Stages of Literacy Development

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Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has taught high school history in several states with a master's degree in teaching.

In this lesson, you will learn about the five stages of literacy development and behavioral markers of each of these stages. With this knowledge, you can help students master reading and writing skills.

Understanding Literacy Development

The ability to read and write is something most adults take for granted. These skills allow us to express ourselves, learn about far-away places, and spark curiosity. For children, the ability to read and write is one of the most important life-skills they can learn in school.

However, even though it's natural for adults, it takes time for children to develop literacy. Literacy development is simply what it sounds like: the different developmental stages people go through as they learn to read, spell, and comprehend.

All people go through these stages at different rates and sometimes spend significant time in two stages simultaneously. Let's learn about the five stages of literacy development and the behaviors associated with these stages. Armed with the understanding of the succession of stages, you will be prepared to advance children's literacy and give them the skills to be life-long readers.

5 Stages of Literacy Development

Emergent Readers and Spellers

This first stage of literacy development, also known as the ''preliterate phase'', refers to people who have not been exposed to a formal education in reading. Typically, this stage lasts from birth until about age 5.

During this stage, people are first exposed to letters and the sounds they make. By the end of this stage, people are writing some words repeatedly (like their name) but lack the understanding of why words are spelled a certain way.

Alphabetic Readers and Spellers

After the emergent phase, students enter the alphabetic stage, also known as the ''letter name phase.'' The key component of this phase is formal reading instruction. Typically, children are in this phase from age 5 to 8.

During this stage, students read and spell by breaking down every word into the letter sounds that make up the word. By the end, they're able to figure out the difference between short and long letter sounds and recognize the use of consonant blends. For example: ''th'' as in 'fourth' and ''gh'' as in 'laugh.'

Word Pattern Readers and Spellers

This stage is marked by a change in how students read and spell. Rather than taking words letter by letter, students now process words by chunking them together. Typically, students are in this stage from the ages of 7 to 10.

As you can see, there's some overlap in time with the previous phase; this is because all students learn and progress at different rates. It's also important to note that adults with a low reading level will stay in this stage their entire life.

In this stage, students can spell most single-syllable words correctly and learn how to use homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings like 'to' and 'too'), which allows them to form a link between word spelling and meaning.

Syllables and Affixes

Also referred to as ''intermediate readers and spellers,'' students are expected to read and spell words of more than one syllable. Most students are in this stage in upper elementary and middle school.

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