Children and Disability in Reading


The recent few years have witnessed an increasing unanimity on the various skills serving as the basis for both writing and reading ability. For children to become skillful readers, they require both abstract and rich language base, wide and deep vocabulary knowledge, and verbal reasoning capabilities in order to comprehend information conveyed by the print media. In addition, children need to realize that spoken words comprise other smaller speech components. Consequently, this literature review defines reading and phonemic cognizance and presents the two varying views concerning the effect of phonemic cognizance on children’s reading ability. 



Brady and Shankweiler defined reading as a sophisticated process of developing meaning from printed publications. According to Brady and Shankweiler, the process of reading involves creation and maintenance of motivation to read and requires the creation of necessary active strategies for deriving the meaning from printed materials. Bridges and Catts added that reading demands the capability of decoding unacquainted words and knowledge about phonemes and sounds of speech that are linked to literary works. Hornstra, Denessen, Bakker, van den Bergh, and Voeten, in their study, agreed with the definitions offered by Brady and Shankweiler because they point to the key objective of reading, which is creating meaning from printed publications. However, Hornstra et al. added that it is important to note that print does not need to be only alphabetical letters but can also be patterns and symbols that provide a meaning in a certain language for the readers. 

Phonemic Cognizance 

According to Bridges and Catts, phonemic cognizance refers to awareness of the sounds constituting the verbally expressed words in the process of reading. Different literature has different viewpoints concerning phonemic cognizance, particularly in relation to the process of reading. For instance, Bridges and Catts argued that phonemic cognizance is one of the most fundamental factors determining a child’s reading ability. Similarly, Brady and Shankweiler agreed with Brady and Shankweiler by suggesting that the lack of phonemic cognizance is the main cause of reading disabilities among children. However, Hornstra et al. opposed these claims by arguing that there is no known cause of reading disabilities. According to Hornstra et al., language development and not phonemic cognizance correlates most highly with literacy attainment. Consequently, Hornstra et al. proposed that what children know concerning written language is the appropriate determinant of success in the process of learning to read and not phonemic cognizance. 

Hornstra et al. proposed that children might derive phonemic cognizance in reading in other learning activities, including playing with rhyme. A fundamental element of recording speech in print is deriving from the way alphabetical letters or symbols of a particular language represent what is heard. In agreement with Hornstra’s et al. sentiment, Scanlon defined writing as segmentation process of matching sounds to letters. According to Scanlon, the independent spelling of child offers proof of their degree of orthographic cognizance and phonological sensitivity, which enables the teacher to modify instructions and react to individual difficulties. 

Bridges and Catts suggested that phoneme-cognition training coupled with letter-sound teaching has a more significant effect on both reading and spelling than training the auditory mode alone. In fact, children need to be capable of attaching letters to sounds as early as possible. In agreement with Bridges and Catts, Brady and Shankweiler’s investigations revealed that letters are more potent aids in the segmentation. Training children to spell words based on their sounds has been found to accelerate the fine-tuning of the phonemic cognizance among children. Similarly, spelling words as they sound has also been linked to fact acquisition of conventional spelling. 

Teaching Reading in Children

Currently, there are two opposite viewpoints on teaching and reading, namely balanced approach and code-emphasis. Theorists supporting the balanced approach, comprising of Scanlon and Hornstra et al., advocate for language context, expectation, graphophonics, and meaning in their theories of reading processing among children. Scanlon and Hornstra et al. emphasize the importance of the incorporation of writing, reading, and risk-taking so that children with reading disability can continue being active while discovering and meaning-deriving with self-extending systems. 

On the other hand, theorists upholding code-emphasis, comprising of Brady and Shankweiler and Bridges and Catts, emphasize the significance of research evidence by making three important suggestions. The first suggestion according to these researchers is that readers process nearly all the visual messages on the page. Secondly, they suggest that three things, which include fastness, automatic word recognitions, and extensive knowledge of the relationship between sound and symbols, distinguish good readers from poor readers. Thirdly, they agree that phonemic cognizance plays a fundamental role in learning to read; it is a sentiment that has been discredited by several literary works that claim there is no known cause of reading disability. 

Critical Studies on the Two Viewpoints

Brady and Shankweiler argued that the appropriate way of teaching phonemic cognizance and phonics is through writing and not through a bought program. An investigation by Bridges and Catts has indicated that phonemic training such as reading and writing practice improves reading capabilities among children more than metalinguistic exercises and games do. According to Scanlon, channeling attention to only a single source of information used by the reader can cause problems because children utilize meaning and syntax information besides the visual information. As a result, Scanlon’s study strengthened the cause of a balanced perspective on addressing children’s reading disabilities. 

Hornstra’s et al. study on invented spelling and its implications with regard to education showed that several people believe that the concern for phonemic cognizance necessitates direct instructions with isolated word sounds, regardless of the contrary recommendations about developmentally best practice of Brady and Shankweiler. Since word reading, invented spelling, and phonemic cognizance constitute only one but extremely considerable factor in determining child’s literacy competence and knowledge, encouraging insights in all dimensions of written language is a crucial consideration when addressing reading disabilities among children. According to Brady and Shankweiler, instructors should use the writings of children in determining their following teaching moves. Brady and Shankweiler recommended that the forthcoming early reading studies should focus on the connection between phonemic cognizance and spelling.

Scanlon’s study revealed that risk-taking young readers made considerably more progress in all reading activities than their counterparts on code-emphasis program. According to Scanlon, the phonological intervention made considerably more progress in reading accuracy in spelling as well as in the directly trained phonological skills, which were evaluated in relation to control students. However, Brady and Shankweiler disagreed with the findings of this research because the mode of measurement did not consider reading comprehension. Hornstra et al., who hypothesized those phonological interventions, are effective in addressing spelling and reading disabilities that triggered these outcomes. However, the finding that that children’s reading understanding was not considerably enhanced shows some consistency with the findings of other investigations concerning interventions of phonics-based reading. Consequently, Hornstra et al. argued that reading interventions with a narrower model seem to have a narrower effect. 

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Scanlon and Hornstra et al. agreed that good readers need to have an access to many experiences with literacy, which goes beyond the specifics of phonics instruction. According to Scanlon, children should be exposed to several reading materials as input to vocabulary learning as well as motivating and interesting reading materials in order to develop the habit of reading well. 

Regulatory proposals, including the No Child Left Behind, propose intensive phonics as the teaching method for beginner reading. In contradiction to the No Child Left Behind, Scanlon stated that the regulation is based on an unwarranted assumption. However, in agreement to anti-phonemic researchers such as Hornstra et al., Scanlon argued that the consequences and costs of phonics and these regulations are possibly harmful to children in their quest to become perfect readers. The reason is that such laws and phonics due to their stress on phonics make children think that people read to decode instead of comprehend the message in the printed materials. Scanlon has cautioned against the simplistic deciphering of requirement of No Child Left Behind and other laws in the name of science of advocating for phonics method of addressing reading disability in children as cure-all. Consequently, Scanlon advocated for the balanced approach in addressing reading disabilities in children. 

Having examined literature utilizing both balanced approach and code-emphasis, Hornstra et al. concluded that there is no appropriate way of teaching children how to read. Consequently, the professionals and instructors who are closest to children need to be the ones making the choices about what methods of reading and tactics can address reading disabilities. 

Weaknesses of the Literature as a Body

From the analysis of the literature, it is clear that no single study have attempted to devise an effective strategy of addressing reading disability in children. The studies are either arguing for or against the two viewpoints, but none proves its effectiveness. Apparently, this inconclusiveness of the literary works has led to some authors preferring not to take sides. There is a need for a body of literature that addresses the loopholes in each of the viewpoints and explains how the two viewpoints complement each other in addressing reading disability.

How the Literature Affects My Practice/Beliefs about Education 

Literature has changed my perspective on education. I used to believe that phonemic awareness was the main contributor to an individual’s reading capability. However, literature has revealed to me that good reading might derive from other factors such as language context, expectation and graphophonics. As an educationist, I would prefer being flexible by incorporating both code-emphasis and balanced approach in teaching how to read. 


From the review of different literary works concerning children and reading disability, this paper revealed that there is a disagreement in relation to the effect of phonemic cognizance on a child’s reading capability. One school of thought that is balanced approach strongly discredits the role phonemic cognizance plays in the process of becoming a good reader. These theorists advocate for language context, expectation, graphophonics, and meaning in their theories of reading processing among children. The other school of thought, namely code emphasis, acknowledges the role phonemic cognizance plays in enabling children to become good readers. However, other studies have occupied a neutral ground by not supporting any school of thought, and they proposed that the instructors and professionals should choose the best strategy of addressing children reading disability. 

Mar 6, 2019 in Research
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