Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert

Author: Anne Castles, Kathleen Rastle, and Kate Nation

Year: 2018

Paper Description

The paper discusses the importance of learning to read and its transformative impact on individuals’ lives. Reading serves as the foundation for knowledge acquisition, cultural engagement, democracy, and workplace success. The economic cost of illiteracy is substantial, with over $1 trillion annually in direct costs alone. Indirect costs are even greater as low literacy leads to the inability to grasp essential information about hygiene, diet, and safety, contributing to inequality and various negative outcomes such as poor health, workplace accidents, crime involvement, and welfare dependency.

Key Takeaway 1

Learning to read in an alphabetic writing system, such as English, requires the acquisition of the alphabetic principle—the understanding that the visual symbols of the writing system (graphemes) represent the sounds of the language (phonemes). This insight does not typically come naturally to children and must be taught explicitly. Foundational skills such as phonemic awareness (the ability to recognize and manipulate individual speech sounds) and letter knowledge are crucial precursors to understanding this principle.

Systematic phonics instruction is a method that teaches the relationship between graphemes and phonemes in an ordered manner. This method is based on the idea that a relatively small body of knowledge about grapheme-phoneme correspondences allows children to decode most words and access their meanings. Research has consistently shown that systematic phonics instruction is effective in improving decoding, spelling, and reading comprehension skills. In various countries, recommendations and policies have been implemented to promote systematic phonics instruction in classrooms.

However, there are still outstanding questions related to phonics instruction, including how best to implement it in the classroom and how to ensure its effectiveness. Some of the questions discussed include the timing of instruction, the impact of orthographic depth (shallow vs. deep orthographies) on instruction, the role of phonemic awareness, and the broader effects of phonics instruction on literacy development.

Key Takeaway 2

The process of becoming a skilled reader involves a complex interplay of various factors, including phonological awareness, morphological knowledge, and exposure to print.

Standout Quote

“The process by which this transition from novice to expert word reader occurs is complex, and many questions remain. However, it is clear that reading experience matters. Exposure to print provides the dynamic database from which children can accumulate detailed orthographic knowledge, supported by a foundation of alphabetic decoding skill.”


reading, learning to read, phonics, phonics instruction, early years, primary educarion, secondary education, teaching, teaching reading, Reading development, Literacy acquisition, Word recognition, Reading skills, Phonics instruction, Morphological awareness, Fluent reading, Orthographic knowledge, Teaching reading, Early literacy, Reading motivation, Classroom implications, Educational research, Children’s reading habits, Reading motivation strategies