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The development of literacy: theories and intervention

The development of literacy: theories and intervention

January 27, 2023

The development of reading and writing It is one of the processes that, from the point of view of learning and psychology, have more importance.

Thanks to literacy we are able to rely on symbols to expand our sources of information and store all kinds of memories and interesting data between pages. But ... what do we know about this development and about the ways in which we can intervene in it?

  • You may be interested: "Dyslexia: causes and symptoms of reading difficulties"

The recognition of written language

From the historical perspective, the investigations related to the analysis of the reading process defended that the direct conversion or codification of each one of the words, by itself, could give a complete meaning of the message or information received. However, later works have expanded the initial perspectives.

Thus, two complementary processes involved during the recognition of the written word can now be differentiated.

1. Phonological or indirect path

It is what allows an exact grapheme-phoneme encoding from which recognition of the word can occur (as it was stated in the initial theories). Through this system the reader is able to identify both a regular word or known as a pseudoword or unknown word.

This first system involves a higher level of cognitive effort for the reader at the level of working memory, therefore its response is slower.

2. Visual or direct route

It becomes a method considerably more agile for the recognition of the word, since a complete grapheme-phoneme decoding is not performed. As in the case of familiar words, the visual stimulation of graphemes is automatically and accurately identified.

Thus, this system is only valid with the most frequently used words, can not be used for unknown words or pseudowords. Due to the saving of cognitive effort associated with this path, the reader can attend to another type of information different from that offered by graphemes (spelling, syntax, pragmatic aspects, etc.) that facilitate a global completion of the information received.

Evolutionary models of reading acquisition

To explain the process of acquisition of reading ability, from the evolutionary perspective have been proposed different theoretical models, among which can be highlighted:

Model of Marsh and Friedman (1981)

It is derived from the Piagetian contributions and distinguishes four stages from the strategies that the reader uses to access the meaning of the written word: the linguistic divination (exclusive identification of very familiar words), the memorization by discrimination of visual indices (from some keys as the initial letters the complete word is deduced), the sequential decoding (beginning of the decoding process) regular grapheme-phoneme) and hierarchical decoding (quick recognition of complex, irregular or less familiar words by visual deduction).

Evolutionary model of Uta Frith (1985)

On the other hand, it proposes to the sequence of three sequential phases the overcoming of each one of them leads to the immediately subsequent one. At first the incipient reader is based on logographic strategies from associating the concrete form of the set of spellings of the word to a specific meaning (familiar words).

Subsequently, through alphabetic strategies the reader performs the mechanized conversion between grapheme and phoneme allowing the identification of all types of words. Finally, spelling strategies facilitate recognition of automated words without carrying out a complete analysis of each grapheme, thus deducting some part of the word through the partial application of phonological recoding.

The contributions of Vigosky (1931-1995) and Bruner (1994)

These two researchers they focus their interest on the social environment (and historical in the case of Lev Vygotsky) as a determining aspect in the acquisition of language. Thus, the function and purpose of the most relevant language is to promote interaction between the individuals that make up the social system.

Vygotsky emphasizes more the concept of constructivism, that is, the active role that the individual represents in the acquisition of a certain knowledge from the establishment of Near Development Zones , which are combined with the guide or scaffolding that provides the figure of expert facilitating the apprentice their passage through this process.

Jerome Bruner, however, puts more emphasis on cognitive processes as the elements from which it develops in language, but also gives significant importance to the social context where it takes place.

Processes in the ability of literacy

Reading comprehension is defined as the set of processes that allow to extract a global meaning of the information contained in a specific text. An adaptive level of reading comprehension requires the reader to have a minimum level of prior knowledge about some of the topics that appear in the text, as well as a sufficient level of attention and perceptive to ensure a correct assimilation of the data read.

On the other hand, the cognitive and metacognitive aspects also play an important role, as well as the type of words in terms of specificity or technicality, length or familiarity with the reader.

Finally, the order and structure of the text they are also determining aspects since they will facilitate the reader's understanding of the sequentiality or development of the information referred to in the text.

Processes related to the understanding of what was read

Among the processes involved in reading comprehension, syntactic processing and semantic processing are differentiated:

Syntactic processing

The first level of analysis is produced, more basic, than allows you to bring the reader closer to the meaning which corresponds to a specific information.

This first level takes place after the implementation of the following strategies:

  1. Observe the order kept by the words in order to differentiate between the subject and the object of each sentence.
  2. Detect key elements such as determinants, prepositions, adverbs, etc. that helps to delimit the functions of the words to be identified.
  3. Differentiate the different elements of a sentence in terms of subject, verb, complements, subordinate sentences, etc.
  4. Integrate the meaning of the words individually to arrive at the general understanding of the sentence.
  5. Pay attention to the punctuation marks that define the sentences and establish the relationships between them with respect to their predecessors and consequents.

Semantic processing

After the period of grammar comprehension of the sentence , we proceed to delimit an interpretation of the global meaning of it. A representation is obtained, usually in the form of an image, which synthesizes the content of the sentence completely. For this, it is necessary to combine the information of the sentence read with the set of prior knowledge and cognitive patterns of the reader.

Schemas are interrelated knowledge organizations they intervene in: the interpretation of the perceived data, the recovery of the information contained in the memory of the subject, the structuring of the received information, the establishment of general and specific objectives and the location of the necessary resources to respond to such information incorporated Its main function is the achievement of inferences, for which it must focus and direct the attention process to focus on the elements that allow it to extract the general meaning of the information read.

Difficulties in the recognition of the writing

Regarding word recognition difficulties related to visual perception should be taken into account among other aspects: the ability to differentiate spatial arrangement of mirror letters such as "d", "p", "b", "q"; the ability to discriminate between the consonants "m" and "n"; the possibility of determining the graphic aspects of each letter regardless of the type of writing that is presented or the implementation of the memory capacity assigned to each letter.

These problems, frequent in dyslexia , should be carefully analyzed since they serve to detect difficulties in visual perceptual integration, since it does not occur almost immediately as it usually happens in non-dyslexic subjects.

Other types of issues are addressed by the Problems in the functioning of the access routes to the lexicon , both phonological and visual. Because both have complementary functions, an alteration in one of them inevitably causes an incomplete sintering of the written contents to which the subject is exposed. A particularity that can occur in the use of the visual route before unknown words or pseudowords is the phenomenon of lexicalization.

The reader confuses a familiar word with another one that presents certain coincidences in the phonemes that it contains and can get to exchange them if it does not get the phonological pathway going or if it suffers some type of alteration as for example in cases of phonological dyslexia (from from which the identification of those unknown words is made).

Superficial dyslexia and other problems

At the other extreme, superficial dyslexia occurs in cases where regular words are read correctly, not so in irregular words , since the subject is based on an exact grapheme-phoneme decoding.This type of readers presents difficulties to discriminate between homophones such as "bello-pelo" or "honda-onda".

Finally, if the problem lies in the syntactic processing , the reader may find it difficult to integrate the meaning of the sentence when:

  1. The structure is more complex or contains several subordinate phrases in the same unit,
  2. You can not access previous knowledge about the subject that the text addresses or
  3. When the performance of your operating memory is lower than expected to work different aspects of the information to be processed simultaneously.


The contributions made by the authors who have investigated the most effective type of actions that can be applied to those students with reading difficulties are diverse.

On the other hand, Huertas and Matamala advocate for early and individualized intervention , an adoption of positive expectations regarding the student's performance and tolerance towards their own pace of improvement, not being excessively critical of mistakes made. In addition, they emphasize the type and manner of giving the instructions to follow, being more effective the brief, precise and clear indications. Finally, the idea of ​​linking the effort invested in the improvements reached must be transmitted to the student in order to increase his motivational level.

At the level of prevention in the appearance of difficulties in reading Clemente and Domínguez bet by an interactive, ludic and dynamic program focused on enhancing the identification skills of phonemes and syllables.

When the central element revolves around the difficulties in recognizing the word, Thomson prioritizes the following actions : Emphasize the work in promoting the integration of grapheme-phoneme conversion rules from a multisensory and individualized approach, based on overlearning processes to more successfully fix the knowledge acquired and combine with positive self-esteem and self-concept promotion actions counting with the collaboration of the family as the main part involved.

To compensate for the difficulties in the implementation of the visual way of processing the word, it can be practiced with exercises in which a word is associated to its pronunciation and meaning in a repetitive way.

When the problem lies in the phonological path, word-building activities can be carried out from individual phonemes applying additions, substitutions or omissions of graphemes-phonemes in different order.

Finally, to work the syntactic understanding can prescribe color syntactic function association tasks from which the reader can discern in a more competent way the meaning of each one of the parts of the sentence. For the improvement in the discrimination and proper use of punctuation marks, you can work with texts in which the sign is linked with a small blow with the palms of your hands or on a table) that helps accentuate the pause of the coma or the point of each sentence.

Bibliographic references:

  • Clemente, M. and Domínguez, A. B. (1999). The teaching of reading. Madrid. Pyramid.
  • Crespo, M. T. and Carbonero, M. A. (1998). "Skills and basic cognitive processes". In J. A. Gonzalez-Pienda and Núñez, J. C. (coords.): Difficulties of School Learning, 91-125. Madrid: Pyramid.
  • Huerta, E. and Matamala, A. (1995). Treatment and prevention of reading difficulties. Madrid. Viewfinder.
  • Jiménez, J. (1999). Psychology of learning difficulties. Madrid. Synthesis.

Bottom-up vs. top-down processing | Processing the Environment | MCAT | Khan Academy (January 2023).

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