Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 17: 483–515, 2004.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Questions people ask about the role of phonological processes in
learning to read
and ANNE E. FOWLER
University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA;
Haskins Laboratories, New Haven,
Abstract. A growing reliance on research to guide decisions about reading instruction has
resulted in a swing toward approaches that emphasize phoneme awareness and the relations
between speech and alphabetic writing. Because this is a time of innovation and experimenta-
tion in the schools, and because the new emphasis has not won universal acceptance, there is a
need to address recurring questions about the role of phonology in reading acquisition. These
questions concern: (1) the relevance of phoneme awareness instruction to reading; (2) the
consequences of the complexity of English spelling for decisions about explicit instruction in
the alphabetic code; and (3) the causes and symptoms of reading difﬁculties and implications
for remediation. In this paper, we offer our answers to such questions and discuss the research
bases for them.
Key words: Applying reading research, Learning/teaching issues, Phonological abilities,
Reading difﬁculties, Reading instruction
A growing awareness of the numbers of children who leave American schools
without having acquired functional reading skills fuels the search for solu-
tions to the reading problem. Improving reading skills has become a national
priority and almost a national obsession. Issues concerning how reading
should best be taught, especially at the beginning level, are regularly aired
in the press and in legislative chambers. There, as in the latest round of
research reviews and recommendations by panels of experts, the tide has
turned from approaches that discourage explicit teaching of the connections
between speech units and print to those that incorporate systematic instruction
in the alphabetic code as an essential component of the reading curriculum.
Pendulum swings in teaching practices are, of course, not new. What is
new is the extent to which research from the science of reading is being taken
seriously as a guide for decisions about how reading should best be taught.
Evidence accumulated over the past 30 years has led to a near consensus
among researchers that early awareness of the phonemic principle of alpha-
betic writing plays a central role in becoming a skilled reader of English
Anne Fowler, who died on March 27, 2004, was co-director of the Early Reading Success
Initiative at Haskins Laboratories, a school outreach program that seeks to bring the best
research to the aid of classroom teachers.