Tracking reading throughout primary school: How do phonological skills support early decoding, and do distinct profiles of fluent reading emerge?

The dominant view of early reading is that good phonological skills are key to developing phonic decoding (decoding graphemes into corresponding phonemes, GPCs, then blending them). With repeated practice in phonic decoding, the child builds orthographic representations that link to their existing knowledge about word meanings, facilitating effortless word recognition. In my talk, I’ll examine two key questions. First, what components of phonological tasks drive the relationship with early decoding? Second, do distinct profiles of reading emerge, and has the increased focus on phonics teaching in England changed children’s reading performance and the nature of their difficulties? I’ll address these questions using our large longitudinal dataset of children’s reading: The Aston Literacy Project. Our findings confirm the importance of phonological skills, and uncover the key components of classic phonological tasks that drive this relationship. Our findings also suggest that the recent focus on phonics instruction (in response to the phonics screening check) has led to a lasting improvement in phonic decoding, with few children showing phonological profiles of reading difficulty. In contrast, they performed at expected levels on tests tapping into lexical-semantic processing (e.g., exception word reading). I’ll end by outlining our plans to examine the relationship between children’s reading ability and the amount of reading they do in supporting vocabulary growth as our participants progress into secondary school.