A Ride Through the Reading Stages Part 1


A Ride Through the Reading Stages Part 1


Dr Richard Selznick talks about Dr Jeanne Chall’s Stages of Reading Development as providing teachers, parents, and evaluators with ‘signposts’ about what to do with a child with reading difficulties. His featured video located about half way down his home page for The Shutdown-Learner provides us with a wonderful overview of this model. 


Before jumping into the model itself, I’d like to explain why I feel it is so important to study reading models, especially when thinking about students with dyslexia. 


1. Models show us how children learn to read.

2. Models help inform our instruction and teaching.

3. Models help us adapt our environment and provide materials and resources to encourage, foster, and develop our student’s reading skills. 

4. Models help us assess our students to determine if they need more help and support in the reading process. They help us differentiate our teaching to meet the individual needs of our students. 


It is really important to study the scientifically proven and tested models of today, but some of our past models also have much to offer us, especially in terms of helping us understand our struggling readers. These models have stood the test of time and are still relevant to us today. As our knowledge of the science of reading grows, we can add to them rather than having to abandon them. 


Jeanne Chall’s five stages of reading development, fully developed in her book Stages of Reading Development, is one of those models that still has much to offer us today. As I discuss each of the stages, I’d like to borrow Dr Selznick’s analogy of comparing reading with riding a bike. In Part 1 of this blog, we shall cover Stages 0 and 1, and Part 2 will cover Stages 2 through 5.


Chall’s Stage 0: Pre-Reading/Pseudo Reading


Bike With Training Wheels


The approximate age range for this stage is from 6 months to 6 years, so it will cover preschool and kindergarten. I’d like to compare it to a child getting on to a bike with training wheels. They aren’t really riding independently, but they think they are, and they are learning important skills that will definitely help them when the wheels come off! They may pretend to read a picture book they have in front of them, and can retell the story, especially if an adult, or older child has already read the story to them. The following skills are developed at this stage.  


● Language awareness: By the age of 6, a child will understand thousands of words they have heard, but they will only be able to read a few of them. A child will become aware of the relationship between the written and spoken word.


● Awareness of the purpose of reading, and the relationship between pictures and print. 


● Word play is really important, and includes the many skills of phonological awareness, such as rhyming and alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of the first sounds in two or more words. For example, “Seven snakes sang silly songs.” Singing songs further stimulates language development. Children clap and count syllables, and segment words into syllables. 


● Phonemic awareness skills necessary for successful decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) are part of this stage. Children learn to blend sounds (phonemes) to create words and segment words into phonemes. 


This Reading Rockets link explains the development of phonological awareness skills in children. 


So how do we know when a child has mastered this stage and is ready to move on? When letter recognition and letter naming skills have become automatic, and children can easily name the letters of the alphabet. Their word recognition skills should have developed as far as knowing some high frequency words, words they should know automatically at this stage. These are sometimes referred to as “sight words.” The child should be able to recognize some signs, and also print their own name. 



It is important to be aware that many students with dyslexia, who appear ready to move to Stage 1, haven’t mastered the phonological and phonemic awareness skills necessary for later decoding and encoding. This impacts their success in the later stages, and it is often necessary to work on some of these Stage 0 skills while they are working to develop skills in Stage 1 or 2. 



Chall’s Stage 1: Decoding


Bike Wobbling


The approximate age for this stage is from 6 to 7 years, which will cover first grade and the beginning of second grade. I like to compare it to a child getting on to a bike without the training wheels. They are now riding independently, but they also really have to focus to stay in control. There are so many things for them to think about, including balance, coordinating their feet movements with steering, and watching ahead to avoid collisions.  Reading at this stage is a little like that, as they have to bring together a number of skills to start the decoding process. At this stage they learn:



● The Alphabetic Principle: This is the idea that letters and letter combinations represent the sounds of spoken language. It is essential that children learn these letter-to-sound correspondences in order to become successful readers. In Stage 0 the child is more concerned with the story, which Chall refers to as inside-out; the story comes from inside the child, and they are less concerned with visual matching to the outside text. The Stage 1 child as a reader is more concerned with outside-in, and reading what is actually on the page. While decoding and sight-word development get a lot of attention at this stage, comprehension should also be taught, but with less emphasis. It is an important fact that children taught by a meaning-emphasis (or sight method) make slower progress at this stage than those for whom the emphasis is on decoding. 


● Children learn to analyze whole-to-part, that is breaking a word they see into its phonemes or sounds, and part-to-whole, which is pushing those phonemes or sounds together to form a word. 



In the early part of Stage 1, children learn to decode one syllable words in this sequence:



i. CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words, both real and nonsense, such as “pig” and “pid.”


ii. CCVC (consonant-consonant-vowel-consonant) also known as the initial blends. For example, “blip.”


iii. CCVCC (consonant-consonant-vowel-consonant-consonant) also known as end blends.For example, “clamp.”



By the end of Stage 1, children are further developing their sight word vocabulary, and reading longer, decodable high frequency words. Decoding of multisyllabic words, “low frequency” words, wouldn’t be expected at this stage. 



By the end of this stage, most children can understand 4,000 or more words when heard, but can only read about 600. 



For children, teens, and even some adults who are severely dyslexic, this is the stage where they can often get stuck and be unable to successfully graduate to the next stage. It is very important for a teacher or parent to be aware when a student is struggling at this stage; intervention given in first or early second grade is far more effective in helping them catch up with their peers, than remediation offered when they are older.  For students struggling at this stage, whether you are offering intervention or remediation, I highly recommend The Orton-Gillingham Online Academy’s Basic Language Course (Level 1) training. Whether you are a teacher, tutor, or parent, it will help you guide a child with dyslexia to bridge the reading gap between them and their peers. This training and all the materials provided are sufficient to successfully take a child through the decoding stage and into Stage 2, which is where I will pick up in my next blog. To help a child back on the bike and on their way to successful decoding, check out this link.



Promotion through the end of May, 2018 – FREE Transition Layer & Syllabication Unit with every Orton Gillingham Basic Language Course (Level 1) enrollment. You don’t want to miss this special offer… Enroll today!



For further reading, see  “Stages of Reading Development” by Jeanne S.Chall Published by McGraw-Hill Book Company 1983




Lorna Wooldridge is a dyslexia specialist tutor with over twenty-five years of experience and qualifications in the field of learning differences, from both the UK and USA. Lorna has a unique perspective on this condition as she has dyslexia, and her passion is to serve this community in any way she can.


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