As literate persons, we all know something about reading, writing, and literacy. In fact, our understanding of what literacy is varies widely. Jeanne Chall concluded in Learning to Read: the Great Debate (1983), that children get a better start in reading if they are taught phonics because they break the code that links what they hear with what they see in print. Harvard Professor Jeanne Chall has outlined the stages of reading development that begin at preschool age and continue until university age. The stages of reading development explains how students’ progress as readers.
Chall’s proposed scheme for reading stages includes six stages with the purpose of understanding the path of reading development from pretend reading to advance reading. The basic philosophy is that children learn to read as a developmental process; also advocating for the use of both phonics and exposure to challenging literature as the best method of teaching young children to read. Her approach encompasses the development of decoding, comprehension, and critical evaluation. Chall considers that her proposed stages of reading development resemble Piaget’s stages of cognitive and language development (Chall 1996).
Accordingly, the methodology used to implement the theory entails the following. Each reading stage has a definite structure and varies from the other stages in characteristic qualitative ways. Each stage follows a hierarchical progression. Chall believes that individuals progress through the reading stages by interacting with their environments and that this interaction affects the individual’s reading development as much as the progression of the distinct stages (Chall, 1996, p. 11). Chall’s six reading developmental stages that describe how children typically learn to read.
According to Chall (1996), students proceed through predictable stages of learning to read to becoming a proficient reader. During the pre-reading stage up until about six years old, learners begin to control language. By the time the learner reach kindergarten, he should have some print knowledge and vocabularies of about 6, 000 words. Many children at this stage know how to write their names. In stage 1, the learners develop a sense of alphabetic principle and utilize new sound-spelling relationships.
The learner at this stage is more likely to be given reading materials easy to understand texts and that contains simple reading texts. Through Grades 2 and 3, the learner is at the second stage where he develops decoding skills, fluency and additional strategies in reading texts. At stage 3, the learner encounter wide varieties of texts and context, and all the reading demands that accompany these experiences. They extend on background experiences and strategic habits in reading. At stage 4 to 5, though high school and college, the language and intellectual demands of reader increase.
They can analyze texts critically and they construct their own individual uses of reading based on analysis and synthesis. The age and grade conditions for the different stage may vary as the child’s culture and environment plays a part in how fast they progress. Therefore, individuals progress through the reading stages at different rates. How fast they advance depends upon the interaction between individual (biological, motivational, cognitive) and environmental (home, school, community) factors.
The characteristics and descriptions given for the different stages serve primarily as models, presented to covey how reading develops, and changes. There are many ways to bring about the same results in reading. For instance, there are many procedures in teaching beginning reading from letters and sound to words to stories. Yet designed to accomplish the major beginning reading task of decoding. A person’s progress through the stages is not a straight upward path. At any reading stage, the individual’s performance also depends on the difficulty of the task.
If the task is new and no additional instruction is received, the reader may temporarily drop to a lower level. For example, a child who has learned to decode familiar text (Stage 2) will start “guessing” when material is too difficult. The text may contain many words that needed to be decoded, too many that are not recognized immediately, and too many unknown meanings. According to the proposed reading stages, the table below shows each stage of reading development, what the child is learning, types of activities and the materials a child will be using.