In work that may one day narrow the gap between speedy, voracious readers and slower, disinterested ones, researchers at New York University (N.Y.U.) have determined that three different mechanisms are used to decode the words in a particular sentence.But the most important by far is phonics:
The three processes: phonics (a letter by letter sounding out of words); contextual clues (earlier parts of sentences that help readers anticipate upcoming words); and holistic word recognition, or the physical shape of words.
In an effort to determine the impact of the absence of each aid, researchers directed 11 subjects to read passages that were either pure text, had one alteration or two of these manipulations combined. Their findings: that phonics, not surprisingly, the largest component of reading speed, determined 62 percent of the rate. The stunner was that the other two processes consistently contributed the same amounts to reading speed. (Context clues controlled 22 percent of reading speed and word shape governed 16 percent, according to the study.)