Research into Reading | Government reports on Fantastic Phonics learn to read program

Lesson One

Reading is not developmental in nature. A child who has difficulties in 1st grade will continue to experience those problems throughout.

The remedy is early intervention with an explicit and systematic approach to develop "phonemic awareness".

Fantastic Phonics adopted the research findings and they form the structural foundation of the program.

Each story is a phonemic lesson – a single building block – that is learnt and memorised, and repeated.

Each "step" should be mastered before progression; and frequent revision is required.

There are Three Series of 20 Stories. Don't go faster than your child will manage. A single story can take two or three nights to master, but it gets faster.

Revision is required – for every new book, read through two previous books first.


How do Children Learn to Read?
In the 1950's, we all learnt to read using phonics. We sat there, every day, as the teacher wrote "cat" and "mat", and as a class, we "sounded out" the word, over and over.

But it worked … until a new theory was introduced, called "whole language". The idea was that the children would "immerse" themselves in words around the classroom, and they would "learn the shape" of the whole word, rather than breaking it into its phonics components.

Over the next 30 years, many research projects attempted to discover "what are the skills children need to read" and "what is the best way way to teach those skills".

30 Years of Research

In the USA, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development compiled more than 30 years worth of research findings – a massive task – to finally get some evidence on what was needed, and what system was best to achieve it. The research was commissioned by The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning with funding support from the Pacific Bell Foundation.

Major Findings
   About 30% of the school age population has reading difficulty.
   This percentage also applies to the general community.
   Phonics is essential for effective, fluent reading.
   Contextual clues are unreliable and ineffective for fluency.
   Most reading difficulties are due to low phonemic awareness in the child.
   Reading difficulties can be fixed with an explicitly phonic program.
   Begin phonemic awareness at an early age.
   Use beginner texts which are fully decodable using phonics.

What is Developmentally Appropriate?

  • Treatment intervention research has shown that early, direct instruction seems to be the best medicine for reading problems.
  • Reading is not developmental or natural, but is learned.
  • Reading difficulties reflect a persistent deficit, rather than a developmental lag in linguistic (phonological) skills and basic reading skills.
  • Children who fall behind at an early age (K and grade 1) fall further and further behind over time.
  • Longitudinal studies show that of the children who are diagnosed as reading disabled in third grade, 74% remain disabled in ninth grade.
  • Adults with reading problems exhibit the same characteristics that are exhibited by children with reading problems.

These findings contradict the prevalent notion that children will begin to learn to read when they are "ready." The concept "developmentally appropriate" should not suggest delaying intervention, but using appropriate instructional strategies at an early age – especially in kindergarten. Although we now have the ability to identify children who are at-risk for reading failure, and we now understand some of the instructional conditions that must be considered for teaching, the majority of reading disabilities are not identified until the third grade, which significantly increases the task of repair.

Early Identification and Treatment
The liklihood of future reading difficulty (in a pre-reading child) can be detected and measured.

  • The best predictor in K or 1st grade of a future reading difficulty in grade 3 is performance on a combination of measures of phonemic awarenessrapid naming of letters, numbers, and objects, and print awareness.
  • Phonemic awareness is the ability to segment words and syllables into constituent sounds units, or phonemes. Converging evidence from all the research centers shows that deficits in phonemic awareness reflect the core deficit in reading difficulties
  • These deficits are characterized by difficulties in segmenting syllables and words into constituent sound units called phonemes–in short, there is a difficulty in turning spelling into sounds.

Lack of phonemic awareness seems to be a major obstacle to learning to read. This is true for any language, even Chinese. About two in five children have some level of difficulty with phonemic awareness. For about one in five children phonemic awareness does not develop or improve over time. These children never catch up, but fall further and further behind in reading and in all academic subjects.

Instruction using the following types of phonemic awareness tasks has had a positive effect on reading acquisition and spelling for pre-readers:

  • rhyming,
  • auditorily discriminating sounds that are different,
  • blending spoken sounds into words,
  • word-to-word matching,
  • isolating sounds in words,
  • counting phonemes,
  • segmenting spoken words into sounds,
  • deleting sounds from words.

Explicit instruction in how segmentation and blending are involved in the reading process was superior to instruction that did not explicitly teach the children to apply phonemic awareness to reading .

  • Kindergarten children with explicit instruction in phonemic awareness did better than a group of first graders who had no instruction, indicating that this crucial pre-skill for reading can be taught at least by age five and is not developmental.
  • In a study, seven weeks of explicit instruction in phonemic awareness combined with explicit instruction in sound-spelling correspondences for kindergarten children was more powerful than instruction in sound-spelling correspondences alone and more powerful than language activities in improving reading skills.
  • In a study, 260 children were randomly assigned to a revised kindergarten curriculum (n=80) and a standard curriculum (n=160) consisting of developmentally appropriate practices described by the state of Texas' essential elements for kindergarten. The revised curriculum sought to prevent reading disabilities by teaching phonemic awareness for 15 minutes a day using the Lundberg, Frost, and Petersen (1988) curriculum from Sweden and Denmark. Children in the revised curriculum made significant gains in phonemic awareness over the year. Foorman et al. found that the greatest gains occurred when the explicit instruction moved into teaching the sound-spelling relationships concurrently with the instruction in phonemic awareness.

Explicit, Systematic Instruction in Sound-spelling Correspondences

  • Phonemic awareness alone is not sufficient. Explicit, systematic instruction in common sound-spelling correspondences is also necessary for many children. Researchers found that intensive instruction in sound-spelling relationships during reading (45 minutes per day) was more effective than sound-spelling instruction occurring only during spelling and not during reading.
  • Instruction in specific sound-spelling relationships was more effective than teaching students a strategy for using analogous word parts on transfer to new words and on standardized reading measures (Lovett, Borden, DeLuca, Lacerenza, Benson, & Brackstone, 1994). Torgesen et al. (in press) also found that explicitly teaching the sound-spelling relationships was superior to teaching word families and word analogies and superior to an implicit approach.

Researchers found that explicit, systematic instruction in sound-spelling relationships in the classroom was more effective in reducing reading disabilities than a print-rich environment characterized by interesting stories, even with children who had benefited from phonemic awareness instruction in kindergarten.

Prediction From Context is not a Useful Strategy for Word Recognition
One of the techniques of "whole language" is prediction – that faced with an unknown word, children can 'guess' the meaning by the surrounding words.

  • Research quite clearly shows that word guessing … can be counterproductive. Stanovich and Stanovich (1995) recently summarized the research findings regarding the "predictability of authentic text":

"…It is often incorrectly assumed that predicting upcoming words in sentences is a relatively easy and highly accurate activity. Actually, many different empirical studies have indicated that naturalistic text is not that predictable. It works best for function words, and is often quite low for the very words in the passage that carry the most information content." (p. 90)

  • "…the word recognition skills of the good reader are so rapid, automatic, and efficient that the skilled reader need not rely on contextual information. In fact, it is poor readers who guess from context–out of necessity because their decoding skills are so weak."


Recent Posts


Early Grade Reading Assessment

(EGRA) Plus: Liberia

Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) Plus: Liberia

EdData II Task Number 6

Contract Number EHC-E-06-04-00004-00

Strategic Objective 3

July 2009

This publication was produced for review by the United States Agency for International Development. It was prepared by the Liberian Ministry of Education, Liberian Education Trust, and RTI International.

  Prepared for  USAID/Liberia and Ministry of Education, Republic of Liberia with partial funding from the Presidential Initiative for Expanding  Education

Prepared by
RTI International
3040 Cornwallis Road
Post Office Box 12194
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-2194

Reading program prepared in Collaboration with
Early “Fantastic Phonics”.

RTI International is a trade name of Research Triangle Institute.

This publication is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID.) The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of RTI International and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.


In September 2008, the Liberian Ministry of Education (MOE) organized a week-long workshop during which a draft Scope and Sequence for teaching reading in English for Liberia was started and has now been developed. The MOE representatives and other participants provided the authors with sufficient written material to develop a teacher manual that is custom-made for Liberia. The workshop was funded by the World Bank and facilitated by RTI International and the Liberian Education Trust. The finalization of this teacher manual, the training in the use of the manual, and the overall implementation of the EGRA Plus: Liberia project is made possible by USAID/Liberia, the Presidential Initiative for Expanding Education, and the generous support of the American people.

The EGRA Plus: Liberia Project was requested by the Ministry of Education, and funded by the World Bank between June and September 2008. As of October 2008 and until October 2010, the Project will be funded by USAID/Liberia with partial funding from the Presidential Initiative for Expanding Education.

Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) in Liberia The ability to read and understand a text is the most fundamental skill a child learns. Without literacy there is little chance a child will escape the inter-generational cycle of poverty. Yet, in many countries, students enrolled for as many as four years, are unable to read and understand even simple texts. Psychometric evidence indicates that learning to read both early and at a sufficient rate are essential for learning to read well. Acquiring literacy becomes more difficult as students grow older; children who do not learn to read in the first few grades are more likely to repeat and eventually drop out, or will fall behind others for the rest of their lives, and countries where the population cannot read well will tend to lag behind the more educated countries.

What is EGRA?

Concerned with the state of reading in early grades in developing nations, international agencies decided to fund an early-grade reading assessment (EGRA). Most national and international assessments are paper-and-pencil tests used in grades four and above; they essentially assume students have already master the basics of reading. For the few low-income countries participating in international tests, the median child performs at about the 3rd or 4th percentile of a developed country distribution. From these results it is often difficult to tell whether the most basic skills are absent or present to enable the student to understand the test, or whether the children cannot perform the tasks in the test. EGRA was designed to assess the foundation skills for literacy acquisition in grades 1 through 4 orally, including pre-reading skills such as listening comprehension.

The utility of EGRA (and its ramifications) lies in two areas. First, it highlights reading problems, drawing policy makers’ attention to the issue, and helps teachers track performance. Second, early grade reading is a “leading indicator” for the functioning of a school or school system. If reading is not being taught well in a school or a district, it is a safe bet that other things are not being taught well. Moreover, lack of reading instruction and skill is relatively easy to detect, as opposed to a lack of appropriate instruction and skill in, say, social studies.

EGRA in Liberia

While EGRA started out as a measurement tool, many countries have shown an interest in using it as a springboard to improving reading and teacher training around reading. EGRA Plus: Liberia is a good case. The tool itself will be used to lay a baseline on reading. But the main emphasis of EGRA Plus: Liberia will be to improve student reading skills by implementing evidence-based reading instruction. The tasks and activities that would provide information on causes of poor reading levels similar to the opportunity-to-learn literature will be included. Systematic training, support, and supervision will be provided to teachers, along with toolkits and plenty of reading materials for the students. The project will also include training and collaboration with Ministry of Education staff in areas of early grade assessment, development of skills in early grade reading improvement, and the use of data to drive teaching improvement. The project will work on a pilot basis using a thorough evaluation approach.

EGRA Plus: Liberia began in October 2008 and will end in October 2010. It is implemented by RTI International and Liberian Education Trust, with leadership from the Liberian Ministry of Education. EGRA Plus: Liberia has been funded by the World Bank and USAID/Liberia and the Presidential Initiative for Expanding Education. For further information, contact us at

How to Use the EGRA Plus: Liberia Teacher Manual and Other Resources

Teachers in Grades 2 and 3 in participating schools of EGRA Plus: Liberia project will use the following four main sources for teaching reading.

A.        EGRA Plus: Liberia Teacher Manual – Volume 1 + 2

The EGRA Plus: Liberia Teacher Manual – Volume 2 presented here consists of two main parts: (1) overview of Scope and Sequence for teaching reading for a year, and (2) weekly lesson plans with detailed daily sequences and instructions on what to teach that day and how to draw on other resources that have been provided to teachers (e.g., decodable books and supplementary materials).

Finally, the EGRA Plus: Liberia Teacher Manual will include the following teacher resources: pocket charts, letter cards, and flash cards.

B.        Decodable books

The EGRA Plus: Liberia project will provide every child in Grades 2 and 3 in participating schools with a number of decodable books. The books are compiled into three compilations and each compilation provides the weekly schedule for the use of these books. This schedule can be also found in this manual (see “Scope and Sequence”).

C.        Library books

The EGRA Plus: Liberia project will provide Grades 2 and 3 with a sufficient number of books to build small libraries. These books are to be used by students in Grades 2 and 3 for reading at home or during school hours for “independent” reading. Teachers will be provided with ‘reading-at-home’ log of books as well as library logs to keep track of the books’ use.

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