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History of Reading

  • Period: 3600 BCE to 3100 BCE

    Alphabet and Alphabetic Method

    Record keeping using cuneiform (Tracey & Morrow, 2012)
  • 2000 BCE


    The Phoenicians made their version of the alphabet (Tracey & Morrow, 2012).
  • 1000 BCE


    The Egyptians started to use papyrus (Tracey & Morrow, 2012).
  • 850 BCE

    Iliad and Odyssey

    Homer's significant words of art Iliad and Odyssey were written (Tracey & Morrow, 2012).
  • 750 BCE


    Greeks traded with Phoenicians and modified their alphabet to include both consonants and vowels (Tracey & Morrow, 2012) (Sadoski, 2004).
  • 700 BCE


    Modified again in Italy and then later by the Romans “Our contemporary English alphabet evolved from the Roman alphabet with only minor changes” (Sadoski, 2004, p. 14)
  • 400 BCE

    First theories

    "The earliest significant theories affecting education and psychology emerged..." (Tracey & Morrow, 2012, pg. 18).
  • 1527

    The Shortest Way to Reading

    The Shortest Way to Reading
    Valentin Ickelsamer created a manner of reading in which students learn to isolate speech sounds first and then learn the letters that stood for them.
    This was the beginning of the synthetic phonics method. Ickelsamer's method was not accepted on a broad basis.
    John Hart took Ickelsamer’s method and made some tweaks. He decided to use the speech sounds of the letters instead of their names(Sadoski, 2004). 
  • The Obris

    The Obris
    Johan Amos Comenius published The Obris which is considered to be "the first fully illustrated reading book and the beginning of the word method in teaching reading" (Sadoski, 2004, pg. 16)
  • New England Primer

    New England Primer
    This was one of the most common books in colonial America. The content inside of the book was described as grim with horrors of death, damnation, and decay (Sadoski, 2004, pg. 18).
  • American Spelling Book

    American Spelling Book
    Noah Webster published the American Spelling Book and it became the most widely used book during this time period. First book in a series of three to introduce: spelling, reading, teach grammar, and provide lessons for further reading (Sadoski, 2004, pg. 20).
  • McGuffey readers

    McGuffey readers
    These readers are considered the first version of basal readers. They were skill based, not authentic, not diverse, had some comprehension and they taught morals.
  • Horace Mann

    Horace Mann
    Horace Mann visited schools in Europe and returned launching an attack on the alphabet method. He said it was "vexing, harmful, and inferior" (Sadoski, 2004, pg. 22).
  • The Sentence Method

    The Sentence Method
    George L. Farnham created a pamphlet titled "The Sentence Method" and it was widely used in the teacher training institutions (Sadoski, 2004, pg. 25). "This approach emphasized comprehension from the start and might be seen as a reading to words and letters approach" (Sadoski, 2004, pg. 25).
  • Synthetic Method

    Synthetic Method
    The Synthetic Method created by Rebecca Pollard stressed that the sounds of letters needed to be taught first, without children guessing, looking at pictures, or waiting for the storyline to help them figure it out (Sadoski, 2004, pg. 25).
  • Edmund Burke Huey

    Edmund Burke Huey
    Huey, a scholar at the time, found the synthetic method to be a "crime against childhood" (Sadoski, 2004, pg. 26). He strongly backed the sentence method.
  • Activity approach

    Activity approach
    This method, originated from John Dewey, involved children learning to read like they did to talk. Children wrote the names of objects they were interested in, and used individual words and sentences.
  • Story method

    Story method
    The story method came about when Charles W. Eliot decided that current teaching lacked worthwhile content. Students read familiar, repetitive stories.
  • Gray Oral Reading Test

    This was created by William Gray. Educators used this test
    to study student’s reading difficulties (McCormick & Braithwaite, 2008).
  • First standardized tests

    This time period involved scientific investigation into reading to test the effectiveness of methods, materials, and practices (Sadoski, 2004, pgs. 28-29).
  • Research

    Publications and research concentrated on reading issues (McCormick & Braithwaite, 2008).
  • Changing ideas

    From 1915 to 1925, reading changed greatly. Silent reading was emphasized and the teaching of how to read was not nearly as important.
  • Period: to

    "Conventional Wisdom"

    "During the middle of the 20th Century as many as 90% of all schoolchildren were learning to read from one or another basal reader series, all of which were similar to Gray's" (Sadoski, 2004, p.35).
  • Barlett

    Barlett developed "Schema Theory."
  • William Gray and others authored "Basic Readers" Dick & Jane.

    William Gray and others authored "Basic Readers" Dick & Jane.
    William Gray developed comprehension skills model of reading with four levels in a sequence. He also developed skills model. He also believed in building a sight word vocabulary (Sadoski, 2004, p. 31).
  • B.F. Skinner's Operant Conditioning became well known

     B.F. Skinner's Operant Conditioning became well known
    Operant Conditioning is an observable behavior and discusses reinforced behaviors.
  • Period: to


    Behaviorism was very important during this time period (Tracey & Morrow, 2017)
  • "What Research Says to the Teacher of Reading" by H.M. Robsinson

    "In essence, Robinson encouraged teachers to ask higher-level thinking questions, because formulating responses to literal questions was too easy and didn't require the students to think" (McLaughlin, 2008, p. 84). She also encouraged teachers to use informal assessments, work through wide ranges of achievement, and not to rely on standardized tests.
  • "Why Johnny Can't Read and What You Can Do about It"

    "Why Johnny Can't Read and What You Can Do about It"
    This book was published by Rudolf Flesch, a professor of rhetoric. This book believed that phonics instruction should come first because we should not promote guesswork (Sadoski, 2004, p. 35).
  • Launch of Sputnik

    Schools emphasized science and mathematics during the era around the launch of Sputnik (Richardson, 2008).
  • Period: to

    Social Learning Perspective

    The Social Learning Perspective started in the 1960s and is still prevalent today (Tracey & Morrow, 2017). This perspective believes that social interaction is a key component to children learning how to read.
  • Period: to

    Phonics makes a comeback

    During the 1960s, first graders began to make inferences about phonics and how words relate to one another (Walker, 2008, p. 36).
  • Period: to

    Challenges to conventional wisdom

    The language experience and immersion of language is prominent. Students self-select reading materials from a classroom library. The alphabet is modified from 26 letters to the 44 speech sounds we use in English. Reading is borkwn into very small parts called programmed reading. Linguistic approaches were prevalent and students were exposed to decodable readers (Sadoski, 2004, p. 34-35).
  • Period: to

    Research on reading

    The U.S. Office of Education studies methods of teaching first-grade reading. They also investigated alternative methods compared to basal readers (Sadoski, 2004, p. 37). The study found that different methods did not show very significant differences in results.
  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

    The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed by Congress. This is the start of what we now see as Title 1. "These reading programs fro problem readers annually serve large numbers of U.S. students i schools where income levels are below the national average, and they have employed scores of reading teachers over the last four-plus decades of existence"(McCormick & Braithwaite, 2008, p. 170).
  • Great debate over how to best teach reading

    There was a disagreement whether students should be learning phonics or sight words first (Sadoski, 2004, p.36-37).
  • Period: to

    Early 1970s

    During the early 1970s, basals were the sole reading curriculum and they began to include phonics, reinforced reading skills, and included tests, duplication masters, and supplementary books (Sadoski, 2004, p. 38). The whole language approach also came out during this time.
  • Reading Miscue Inventory

    The Reading Miscue Inventory was developed by Goodman and Burke. "This inventory, an important diagnostic tool in remedial classes for a time, emphasized the role of meaing when assessing reading errors (also referred to as miscues)" (McCormick & Braithwaite, 2008, p.173)
  • "A Linguistic Study of Cues and Miscues in Reading and Reading: A Psycholinguistic Guessing Game"

    The word miscue was coined by Goodman and is still something we hear about in reading instruction today. There are three types of miscues; graphemic, syntactic, and semantic.
  • Interactive Compensatory Model

    This model was presented by Stanovich. He stated that when readers struggle to use one process to identify words they compensate by using another process. This idea encouraged the use of multiple strategies to teach reading (McCormick & Braithwaite, 2008, p. 174).
  • Fluency

    Fluency instruction began in classrooms by means of modeling, assisted reading, listening to reading, and partner reading. Research began to show that fluency was directly related to performance on standardized tests and reading comprehension. (Rasinski & Mraz, 2008).
  • Content area reading

    The term reading to learn was made popular by Brown, Campione, and Day (1981) and Armbruster, Echols, and Brown (1983). This brought about the idea that students should be taught note-taking skills (Richardson, 2008)
  • Family Literacy Theory

    The Family Literacy Theory helped to create programs for parents to understand how to have a literacy-rich environment to help students with literacy skills at home (Tracey & Morrow, 2017).
  • "Beginning to Read" by Marilyn Jager Adams

    "Beginning to Read" by Marilyn Jager Adams
    This book shared that we needed a better balance between whole language and phonics instruction. This book also discussed the value of phonemic awareness. Which is the ability to tell sounds apart in spoken words.
  • Student engagement became a focus.

  • "Guided Reading: First Teaching for All Children"

    "Guided Reading: First Teaching for All Children"
    This book caused small-group scaffolded reading instruction to start to take the place of whole group instruction (Ford & Opitz, 2008). Fountas and Pinnell believed that guided reading would help to decrease the amount of students receiving intervention services.
  • The Report of the National Reading Panel

    This report described fluency as a vital component to reading (Rasinski & Mraz, 2008).
  • Five Components of Literacy

    The National Reading Panel introduced the five components of literacy: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency,
    and comprehension (McCormick & Braithwaite, 2008, p. 180)
  • Reading First Initiative

    The Reading First initiative was prominent. Schools were now able to use federal money to purchase materials to support students in kindergarten through third-grade reading development (Walker, 2008, p. 47). The implementation of No Child Left Behind and Reading First focused on learning phonics and sounding out words letter by letter.