trying stuff out page

Language: The Elephant in the Reading Room

by Kate Nation | February 22, 2018 | Uncategorized
Some children start school with worryingly low levels of...
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Word Detective: A guide for parents

by Kate Nation | February 14, 2018 | Uncategorized
Word Detective is our nationwide citizen science project for...
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Word Detective: A guide for the classroom

by Kate Nation | February 14, 2018 | Uncategorized
Word Detective is our nationwide citizen science project. Many...
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Book Language

by Kate Nation | February 12, 2018 | Uncategorized
The picture shows our research group enjoying some shared...
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Reading comprehension and vocabulary: what’s the connection?

by Kate Nation | July 23, 2017 | Uncategorized
Primed by an email conversation about the connections between...
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And the children’s word of 2017 is…

by Kate Nation | June 12, 2017 | Uncategorized
Earlier this year, a record breaking 131,798 children from...
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Language, Literacy & Learning Conference, Perth 2017

by Kate Nation | April 4, 2017 | Uncategorized
Many thanks to Mandy Nayton and colleagues from Australia’s...
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BBC 500 Words: Informing research on children’s writing and language

by Helen Norris | January 25, 2017 | Uncategorized
There’s still time to encourage children to enter this year’s BBC...
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Launching the ReadOxford Partnership

by Kate Nation | October 12, 2016 | Uncategorized
Our research depends on partnership — with teachers, schools...
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Guest Blog: Letter Position Processing and Learning to Read

by Kate Nation | August 7, 2016 | Uncategorized
With only 26 letters to represent all possible words,...
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2 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Letter Position Processing and Learning to Read

  1. Debbie Hepplewhite September 6, 2016 at 11:08 am

    Hi Yvette,

    This is a very interesting and very important topic. Thank you for your posting.

    You refer to development of letter positioning – and I was very interested in the observation that adults response to letter positioning in pseudo words did not match letter positioning in real words.

    Could this be partly explained by changes in teaching approach over the years?

    Your post does not refer to possible influences of teaching approach and content but I suspect that the teaching, not just the ‘development’ could be a significant factor in this topic.

    I suggest that children form a reading (decoding) reflex not just as a consequence of development but as a consequence, at least in part, of the prevailing teaching when they are in the beginning stages of learning to read and later on – dependent not just upon the child’s natural tendencies (genetic and environmental) but also influenced by prevailing teaching methods (for example, whole word, whole language, mixed methods, systematic synthetic phonics with no multi-cueing guessing strategies).

    Not only could the initial teaching of reading influence how children perceive and analyse the printed word, but also the prevailing practices of children’s reading as they years roll on.

    For example, how much is the child left to read silently and without supervision?

    How much is the child asked to ‘read aloud’ and how does the teacher step in to comment, or support, or teach – and what is the approach and professional understanding of the teachers, and anyone listening to the reading aloud as time marches on – to the decoding process?

    We are all aware of the reading battles about the method and content of reading instruction and, I suggest, too often these are not considered when the emphasis in on ‘developmental’ processes.

    For example, the professional knowledge, beliefs and practices of teaches of reading, and supervisors of reading, vary enormously to this day – even in England where, for example, systematic synthetic phonics has been promoted heavily for nearly a decade. Nevertheless, a three year survey by the NFER and the Reading Recovery practices based in the Institute of Education indicate that teachers do not share a common understanding nor common practices for teaching reading and supporting long-term reading.

    You mention the decoding of pseudo words and this brings a case in point for illustrating how differently teachers in infant and primary schools (and others) differ hugely in their understanding and attitudes about the reading process. A number of teachers notably argued that their children who were ‘better readers’ made errors in pseudo word reading because they ‘wanted to make sense’ of the words and therefore read them as real words. This is linked directly to your topic of letter order as, in some words more than others, children reversed letter order of the pseudo words to say them as real words.

    There are a number of explanations for this state of affairs. One is very simply that it is easy-enough to do this even as adults (noted in your posting differences between words such as ‘diary’ and ‘dairy’ are easy to understand when reading at a glance). Another explanation is that it is a feature of sounding out and blending the sounds (phonics decoding) that to attain the real word from this process, there is often a need to ‘tweak’ or ‘modify’ the pronunciation.

    A further explanation, however, is that the ‘better readers’ may be using multi-cueing guessing strategies more routinely than phonics decoding to lift the words off the page, which leads to a ‘stab’ at words words are rather than a totally accurate ‘all-through-the-printed-word’ approach. I am suggesting, then, that children with a more multi-cueing approach (whether taught or by natural default) are more likely to be less attentive to letter order, and they are more likely to be less accurate readers – and possibly spellers too.

    Sadly, this issue of reading reflex for beginner readers, and for longer term reading, is not fully thrashed out in teacher-education (I suspect). Nor is the issue of ‘word-skipping’ as a common factor of silent reading.

    ‘Word skipping’ whereby the silent reader can actually get the gist of a new word in print that is not in their spoken vocabulary, but the reader does not bother to decode the word to come up with a pronunciation (silently) – therefore cannot add that word to spoken language – is not one I hear ever, ever discussed other than when I seem to bring it up.

    This issue of needing to give new words encountered in print (which are not in existing oral language) a pronunciation in order to add it to spoken language is a clear demonstration of the need to have phonics knowledge and skills for reading for life. Thus, phonics is not merely baby stuff, it is adult stuff, but adults don’t realise this – neither do most of the teaching profession and teacher-training profession (I suspect).

    This means that any learner who is presenting as a weak reader generally, and perhaps there are genetic tendency-to-muddlement traits in the family, will no doubt have difficulties with letter order in words. And one of the answers to that is extremely high quality phonics teaching and not being taught to through multi-cueing reading strategies, which ironically are the prevailing strategies provided through many high-profile intervention programmes! So, the very children who most need to be kept from guessing through many cues are the same children who receive such provision.

    Muddling letter order may well be a development issue when children are left to their own devices but could be addressed with the very best evidence-informed teaching.

    Sadly, the adults themselves in the teaching and training fields are not yet on the same page.

    Warmest regards,


  2. Debbie Hepplewhite September 6, 2016 at 11:12 am

    Sorry about typos – typed in a great hurry!

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