Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 15: 109–126, 2002.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The role of naming speed within a model of reading acquisition
PATRICIA G. BOWERS & ELISSA NEWBY-CLARK
University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Abstract. That symbol naming speed is an important correlate of reading skill has been
generally acknowledged. Just what contribution it makes and why is a much more difﬁcult
question. We suggest that the search for such answers is best developed within a broad model
of reading skill acquisition. We propose an informal model and review evidence for several
of its links. The major lines of inﬂuence are hypothesized to ﬂow from cognitive abilities
(mediated by instructional factors) to intermediate and ﬁnal reading outcomes. The outcomes
at each level, however, are affected by outcomes at other levels, and in other ways combine to
complicate the picture. Use of such a model may focus our research questions more ﬁnely and
lead to a more precise conceptualization of the basis for naming speed – reading relationships.
Keywords: Orthography, Models of reading, Naming speed, Reading disability, Reading
The ﬁeld of reading disabilities has made major strides in isolating a very
important correlate, perhaps cause, of the disorder: phonological processing
difﬁculties (Adams 1990). One way of understanding this core difﬁculty is
that a child who has used oral language well has not needed to attend to
the separable sounds in each whole word until presented with the reading
task. Suddenly confronted with the task, some children ﬁnd that they cannot
decenter from the whole word’s sound/meaning unity to attend to, and isolate,
the smaller sound units that map onto graphemes in English. They have not
developed sensitivity to phonemes in whole words or phonemic awareness,
making it more difﬁcult to learn phonics skills useful in decoding alphabetic
languages. In quite young children this lack of sensitivity might be seen by
relative difﬁculty detecting rhymes or alliterations in children’s poetry. Later,
harder tasks reveal the relative insensitivity to phonemic aspects of words,
so tapping out the individual phonemes or manipulating them become good
predictors of decoding skills. The good news is that with very systematic
teaching, many of these children can be taught to attend to words in this way,
and decoding skills can increase.