Reading is a skill that every human being possesses, and it's a very vital ability in life. This is because, if someone does not have the skill to read, he will not be able to “survive” in a world, which is full of letters, signs and words, because, without knowing what these things are, he will find it very difficult to understand the world that surrounds him and to be in the same level with the others that are aware of these issues. Unfortunately, there are a number of people that, even though they understand the process of reading, they are not very capable in reading and sometimes they find it difficult to stay in track with the rest of the population. These people may “suffer” from several learning difficulties, one of which is dyslexia.
In order for someone to develop the abilities that are linked to reading, he must pass from three stages (Frith, 1985). These stages, as were indicated by Frith (1985, in Reid, 2003, pp. 31 - 33), are the “Logographic stage”, the “Alphabetic stage” and the “Orthographic stage”.
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The Logographic stage refers to the phase, where the child is in position to recognise that words are individual units, but he may find it difficult to copy these words correctly, something that at this stage, may lead the child to spell incorrectly the words that he reads (Frith, 1985). One can assume that this stage has a crucial role in the beginning of reading, because in order for an individual to be able to read, he must first understand the basic concept of reading, which is the recognition of words and their components. Therefore, it is very important for learners, firstly to encompass the abilities that are linked to the specific stage, in order to be able to develop their reading abilities, through the later stages.
Regarding the Alphabetic stage, it appears to be related to the ability of a child to comprehend the grapheme - phoneme correspondence (Frith, 1985) that is, to identify the correct sound for each letter he reads. According, to several researchers (Ehri, 1995, 1999; Ehri and McCormick, 1998 in Reid, 2003, p. 31), the Alphabetic stage is constituted by four sub - stages, which are the “pre - alphabetic, partial alphabetic, full alphabetic and consolidated alphabetic” sub - stages.
At the first sub - stage, the learner does not understand the grapheme - phoneme correspondence yet, but he is able to read a number of words, by recognising a visual clue that he has for a specific word (Reid, 2003). For example, little children, even though they are not able to read, they can recognise a restaurant's sign and “read it” (Ehri, 1995; 1999), like “McDonald's”, by connecting a visual clue of the word, which in the case of “McDonald's” it's the big, yellow M, with the name that they usually hear from their parents, or from other members of their family.
At the second sub - stage, the child is now able to make partial connections between the words he sees with their sounds, and therefore to retain in his memory several “sight words” (Reid, 2003, p. 32), in order to be able to read them. At this sub - stage, the learner is aware of several grapheme - phoneme correspondences and possesses some phonemic segmentation, which refers to the ability of a person “to manipulate and use” (Wilson and Colmar, 2008) the sounds of letters.
The full alphabetic sub - stage, refers to the ability of learners to make full connections between the letters and their sounds, something that allows them to recognise, more easily, and to read various sight words. In addition, an understanding is generated in learners, during this sub - stage, about the spelling of words, by comprehending that each grapheme represents a phoneme in the spelling system (Venezky, 1970, 1999), something that also helps them retain in their memory the connections between spellings and pronunciations (Ehri, 1992; Perfetti, 1992).
At the last sub - system, learners are now capable to decode new words by using the grapheme - phoneme correspondence (Byrne and Fielding - Barnsley, 1989; Ehri, 1995, 1999; Reid, 2003), and to maintain in their memory the sight words that they come across to (Ehri, 1995, 1999). The specific sub - stages of the Alphabetic stage, seem to be really sufficient, because they explain, with a logical order, all the phases that a learner has to go through in order to establish the alphabetic knowledge. Also, they focus on the grapheme - phoneme correspondence principle, which is thought to be, by several researchers (Snowling, 1998; Hatcher and Snowling, 2002; Ramus et al., 2003; Reid, 2003), essential in the development of the reading ability. In general, the alphabetic stage seems to be more related to the phonological skills of an individual, and these skills play a very important role in the development of reading.
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Concerning the Orthographic stage of the development of reading, the learner, with the knowledge that he gained from the previous stages, is now in position to read the words that are in written form and also, to transfer several words on the paper (Frith, 1985). For that reason, this stage seems to be linked to spelling abilities and therefore, as Frith (1985) indicated, this stage can help in improving difficulties of several learners at the alphabetic stage, because spelling abilities are strongly associated to the phonological abilities that characterise the alphabetic stage. In addition, according to Snowling (1987, in Reid, 2003, p. 33), a number of children find it difficult to read words that have “inconsistent orthographic patterns” but the same pronunciation, and words that are not very usual, like the word centre which a learner may read it as cen - tre. From this, one can assume that the spelling of words is really important as well in learning to read, because it can affect the ability of a person to recognise, remember and pronounce words.
The stages indicated by Frith (1985), received criticism by Snowling (2000), who indicated that each learner has different reading strategies and that the way each learner develops his reading skills is unique. Thus, it is not possible for reading to be constituted by stages of a specific sequence. Also, she proposed that a learner may pass over or miss out a stage, because as she noticed in several studies, a number of dyslexic learners passed immediately, from the Logographic stage to the Orthographic stage. One may assume that this can be true, especially for dyslexic learners, because the way dyslexics develop their reading abilities, may be different from the way learners with no difficulties develop their skills in reading, because of the difficulties dyslexics face during the reading process.
Specifically, dyslexic individuals are considered to have difficulties with reading, because they have difficulties with their phonological skills (Snowling, 1998; Hatcher and Snowling, 2002; Ramus et al., 2003), something that may be related to the Alphabetic stage, as it was indicated by Frith (1985). This may also be the reason why Snowling (2000) noticed, that several dyslexic learners passed immediately from the Logographic stage to the Orthographic stage, and left behind the Alphabetic stage.
It is proposed that dyslexics have difficulties in understanding the grapheme - phoneme correspondence, an ability that is essential for the Alphabetic stage (Frith, 1985) and for decoding new words (Byrne and Fielding - Barnsley, 1989; Ehri, 1995, 1999; Reid, 2003), due to the impaired way they retain or retrieve from their memory the sounds of words (Bradley and Bryant, 1978; Vellutino, 1979; Snowling, 1981; Brady and Shankweiler, 1991). From this, the role of the “verbal short - term” and the “long - term memory” in the development of reading can be observed, something that in dyslexic learners appear to be impaired (Snowling, 1998, p. 6; Hatcher and Snowling, 2002 in Reid, 2003, p. 30), because they have difficulties in retrieving the correct phoneme for a specific grapheme, in which the long - term memory is involved (Snowling, 1998; Hatcher and Snowling, 2002), and because they have a lower function in brain areas that are associated to verbal, short - term memory tasks from learners that don't face any reading difficulties (Paulesu et al., 1996). Regarding the long - term memory difficulties, that dyslexics are supposed to experience during reading, one may not be absolutely sure about the role of the long - term memory in causing the reading difficulties, because a dyslexic individual may have a dysfunction in his working memory, something that could be responsible for these reading difficulties and also for difficulties in the retrieval of the correct phonemes from the long - term memory.
From the observations regarding the difficulties that learners with specific learning difficulties face with reading, a great number of strategies and plans were arisen in order to identify the best possible ways to teach reading to children with this kind of difficulties. Specifically, the National Literacy Strategy and the Rose Report suggested several teaching methods that could help children with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, to overcome their difficulties in reading.
The National Literacy Strategy (NLS), was conducted by the British Government in 1998 (Wilson and Colmar, 2008) and it proposes, that teaching methods should provide to children both “language experience” and “structured cumulative approaches”, because it is something that all children require in order to comprehend the aims of teaching (Piotrowski and Reason, 2000, p. 51). In addition, the NLS pointed out the significance of phonics and phonological awareness in teaching children how to read from the preschool years, to the late elementary years (Piotrowski and Reason, 2000; Soler and Openshaw, 2007; Wilson and Colmar, 2008).
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In particular, it is expected from teachers, according to NLS, to be able to identify from the beginning the aims of phonic instruction for a specific group, because with this way, they could help children understand the specific aims, in which they may have difficulties, before starting to read (Piotrowski and Reason, 2000). Therefore, one can assume that, with this way, when children begin to read, they will be already aware about the phonics aims and they will probably be able to recognise them while reading, without having any difficulty.
Regarding the teaching methods for reading that the NLS recommends, they appear to have characteristics that are very important, especially for teaching children with dyslexia. Specifically, these teaching methods, which are called “small unit” or “synthetic” and “large unit” or “analytic” methods (Piotrowski and Reason, 2000, p. 52), focus on phonics instruction with a structured order, on helping children to master the skills they learn in order for these skills to become automatic and on “cumulative sequences of phonics targets” (Piotrowski and Reason, 2000, p. 53). These three aspects also constitute the principles of the “individualised programmes” that are used for teaching dyslexic learners (Reid, 2003, p. 154), and therefore these aspects should be included by teachers in the methods they use for teaching, because they are very important, especially for dyslexic learners.
Concerning the teaching methods used for reading, another strategy was conducted in 2006, the Rose Report, which supports the use of synthetic phonics as the most effective way in teaching reading, especially for children who are at the beginning of learning how to read. Particularly,