Opinion
School & District Management Letter to the Editor

Don’t Overlook Vowels in Reading Research

January 14, 2020 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

Education Week’s special report on the science of reading lays out well the current condition of reading education (“Getting Reading Right,” Dec. 4, 2019). A thesis from one of the articles, however, that “there’s a settled body of research on how best to teach early reading,” is missing an essential facet: vowel knowledge. In 1971, researchers Isabelle Liberman and Donald Shankweiler studied linguistic aspects of error patterns in reading and speech for both consonants and vowels under the auspices of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development as part of a concerted effort to determine how reading is accomplished. They found that vowels “are seldom misheard but often misread,” identified the need for explication, and even proposed a method of study.

My colleagues and I discovered the study and ascertained that their recommendation was not undertaken when we searched the literature for an explanation of how mastering the vowel system improved the trajectory of learning to read and write for virtually all of the students with whom we worked. The gains derived from vowel mastery were comparable to those derived from mastering the alphabetic principle, both for young students with learning difficulties and older, high-achieving students reading inefficiently.

In a three-year project in a New Hampshire elementary school, we have collected data showing that vowel sound-spelling correspondences are less easily learned and maintained than those of consonants. We also found that increases in vowel knowledge correlate with improved word learning in whole-class instruction across grade levels.

In our opinion, an incomplete “settled body of research” has resulted in an imperfect lens through which educators and researchers are looking at the problem we are all so desperate to fix. Research to correct the lens through which we see early-reading instruction would help to create more effective programs.

Jean C. Tucker

Speech Language Pathologist, Reading Specialist, and Author

Bishop, Calif.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 15, 2020 edition of Education Week as Don’t Overlook Vowels in Reading Research

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 'It Has to Be a Priority': Why Schools Can't Ignore the Climate Crisis
Schools have a part to play in combating climate change, but they don't always know how.
16 min read
Composite image of school building and climate change protestors.
Illustration by F. Sheehan/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty and E+)
School & District Management Some Districts Return to Mask Mandates as COVID Cases Spike
Mask requirements remain the exception nationally and still sensitive in places that have reimposed them.
4 min read
Students are reminded to wear a mask amidst other chalk drawings on the sidewalk as they arrive for the first day of school at Union High School in Tulsa, Okla., Monday, Aug. 24, 2020.
Chalk drawings from last August remind students to wear masks as they arrive at school.
Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP
School & District Management Women Get Overlooked for the Superintendent's Job. How That Can Change
Three female superintendents spell out concrete solutions from their own experience.
4 min read
Susana Cordova, former superintendent for Denver Public Schools.
Susana Cordova is deputy superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District and former superintendent for Denver Public Schools.
Allison V. Smith for Education Week
School & District Management Opinion You Can't Change Schools Without Changing Yourself First
Education leaders have been under too much stress keeping up with day-to-day crises to make the sweeping changes schools really need.
Renee Owen
5 min read
conceptual illustration of a paper boat transforming into an origami bird before falling off a cliff
wildpixel/iStock/Getty