Literacy Development: Theories and Intervention

The development of literacy it is one of the most important processes from a learning and psychological perspective.

Through reading and writing, we can rely on symbols to expand our sources of information and store all kinds of memories and data of interest between pages. But … what do we know about this development and the ways in which we can intervene?

    Recognition of written language

    Historically, research related to the analysis of the reading process has argued that the direct conversion or encoding of each of the words, by itself, this could give full meaning to the message or information received. However, subsequent work broadened the initial perspectives.

    Thus, they can currently differentiate two complementary processes involved in the recognition of written words.

    1. Phonological or indirect route

    This is what allows exact grapheme-phoneme encoding from which word recognition can occur (as raised in the initial theories). Thanks to this system, the reader is able to identify both a regular or known word and a pseudo-word or unknown word.

    This first system implies a higher level of cognitive effort for the reader in terms of working memory, so their response is slower.

    2. By visual or direct

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

    Thus, this system is only valid for the most frequently used words, cannot be used for unknown words or pseudowords. Due to the economy of cognitive effort associated with this path, the reader can deal with other types of information than those offered by graphemes (spelling, syntax, pragmatic aspects, etc.) which facilitate overall understanding. information received.

    Scalable reading acquisition models

    In order to explain the process of acquiring the reading ability, in the evolutionary perspective several differentiated theoretical models have been proposed, among which can be highlighted:

    Marsh and Friedman Model (1981)

    It is derived from Piagetian contributions and distinguishes four steps based on the strategies used by the reader to access meaning of the written word: linguistic divination (exclusive identification of very familiar words), memorization by discrimination of visual indexes (from certain keys such as initial letters the complete word is deduced), sequential decoding (beginning of the grapheme-phoneme process regular decoding) and hierarchical decoding (rapid recognition of complex, irregular or less familiar words by visual deduction).

    Evolutionary model of Uta Frith (1985)

    On the other hand, he proposes to sequence three sequential phases, going beyond each of them leads to the immediately following one. At first the nascent reader it is based on logographic strategies to associate the concrete form of all the spellings of the word with a certain meaning (colloquial words).

    Later, by means of alphabetic strategies, the reader carries out the mechanized conversion between grapheme and phoneme allowing the identification of all types of words. finally spelling strategies facilitate recognition of automated words without performing a complete analysis of each grapheme, thus deducing part of the word thanks to the partial application of phonological recoding.

    Contributions by 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 the interaction between the individuals who make up the social system.

    Vygotsky places more emphasis on the concept of constructivism, that is, the active paper that represents the individual in the acquisition of a certain knowledge from the creation of local development zones, Which are combined with the guide or the scaffolding provided by the expert figure, which facilitates the task of the learner in this process.

    Jérôme Bruner, however, puts more emphasis on cognitive processes as the elements from which it develops in language, although it also attaches significant importance to the social context in which it takes place.

    Processes in the ability to read and write

    Reading comprehension is defined as the set of processes allowing to extract a global meaning information contained in a given 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 perception that ensures correct assimilation of the data read.

    On the other hand, cognitive and metacognitive aspects also play a relevant role, as does 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 decisive aspects because they will allow the reader to better understand the sequence or the evolution of the information referred to in the text.

    Processes related to reading comprehension

    Syntactic processing and semantic processing are differentiated between the processes involved in reading comprehension:

    syntactic processing

    The first, more basic level of analysis that occurs it brings the reader closer to meaning which corresponds to specific information.

    This first level occurs from the implementation of the following strategies:

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

    semantic processing

    After the sentence comprehension period, It is proceeded to delimit an interpretation of the overall meaning of the same. Thus, a representation is obtained, generally in the form of an image, which completely synthesizes the content of the sentence. For this, it is known necessary to combine the information of the sentence read with all the prior knowledge and cognitive patterns of the reader.

    Schemas are interdependent knowledge organizations intervening between them in: the interpretation of the data perceived, the recovery of the information contained in the memory of the subject, the structuring of the information received, the establishment of general and specific objectives and the localization of the resources necessary to answer them incorporated information. Its main function is the realization of inferences, for which it must focus and orient the attentional process in order to concentrate on the elements which allow it to extract the general meaning of the information read.

    Difficulty writing recognition

    Concerning the difficulties of recognizing words related to visual perception other aspects must be taken into account: the ability to differentiate in the spatial arrangement of mirror letters such as “d”, “p”, “b”, “q”; the ability to distinguish the consonants “m” and “n”; the possibility of determining the graphic aspects of each letter regardless of the type of writing presented or the implementation of the memory capacity allocated to each letter.

    These problems, common in dyslexia, Should be analyzed with care as they serve to detect difficulties in integrating visual perception as this does not occur almost immediately as it usually does in non-dyslexic subjects.

    Another type of problem is addressed by the problems in the functioning of the access routes to the lexicon, Both phonologically and visually. Because the two have complementary functions, an alteration of one of them inevitably results in incomplete sintering of the written content to which the subject is exposed. A peculiarity that can arise in the use of the visual path in front of unknown words or pseudo-words is the phenomenon of lexicalization.

    The reader confuses a familiar word with another which presents certain coincidences in the phonemes that it contains and can manage to exchange if it does not manage to initiate the phonological path or it undergoes a certain type of alteration as by example in cases of phonological dyslexia (from which the identification of these unknown words is carried out).

    Superficial dyslexia and other problems

    At the other extreme, superficial dyslexia occurs in cases where regular words are read correctly not irregular words, Since the subject is based on an exact grapheme-phoneme decoding. These readers find it difficult to distinguish between homophone words such as “bell-hair” or “deep-wave”.

    finally if the problem lies in the syntactic processing, The reader may have difficulty understanding the meaning of the sentence when:

    1. The structure is more complex or contains several subordinate clauses in the same unit,
    2. You cannot access prior knowledge on the topic addressed in the text or
    3. When the performance of your working memory is lower than expected to work on different aspects of the information to be processed simultaneously.


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

    For their part, Huertas and Matamala they advocate early and individualized intervention, Adopting positive expectations about student performance and tolerance for one’s own rate of improvement, and is not overly critical of mistakes made. In addition, they emphasize the type and manner of giving the instructions to be followed, while being more effective brief, precise and clear instructions. Finally, the idea of ​​linking the effort invested in the improvements made in order to increase their level of motivation must be transmitted to the student.

    In terms of prevention, the appearance of reading difficulties Clemente and Domínguez bet on an interactive, fun and dynamic program focused on improving phoneme and syllable identification skills.

    When the central element revolves around the difficulties of recognizing words, Thomson prioritizes the following actions: Focus on work by improving the integration of grapheme-phoneme conversion rules from a multisensory and individualized approach, based on over-learning processes to better fix the knowledge acquired and combine it with actions to promote self-esteem and positive self-concept with the collaboration of the family as the main part involved.

    To compensate for the difficulties in setting up the visual word processing process, you can practice with exercises in which a word is repeatedly associated with its pronunciation and meaning.

    When the problem lies in the phonological pathway, word building activities can be performed from individual phonemes by applying additions, substitutions or omissions of grapheme-phonemes in a different order.

    Finally, working on syntactic comprehension can prescribe tasks to associate syntactic functions with colors from which the reader can more competently discern the meaning of each part of the sentence. For the improvement of discrimination and the correct use of punctuation marks, one can work with texts in which this sign is linked to a small line with the palms of the hands or on a table) which allows to accentuate the pause of the comma or period of each sentence.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Clemente, M. and Domínguez, AB (1999). The teaching of reading. Madrid. Pyramid.
    • Crespo, MT and Carbonero, MA (1998). “Basic cognitive skills and processes”. In JA González-Pineda i Núñez, JC (coords.): School Learning Difficulties, 91-125. Madrid: Pyramid.
    • Horta, I. and Matamala, A. (1995). Treatment and prevention of reading difficulties. Madrid. Viewfinder.
    • Jiménez, J. (1999). Psychology of learning disabilities. Madrid. Synthesis.

    Leave a Comment