Text Matters in Learning to Read

CIERA Report #1-001

Elfrieda H. Hiebert
University of Michigan

CIERA Inquiry 1: Readers and Texts
What are the characteristics of readers and texts that have the greatest influence on early success in reading? What do reading researchers know about the way children experience texts that can be applied to creating more meaningful texts for young children?

Elfrieda H. Hiebert examines the opportunities provided by several types of text for beginning readers to learn about three aspects of written English: (a) consistent, common letter-sound patterns; (b) the most frequent words; and (c) the contexts of sentences and texts. Hiebert's analysis indicates that texts based on high-frequency words give beginning readers ample opportunity to learn highly frequent words but may impede use of letter-sound knowledge because of the irregular patterns of many of these words. While phonetically regular texts compensate for this problem, occasions for developing fluency with high-frequency words may be few. Texts chosen for literary merit or predictable sentence and text patterns compensate for these problems by providing natural language, a close picture-text match, and predictable text structure, but the variety of different high-frequency and phonetically regular words in literature and little books make these texts demanding for beginning readers.

Hiebert finds that beginning readers require texts that allow them to become proficient with all three aspects of written English. She maintains that such experiences can be provided in two ways: all three of the "single-criterion" texts can be used in first-grade programs, or multiple-criteria texts modeled after some of Dr. Seuss's books can be developed.

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