Most theories of the development of reading, for alphabetic orthographies, attempt to provide an account of processes children use to acquire reading skill. The theories that have had wide inﬂuence, however, have not included consideration of whether normally developing children can reach equivalent levels of reading attainment by taking somewhat different learning routes, involving different uses of cognitive processes. Moreover, the theories have not considered whether different types of reading instruction lead to children taking different learning routes although they arrive at equivalent levels of skill. Nonetheless, the importance of this matter has been raised from time to time. For example, Ramus (2004, p. 817) has criticised the inﬂuential developmental theory of Frith (1985) on the grounds that ‘it assumes a particular class of teaching methods based on explicit phonics instruction.’ Thompson and Johnston (1993) had earlier pointed out the importance of examining the inﬂuence of different types of instruction to test theories of how children learn to read. To do otherwise would run the risk of accepting a theory as a valid account of children’s learning, when in fact it was not for some types of reading instruction. Recently, there have been speculations (Harm & Seidenberg, 2004, pp. 713-14; Treiman, Kessler, & Bick, 2003, p.70; Zevin & Seidenberg, 2006, p. 148) that the type of reading instruction experienced in childhood should be a factor incorporated in theoretical models of processes of the skilled word reading of adults. This would make sense only if there were long-term developmental continuity for instructional inﬂuences on the ways of processing words in reading. The research reviewed in this chapter addresses issues of this kind. There has
been little research directly relevant to these issues. This is in contrast to the large volume of research that compares different types of reading instruction to determine which yields larger gains in children’s word reading accuracy. The most frequently studied comparison has been of instruction that includes systematic phonics against other types of instruction without such phonics, or with less phonics. Until we have begun to tackle the issue of how reading instruction might interact with reading development we will not be truly sure why instruction such as systematic phonics can lead to accelerated gains in word reading accuracy (National Reading Panel, 2000; Ehri, Nunes, Stahl and Willows, 2001). Here we report on a set of studies that investigated differences in reading behaviours and learning processes between those
who received beginning reading instruction that included systematic phonics and those who received text-centred teaching without such phonics. Children taught in a programme with systematic phonics may have an initial
advantage in the rate at which they acquire word reading accuracy but this does not mean that children without phonics instruction fail to learn to read. In fact, the vast majority of such children do successfully learn to read. It may take a little longer but there is a large overlap between the distributions of word reading accuracy among children with systematic phonics instruction and those without (See National Reading Panel, 2000, which reviewed many studies, mainly from the USA). Given the large proportion of children who are therefore equivalent in reading skill across programmes with and without phonics there are then many theoretically interesting questions to be posed. For example, do children with similar reading levels show differences in reading behaviours and processes that can be linked to how they have been taught to read? Do children who do not receive systematic phonics differ in their learning or performance in some compensatory way from those receiving systematic phonics? And do children, and adults, who have received systematic phonics instruction use their previously taught skills to the exclusion of other possible learning processes in reading words? We hope to provide some evidence about these questions in this chapter and demonstrate that the type of reading instruction is a factor that is important to consider in the ways in which children learn to read; not just in how rapidly they learn to read, important though that is.