Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 17: 617–644, 2004.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Coordination of reading and spelling in early literacy
development: An examination of the discrepancy hypothesis
CLAIRE M. FLETCHER-FLINN
, DONALD SHANKWEILER
STEPHEN J. FROST
University of Auckland;
University of Connecticut;
Abstract. The Discrepancy Hypothesis posits that children early in the acquisition process
read visually (holistically) and spell phonologically. This claim was examined and rejected.
We investigated reading and spelling in Grade 1 and Grade 2 children using controlled
nonword and word materials with a variety of orthographic patterns. While reading and
spelling were strongly correlated even among the younger readers, discrepancies between
performance levels occurred in both directions. Children’s responses were affected by word
characteristics and whether or not they received school phonics instruction. Phonologically
complex words, such as those containing consonant clusters, were particularly difﬁcult for
Grade 1 children to read, while words that were difﬁcult to spell correctly but not to read
tended to have multivalent mappings from sound to spelling. The generation of reading
responses to specially selected nonwords was affected by both implicit and explicit phon-
ological sources of knowledge. Orthographic knowledge gained in spelling did not always
transfer to reading, and vice versa.
Key words: Discrepancy hypothesis, Induced sublexical relations, Knowledge sources,
Learning to read and spell, Teaching effects, Word characteristics
Given that reading words and spelling them are the two abilities that consti-
tute basic alphabetic literacy, it seems natural to ask how these abilities are
coordinated in the learner. Does skill in one automatically transfer to the
other? If not, can the method of teaching and the selection of materials
inﬂuence the crosstalk between them? These questions, though long debated,
have not been resolved. In this report, we examine a recurring proposal by
Bradley and Bryant (1979), Bryant and Bradley (1980), Frith (1980), and
Goswami and Bryant (1990) that reading and spelling are initially quite
separate abilities. The claim is that early in the acquisition process children
tend to read visually (holistically) and, at the same time, to spell phono-
logically. Only later do the two activities become closely linked. On this
view, beginners’ spellings already reﬂect word representations that are at least
partly segmented phonemically, whereas their reading is largely dependent
on words’ overall shapes, not on apprehension of their segmental structure.
The discrepancy hypothesis presents a challenge to the idea that reading and