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Theoretical Approaches to Reading Instruction. Marilyn Jager-Adams. Introduction. three styles of learning: alphabetic words meaning. Alphabetic Approaches. Disadvantages: Difficult to learn Focused on memorization, reading aloud Less concerned with conveying ideas (310).

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three styles of learning:

  • alphabetic
  • words
  • meaning

Alphabetic Approaches


  • Difficult to learn
  • Focused on memorization, reading aloud
  • Less concerned with conveying ideas



  • One alphabetic symbol per phoneme
  • No language admits more than a few dozen phonemes
  • Prevalent method for nearly 3,000 years
  • Hailed as most important invention in the social history of the world


alphabetic methods
Alphabetic Methods:
  • The Alphabet Song
  • Hornbooks
  • Blue-Back Speller (1783)

Image courtesy of The Library of Congress

Image courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library

  • introduction of the "whole" method
  • debate over the "proper whole":
    • reading should begin with memorization-
      • memorization of whole books/stories (Matthew 1966)
    • sentence-whole thought to be most natural of thought and expression-
      • sentence-whole words sounds letters (Huey 1908/1968)


meaning cont
Meaning (cont.)
  • over 19th century came increased availability of books/titles
  • change to aquiring knowledge for its own sake/purposes
    • improving one's personal capacity for practical & intellectual fulfillment
    • expanded areas of scholarship (science, history, art, philosophy, economics, literature)


meaning stimulus thought
Meaning (stimulus-thought)
  • shift towards motivation, freedom of thought:
    • "...everyone selects what suits him from what he reads"

(1895, 73; cited in N. Smith 1986, 118)

  • change from reading aloud to silent reading
    • words recognized through pictures/context
    • letter/sound recognition relegated to ancillary use
  • in use until around the 1940's


"Fun with Dick and Jane"


the contemporary debate1

1950’s: phonetics briefly regain core curriculum position

  • 1960’s: Whole Language Movement
    • Meaning-driven approaches from earlier revamped (313)
    • Attention Theory (meaning and message)
    • Same difficulties faced by other meaning based methods
The ContemporaryDebate

The 1950's through Present Day:

Competing beliefs, such as Phonetics, Whole Language Movement, and continued adherents to the Alphabetic Method

the contemporary debate2
The Contemporary Debate

Research Findings:

Where does the impasse lie with the Alphabetic Method?

Perceptual/conceptual elusiveness of phonemes (313)

Humans are biologically disposed to learn/decode the phonemes of their native language (313)

Focus needs to be on the sounds of language vs. meanings

  • Reading for meaning includes:
    • Line for line, left to right style (313)
    • Rapid word/letter-wise processing (313)
    • Knowledge of one’s language spellings and spelling-speech mappings is crucial (313-314)

Learning to connect sounds to written language

works cited
Works Cited

Jager Adams, Marilyn. "Theoretical Approaches to Reading Instruction" Cushman, Ellen, et al. Literacy: A Critical Sourcebook. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. 309-315. Print.

Oxford Education. "Read Write Inc. Phonemes Pronunciation Guide DVD.” Online video clip.YouTube. YouTube, 7 February 2011. Web. 15 June 2014.

University of Oregon. University of Oregon Center on Teaching and Learning. n.d. webpage. 15 June 2014. <>.