that reported by the reader or perhaps using a different strategy altogether. Such discussions result in readers’ getting a great deal out of a reading; they learn the literal meaning of the story but also have a chance to reflect on alternative interpretations of the story (Brown, Pressley, Van Meter, & Schuder, 1996). By practicing such strategies together, the individual members of the reading group gradually internalize the comprehension processes that are modeled and discussed (Pressley, El-Dinary, et al., 1992). In general, reading comprehension improves as a function of such teaching (Anderson, 1992; Brown et al., 1996; Collins, 1991). This form of teaching has become known as transactional strategies instruction (Pressley, El-Dinary, et al., 1992) because it encourages reader transactions with text (Rosenblatt, 1978), interpretations constructed by several readers interacting (transacting) together (Hutchins, 1991), and teachers and group members reacting to each others’ perspectives (i.e., interactions were transactional; Bell, 1968).


High comprehension involves both word-level processes and processes above the word level. Fluent reading of words and extensive vocabulary are critical for readers to be able to understand demanding texts. Good readers, however, do much more than read words.They predict what will be in text, relate information in text to their prior knowledge, ask questions, summarize the big ideas in a text, and monitor whether they are understanding text. In short, good readers are very active as they make sense of text. The way to develop good comprehension in students is to encourage a great deal of reading to increase fluency, develop the readers’ vocabulary, and teach them to use the comprehension strategies that good readers use.All of these competencies can be developed beginning in the early to middle elementary years.


In recent decades, writing instruction in school has become commonplace, stimulated in large part by a language arts curriculumreformmovementthatarguedforabroaderviewofliteracy than simply reading (e.g., Atwell, 1987; Calkins, 1986; Graves, 1983). Yes, elements of writing such as grammar and spelling have been taught in school since the beginning of the institution; the thrust in recent decades, however, has been to encourage students, beginning in kindergarten, to develop and write whole pieces—both stories and expositions. One assumption is that a lot of learning of lower-level mechanics can occur in the context of writing real stories and essays.

Young children have much to learn about writing as composing. Many K–12 writers do not formulate a clear writing goal before they begin writing (i.e., they do not know what they want to say; Langer, 1986, chap. 3). Also, young writers often do not take into consideration the perspective of potential readers (e.g., Bereiter, 1980). These failures in planning are compounded by failures to revise first drafts; a K–12 student’s first draft of a story or essay is often the final draft as well (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987; Fitzgerald, 1987). The coherence of writing does indeed improve with age during the K–12 years (Langer, 1986; Stahl, 1977); still, much so-called knowledgetellingattheendoftheelementaryyearscontinues into the secondary school years, with young writers simply adding ideas to essays willy-nilly as the ideas come to mind (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987; Emig, 1971; Pianko, 1979; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1986). Even the best of high school writers tend to produce essays with a simple structure: Often, high school essays consist of a thesis statement, followed by several paragraphs, each of which makes one point. The writer then closes with a single-paragraph summary and conclusion (Applebee, 1984; Durst, 1984; Marshall, 1984).

Scholars interested in the development of composition skills reasoned that it was the attention to mechanics rather than to holistic composition that was the culprit behind the unimpressive writing typically occurring in school—that is, holistic composition skills were typically not taught before the 1980s. Moreover, the most frequent type of writing assignment in school did not demand much in the way of planning or revision; rather, it encourages students simply to dump knowledge—that is, the most typical writing assignment in school is to write a few sentences in reaction to short-answer questions on study guides or tests, with the evaluation of answers based on content rather than form (Applebee, 1984; Langer & Applebee, 1984, 1987; Marshall, 1984).When form does matter, typically spelling and punctuation count more than does overall organization of the writing, which does not encourage students to be attentive to the higher-order organizational aspects of writing (Langer, 1986).

An important analysis of composition was carried out by Flower and Hayes (1980, 1981). They directed collegelevel writing teachers and college freshmen to think aloud as they wrote. The most striking and important finding in the study was that excellent writers viewed writing as problem– solving; planning, drafting, and revision were the three processes required to solve the problem of creating a composition. Moreover, Flower and Hayes observed that good writers did not simply cycle through these processes in a linear fashion; rather, they used the processes recursively—some planning, then some drafting, followed by more planning, some drafting, and then some revision, which makes it clear that still more planning and drafting are required, and so on until the writer is satisfied with the product. In contrast to the college writing teachers, freshmen were much less likely to have clear goals before beginning to write; they did less planning and revision than did the teachers; knowledge telling was more prominent in the student writing than in the teachers’ writing. Attention to mechanics was prominent throughout writing for the students; in contrast, college writing teachers only worried about mechanics as they were nearing the end of writing, seeing it as part of the polishing process. The Flower and Hayes work provided both a clear vision of the nature of excellent writing and a vivid understanding about how the writing of beginning college students falls far short of the expert ideal.

Curriculum developers took notice of the Flower and Hayes’work.Inparticular,scholarsidentifyingwiththewhole language approach to beginning language arts began to encourage much writing every day (Atwell, 1987; Calkins, 1986; Graves, 1983). The role of the teacher in this effort was largely to coach students during revision—providing prompts to student writers to revise spelling, grammar, and capitalization, and of course minilessons on these topics when they were required. Even so, instruction to plan, draft, and revise was less prominent in the whole language efforts than it was in other approaches to teaching of writing.

One notable approach was dubbed cognitive strategy instruction in writing (CSIW) by its creators (Englert, Raphael, Anderson, Anthony, & Stevens, 1991). Englert et al. particularly focused on expository writing. There was a great deal of teacher explanation about writing structures for conveying ideas (e.g., teaching of compare-and-contrast essay structures).Teachers often would share examples of good and poor essays with students, thinking aloud as they worked on revising such essays. Such thinking aloud was central as the teachers modeled the construction and revision of expositions. Thus, during planning, the teacher modeled the use of a series of questions that should be on the mind of anyone preparing to write an essay: Students saw the teacher reflecting on the questions Who am I writing for?, Why am I writing this?, What do I know?, How can I group my ideas?, and How will I organize my ideas? If such direct explanation and modeling of strategies seems familiar, it should, since Englert et al. (1991) were very much influenced by their Michigan State colleague Gerry Duffy, who developed the direct explanation and modeling approach to comprehension instruction covered earlier in this research paper. Just as such direct explanation of strategies improved comprehension, it also improved essay writing in Englert et al. (1991) relative to students not receiving such instruction, with the study taking place over an entire school year. In particular, the essays of students (both regulareducation students and those with reading disabilities) taught to plan, draft, and revise were judged to convey their messages better overall. In recent years, a number of replications have supported the general finding that teaching elementary students to plan, draft, and revise improves writing (Harris & Graham, 1996).

Most striking, effective writing instruction for elementary students provides detailed guidance and support about how to plan, draft, and revise (e.g., De La Paz & Graham, 1997; Graham, 1997). Thus, one effective instruction for stimulating story writing involved providing prompts for each part of a story. Thus, young writers were taught to respond to the following questions as they wrote (Harris & Graham, 1996): Who is the main character? Who else is in the story? When does the story take place? Where does the story take place? What does the main character do or want to do?What do other characters do?What happens when the main character does or tries to do it? What happens with the other characters? How does the story end? How does the main character feel? How do other characters feel?

In summary, psychological research has greatly informed the teaching of writing in elementary schools; a substantial body of research validates the plan, draft, and revise model. Most impressively, writing researchers have been able to demonstrate consistent benefits for children experiencing great problems with writing, including those classified as reading and writing disabled (Harris & Graham, 1996).

Encouraging Adult Literacy

Adults in need of literacy instruction vary greatly. Some require basic, word-level instruction, whereas others can read words but do not understand very well what they read. Many adults have not learned to compose well enough to express themselves well in writing.

Basic, Word-Level Difficulties

Many adults cannot read at all. Although the problem is especially acute in many developing countries, adult illiteracy in the industrialized world is common as well; persons who are illiterate suffer economically and psychologically because of their condition.Anumber of countries and their political leaders view literacy development as a key to their economic development and general betterment; hence, national literacy campaigns have been common in developing countries (Bhola, 1999;Wagner, 1999; Windham, 1999). Some who particularly identify with the masses in developing countries conceive of literacy development as a powerful political tool—one with the potential to empower the masses (Freire & Macedo, 1987). Religious groups have also been interested in developing literacy in many underdeveloped regions as part of their evangelization efforts, recognizing that people who can read religious texts are more likely to become converts than are people who cannot (Venezky, 1999).

In some U.S. locales, for example, as much as 10–20% of the population lacks the most basic literacy skills (National Institute for Literacy, 1998). In recent years, the negative economic impact of these illiterate citizens has been emphasized as a motivation for addressing problems of adult literacy in America (Hull & Grubb, 1999). Most conspicuously, illiterate adults are much less employable than are people who can read and write, and they are also certainly less able to meet the demands of an ever more technological world.

Unfortunately, many adults who are illiterate havel ow psychometric intelligence, and no dramatic advances have been made in understanding how to develop reading and writing skills in illiterate adults who have low intelligence. What is offered to most adult illiterates—ones who cannot read at all—is very basic instruction in word recognition skills; groups such as Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) and Laubach have been prominent in these efforts.This approach makes conceptual sense:The core problem for most illiterate adults—if they have at least average intelligence—is their ability to recognize words, and they have great difficulties in mapping the letters in words to component sounds and blending them (Bell & Perfetti, 1994; Elbro, Nielsen, & Petersen, 1994; Greenberg, Ehri, & Perin, 1997). Thus, there is good reason to believe that most normally intelligent adults who cannot read words could learn to do so with systematic instruction in the sounding out of words (e.g., Vellutino et al., 1996), if only these nonreaders would be willing to stay the course of basic letter- and wordlevel instruction—that is, many adult education programs focusing on basic reading have difficulty keeping students enrolled because the instruction is not very motivating (i.e., letter-sound drills and drilling on sight vocabulary bores many adults). Recent efforts to make such instruction attractive to adult learners have focused on use of technology in instruction, although much of the technology now available is running skill and drill routines much like the human skill and drill instruction that has failed previously to hold adults in basic reading education (Askov & Bixler, 1998).

Comprehension Difficulties

Although adults who cannot read words at all are saliently illiterate, many other adults can read words but do not comprehend or remember very well what they read. Other adults have great difficulty expressing themselves in writing. Adults who have difficulties with comprehension and writing are especially challenged by the demands of higher education; hence, it is during higher education that their problems are being addressed. Most contemporary institutions of higher education offer remedial reading, writing, and study skills courses. Although such efforts have more than a century of precedence in higher education, their prevalence increased throughout the twentieth century (Stahl & King, 2000), so that even the most elite of colleges and universities now offer such instruction. Such instruction early in the college career is important for many students because college requires reading of textbooks that are more demanding than are those encountered in high school, reading of genres never encountered before (e.g., journal articles), and—increasingly—interaction with electronic sources of information (Pugh, Pawan, & Antommarchi, 2000).

College reading, writing, and study skills courses—at their best—are informed by a substantial research literature on the improvement of reading, writing, and study skills in adults. Much of college-level remedial reading involves teaching students classic comprehension strategies (Nist & Holschuh, 2000). Thus, because most students are confronted with textbooks containing many related ideas, study skills courses typically teach students how to construct concept maps or outlines (Caverly, Orlando, & Mullen, 2000; Nist & Holschuh, 2000). The students are taught to devise maps or outlines that indicate relationships between ideas in the text, including hierarchical ideas as well as cause-and-effect relationships, sequences, and simple listings of ideas.Although such mapping has the benefit of forcing students to attend to relationships specified in text (Lipson, 1995), it can be very challenging to some students to identify the relationships that need to be mapped (Hadwin & Winne, 1996)—that is, concept mapping can make ideas clearer and more memorable, but if a student has real problems with text comprehension, she or he may not be able to produce much of a concept map. Students in study skills courses are also taught to underline, highlight, and annotate text selectively; again, however, doing so effectively requires understanding the material (e.g., Caverly et al., 2000; Nist & Kirby, 1989).

There are also a variety of strategies that require readers to work actively with text. Thus, elaborative rehearsal requires the reader to restate the text as she or he would if teaching a class (Simpson, 1994). Readers can be taught to self-test themselves on material they have read (Weinstein, 1994), which requires both rehearsal of material and confronting ideas that are not yet known (see Pressley, Borkowski, & O’Sullivan, 1984, 1985, for coverage of how testing increases awareness of what is known and unknown). Readers can also be taught to figure out why ideas and relationships in text make sense, rather than passively accepting facts and relationships as stated—an approach known as elaborative interrogation (see Menke & Pressley, 1994; Pressley, Wood, et al., 1992). Perhaps the most widely disseminated study skills approach is SQ3R (Robinson, 1946), which stands for survey the text, ask questions about what might be in the text, read the text, recite it, and review it.

Do such reading strategies work? Each of the strategies works under some circumstances, with some types of readers, and with some types of texts. Some require extensive instruction in order for students to learn them, such as the complex SQ3R (Caverly et al., 2000; Nist & Kirby, 1989). Most studies skills experts recommend teaching such strategies not alone, but rather in conjunction with other procedures intended to keep students on task, such as time management techniques. In addition, many studies skills programs also include teaching of vocabulary to increase comprehension, recognizing that many struggling college readers do not know the words they need to know in order to comprehend readings encountered in college (Simpson & Randall, 2000). For example, students are often taught the important Latin and Greek root words as an aid to understanding new vocabulary; also, they can be taught how to make use of context clues in sentences and paragraphs (Simpson & Randall, 2000).

Of course, a key ingredient in any program to enhance comprehension has to be reading itself. Like all skills, reading improves with practice. So do component competencies of reading.Thus,agreatdealofincidentallearningofvocabulary occurs during reading (Nagy, 1988; Sternberg, 1987), and this incidental learning makes future comprehension easier.

Writing Difficulties

With respect to writing, many college-age writers do not plan, draft, and revise (Flower et al., 1990). More positively, at least at selective universities, such as Carnegie-Mellon (i.e., where Flower et al.’s 1990 work was carried out), a sizable portion—perhaps 40% of students—do at least some planning before they write; they think about the goal of writing and how that goal can be accomplished as well as the information they need to accomplish the goal. That the majority of students at elite schools and a much higher proportion at less selective universities (see Rose, 1989, chap. 7) need instruction in all aspects of the composing process has stimulated the development of college writing programs that teach students how to plan, draft, and revise as part of composition, and one of the best developed of these was devised at CarnegieMellon (Flower, 1997).Avariety of alternative approaches to teaching of college writing are available to students in need of assistance (Valeri-Gold & Deming, 2000), although few well-controlled evaluations of these programs are currently available.


Although some research has examined how to improve wordlevel problems in adults as well as their comprehension and writing difficulties, much remains left to learn. With the expansion of instructional opportunities for adults in need of literacy instruction, the need is greater than ever for research on adult literacy and how it can be enhanced. Society is willing to provide the resources for adult literacy instruction; research must provide interventions worth delivering to adults who need to improve their reading and writing skills.

Closing Comments

Much has been learned about reading and writing and how it can be enhanced, beginning with infancy and extending into adulthood. That said, enormous gaps still remain in understanding literacy. For example, more is known about teaching word recognition skills to struggling young readers than is known about how such instruction affects normal and gifted readers. Finding out what difference word recognition instruction makes to such populations is important because society and the institution of schooling increasingly favors extensive, explicit decoding instruction for all primary-level students. Similarly, although much has been learned about how to increase comprehension in elementary students, we still do not know how to develop teachers who can deliver such instruction well and who will deliver it faithfully. What we do know is that such instruction is very challenging for many teachers (Pressley & El-Dinary, 1997). The many research successes in the area of literacy research and instruction should go far in stimulating a great deal of additional research in the next quarter century; such work is necessary because the research of the twentieth century permitted much progress in understanding literacy without providing definitive understanding about how to prevent literacy difficulties and failures. Many children and adults continue to struggle to be readers and writers, which is an increasingly serious situation because our technologically driven society demands greater literacy competencies in every new generation.


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