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Reading irregular words - the role of word knowledge

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Research has highlighted the importance of phonic skills (the ability to apply letter sound knowledge to decode from print to sound) for beginning readers. For regular languages, these skills are adequate to accurately decode from print to sound; however, for irregular languages, such as English, the application of these skills will not provide a correct pronunciation for all words. In English, many spelling patterns have multiple pronunciations (great, head, leap), so applying the regular pronunciation for a spelling pattern will not always yield the correct pronunciation (e.g. said, wasp). Before children learn to read they will have acquired an extensive oral vocabulary. They will be familiar with the spoken form and meaning of many words. The contribution that such knowledge may make in helping children to read irregular words has been less well researched. The occurrence of words in a child’s vocabulary and a word’s phonological and orthographic properties may provide additional cues to its pronunciation, especially for irregular words. Our proposed research aims to examine the extent to which such word knowledge facilitates irregular word reading in beginning


Janet completed her PhD at Warwick University, where she developed a computational model of adult speech errors derived from a model of short-term memory for serial order. She went on to work on several ESRC funded projects on short-term memory for serial order at Warwick, further developing and testing computational models. She then worked on several funded projects on applying cognitive learning principles to the classroom, specifically to reading instruction. During this time, Janet applied her modelling skills to explore theoretically optimal reading materials to teach beginning readers. More recently she has begun to investigate how children acquire the skills they need to learn to read, and how these skills relate to the different types of words found in the English language – phonics lends itself to learning regular words, but is less suited to irregular and exception words.

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