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Evidence-based Reading Instruction: Alphabetics: Research and Teaching Strategies

S. Ianiro
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation: 
Resource Type: 
Number of Pages: 
Product Type: 
Target Audience: 
Skill Level: 
NRS EFL 1--ABE Beginning Literacy
NRS EFL 2--ABE Beginning Basic Education
NRS EFL 3--ABE Intermediate Low
NRS EFL 1--ESL Literacy
NRS EFL 2--ESL Low Beginning ESL
NRS EFL 3--ESL High Beginning ESL
NRS EFL 4--ESL Low Intermediate ESL
NRS EFL 5--ESL High Intermediate ESL
NRS EFL 6--Advanced ESL Literacy
Required Training: 

No training required.


It is important to note that this series of four resources for each of the four components of reading -- alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension – contains digests, not comprehensive descriptions of the components. Each research digest provides a definition of the component, the need for the component, how to assess the component, how to teach and learn the component, teaching strategies, suggestions for professional development, and additional resources. The value of these digests is that they provide a snap shot introduction to the four components of reading that may be helpful to a teacher new to teaching reading to adults. They also provide some resources to extend learning. The digest on alphabetics contains a brief discussion of current research and strategies such as phoneme blending, phoneme segmentation, syllable-based instruction, word families, and language experience approach.

What the Experts Say: 

The experts were conflicted, but two of three recommended it for the LINCS Collections, with some reservations.

The resource distills the meta-analysis of research studies related to alphabetics in Kruidenier’s 2002 study on the components of reading. It provides useful strategies and exercises for teaching alphabetics with examples of words that may be used for each exercise. It also provides references to research studies and additional resources. The resource is most useful for beginning adult readers and ESL learners who have not yet learned how to decode (sound out) unknown words. The resource is not applicable for adult readers who have already mastered decoding skills for recognizing new words, especially those learners at the GED and ASE levels. It should also be mentioned that some words must be learned by sight since decoding skills do not help sound out irregular words. This research digest brings together current information about alphabetics, discussing results of research in language accessible to teachers. It provides definitions, research background, assessment and instructional suggestions in a concise and clearly written manner.

The information, although based on sound research and the meta-analysis of how children learn to read, has limited application to the field of adult literacy. The major findings discussed here have most use when teaching learners who are not literate in any language to read. Segmenting sounds and use of non-sense syllables, although cautioned, is not really explained well enough. Although this is intended for teachers of ESL, there is no reference at all to the various phonic difficulties faced by specific language groups. South Asian learners may struggle with “l” and “r” sounds for example. Also dialect speakers have consonant and vowel pronunciation rules that vary from standard speech rules. Teachers might take the instructional suggestions literally and spend time teaching alphabetics beyond the point where students actually need to work on these skills. That concern is outweighed by the positive aspects of the digest.

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