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There is some evidence that reading and spelling are complementary processes. The purpose of this study was to investigate the extent to which contextualized spelling (i.e., spelling activities within the context of reading instruction) is used to support reading in first-grade core reading programs. Analysis of 75 lessons across five programs revealed that contextualized spelling is not a consistent feature of reading lesson components, but there is some integration between spelling and reading in all programs evaluated, most frequently in word level practice of decodable words. We discuss the possible merits of integrating the encoding and decoding processes and the need for additional research to evaluate which spelling activities are particularly salient for strengthening the acquisition of beginning reading skills.


As trends in reading instruction change, commercial programs designed for use by teachers of primary grade children reflect these changes (Stahl, 1998; Stein, Johnson, & Gutlohn, 1999). Current core reading programs are undergoing transformations to ensure that they align with new national standards for research-based components and practices (Al Otaiba, Kosanovich-Grek, Torgesen, Hassler, & Wahl, 2005). The components of effective early reading programs have been defined by several consensus reports (Adams, 1990; Anderson, Heibert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Based on the foundational work of these reports, most notably the work of the National Research Council Committee on Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (Snow, et al.), the National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000) conducted an extensive review of research related to five components of early reading instruction (i.e., phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension). Together the findings of the National Research Council and the NRP are generally referred to as Scientifically Based Reading Research (SBRR).

Although the NRP (2000) considered reviewing a number of other topics, including spelling, the decision was made to focus on research related to just those five components (NRP, 2000, p. 1-3). A central charge for the NRP was to assess the effectiveness of different approaches to instruction related to these components (NRP, p. 1-1). The Panel's report describes key elements and approaches to reading instruction, supported by their review of research, which are referred to as evidenced-based practices.

The results of the Panel's work has had a far-reaching impact on the reading curricula used by elementary schools. The findings of the NRP (2000) were used as the basis for the Reading First initiative, Part B of the No Child Left Behind Act (PL 107-110). An unprecedented amount of money, $900 million or three times the amount previously allocated, was made available to states through Reading First grants. In turn, states were expected to award money to qualifying districts or schools through subgrants. Key to the successful application for this money was the requirement that districts use programs which demonstrate alignment with SBRR. Publishers have quickly responded by revising their programs to demonstrate this alignment.

Reading First Technical Assistance Centers in Florida, Texas, and Oregon provide support for moving the nation forward in using evidence-based practices and scientifically-based reading curricula. For example, work from the Oregon Reading First Center resulted in "A Consumer's Guide to Evaluating a Core Reading Program Grades K-3: A Critical Elements Analysis" (Consumer's Guide; Simmons & Kame'enui, 2003), which provides procedures, guidelines and an evaluation tool, using items largely drawn from findings of the NRP (2000). The purpose of the Consumer's Guide is to help states, districts, or schools select programs that align with research on early reading instruction. Similarly, the Florida Center for Reading Research developed a rating form consistent with Reading First guidelines for evaluating core reading programs, the "FCRR SBRR rating rubric for core reading programs" (Al Otaiba et al., 2005).

There are few clear recommendations from the NRP (2000) for the use of spelling tasks to support the acquisition of reading skills, with the exception of the subgroup report on phonemic awareness. Using findings from their meta-analysis of phonemic awareness studies, the NRP linked phonemic awareness to increased success in both spelling and reading for emergent readers in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade (pp. 2-40-2-45). In the subgroup report on phonemic awareness, the Panel states, "It is essential to teach letters as well as phonemic awareness to beginners. PA training is more effective when children are taught to use letters to manipulate phonemes." (p. 2-41). This strong recommendation is based on findings from studies (e.g., Castle, Riach, & Nicholson, 1994; Ehri & Wilce, 1987; Iverson & Tumner, 1993) in which children segment words, select, write, or manipulate letters (e.g., tiles) representing the phonemes, resulting in improvements in spelling and decoding. The recommendations are illustrated in the following example of phonemic awareness instruction taken from Put Reading First (Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement, 2001), a document based on the findings of the NRP.

Teacher: Listen: I'm going to say the sounds in the word jam--/j/ /a/ /m/. What is the word?

Children: jam

Teacher: You say the sounds in jam. Children: /j/ /a/ /m/

Teacher: Now let's write the sounds in jam: /j/, write j; /a/, write a; /m/, write m.

Teacher: (writes jam on the board.) Now we are going to read the word jam. (p. 8)

In this example, writing the sounds (i.e., spelling) is included in addition to orally segmenting the word and blending the sounds in the written word. The spelling-reading connection is reciprocal and made explicit.

Since publication of the report of the NRP (2000), additional studies on phonemic awareness have been conducted at the classroom level (Fuchs, Fuchs, Thompson, Al Otaiba, Yen, Yang, & Braun, 2001; Foorman, et al., 2003) which stress the importance of integrating sounds and their corresponding spellings in program implementation. Fuchs et al. reported on the efficiency of adding letter-sound correspondence instruction to phonological awareness lessons in kindergarten classrooms. The results of this study indicate that combining instruction in letters and their corresponding sounds with phonological awareness instruction led to increased beginning reading performance in students with and without disabilities. In another classroom study, Foorman et al. examined the curricular choices of 114 kindergarten classrooms for their literacy effectiveness. Foorman et al. determined that alphabetic instruction with phonological awareness training was more effective on first grade growth of reading and spelling measures than phonological training alone.

In phonics instruction, the stimulus is the written word rather than the oral word. Students typically learn to decode words using letter to sound correspondence as well as sounds taught for letter combinations, patterns, or with rules (e.g., the letter e at the end of a consonant-vowel-consonant + e word predicts a long vowel sound). The NRP's (2000) findings provide clear support for systematic phonics, characterized as "... explicitly teaching students a prespecified set of letter-sound relations and having students read text that provides practice using these relations to decode words" (p. 2-132). Another purpose of their meta-analysis was to consider the effects of 13 properties which vary across systematic phonics programs. One of these properties was the involvement of spelling instruction (p. 2-104). Unfortunately, the Panel found the descriptions of these various properties to be inadequate for the coding needed to assess the impact of these specific properties; so programs were only coded as to whether or not they used a synthetic approach to phonics or emphasized larger subunits of words (p. 2-104). As a result, discussions of spelling are limited to the impact of phonics instruction on spelling rather than the effects of using spelling to support decoding. The Panel drew the conclusion that systematic phonics, over non-phonics approaches, does increase kindergarten and first grade students' skills in spelling but does not improve spelling of students in grades second and above. The Panel noted that one of three important topics, neglected in research is, "What are the 'active ingredients' in effective systematic phonics programs?" (p. 2-136)

Nor does the Consumer's Guide (Simmons & Kame'enui, 2003) emphasize spelling as an important instructional variable for phonics instruction. In their evaluation tool under the phonemic awareness section, "Incorporates letters into phonemic awareness activities" appears as one of the two high priority items (p. 18), reflecting the importance placed on this by the NRP (2000). High priority items in the Consumer's Guide are identified as essential components to a core reading program, whereas discretionary items do not carry as much weight (p. 4). Under the phonics section only one spelling related guideline is mentioned: "Provides integrated proactive instruction and practice in words that students first read, spell, and write" (p.21). This guideline appears as one of four discretionary items, suggesting that spelling holds a more tangential role for phonics instruction.

The rating rubric for core reading programs from FCRR (Al Otaiba et al., 2005) does include a component titled, "Was instruction across components clearly linked?", noting that programs that are "... very well aligned with SBRR strongly link phonemic awareness, phonics, and spelling" (p. 395). It is unclear to what extent the linkages must be made across all three elements. For example, the linkage to phonemic awareness and spelling may be made and the linkage to phonemic awareness and phonics may be made. Presumably, the links are well integrated across all three, supporting the spelling-phonics link; however, this is not explicitly stated.

One could argue that the lack of spelling emphasis beyond phonemic awareness is short-sighted. Reading and spelling have been reported as a unitary construct with important implications for education (Mehta, Foorman, Branum-Martin & Taylor, 2005). There is considerable authority and empirical evidence to support the use of spelling to enhance reading instruction. Recommendations from recognized authorities in literacy suggest that spelling instruction should be integrated with reading instruction (Carreker, 1999; Carver, 2003; Henry, 1997; Moats, 1995; Templeton, 1997; Treiman, 1998); beginning reading should use explicit instruction of the sound-symbol relationship (NRP, 2000; Carreker, 1999; Moats, 1995; Templeton & Morris, 2000; Treiman, 1998); and that reading skills are enhanced with categorization/sorting at the alphabetic, pattern, and meaning level of language (Templeton, 1997; Templeton & Morris, 2000).

Treiman (1998) presented several arguments for including spelling in literacy instruction and specifically cited cognitive benefits of spelling on reading achievement. She noted that the act of spelling words encourages children to practice phonemic segmentation skills, which makes more obvious the relationship of graphemes to phonemes in reading words.

Ehri (1997) stated that the integration of the reading and spelling is essential.
   ... teaching students to read without
   also teaching them to spell may result
   in reading and spelling skills that are
   less closely related, a condition characterizing
   poor readers and spellers.
   It is clear that students need explicit
   spelling instruction as well as explicit
   reading instruction. According to my
   theory, the key to effective instruction
   is integration, that is fostering close
   articulation among reading and writing
   knowledge sources and processes so
   that their acquisition is mutually facilitative
   and reciprocal (p. 264-265).

In another work, Ehri (2000) concluded that learning to read and learning to spell are closely related since both depend on knowledge of the alphabetic system and both use memory of the specific spellings of words. However, spelling requires that a greater amount of information must be drawn from memory. The two processes are so highly related that distinctions become blurred because readers are responding to spellings of words they are reading and read the words they have spelled.

Reading instruction which simply focuses on phoneme to grapheme correspondence does not support the more sophisticated levels of word analysis used by advanced readers. Moving from a focus on phoneme to grapheme correspondence to larger units is supported by a number of authorities. Treiman (1992) presented studies that suggest learners benefit from instruction which requires them to analyze words for spelling and reading in larger units such as onsets and rimes. Ehri (1997) presented a theory, with supporting research, explaining how learners move to sight word reading. She noted that readers advance from initially sounding out and blending letters to processing by spelling patterns or chunks. Repeated opportunity to read letter patterns helps to consolidate these connections, increasing the efficiency of reading. With sufficient repetition of words, learners are able to retrieve entire words from memory. Those words in memory can be used to read or spell unknown words by analogy (i.e., applying word parts or patterns from known words to new words) (Goswami, 1988a, 1988b).

There is also empirical support for these theories. For example, Ehri and Wilce (1987) examined whether instruction in segmenting and spelling a set of phonetically spelled words and nonwords (e.g., SNO, OLS) would transfer to reading a set of phonetically spelled new words which contained the same sounds taught in the spelling instruction (e.g., SOP). The control group was taught isolated letter-sound associations only. Participants segmented words into separate sounds, and then represented those sounds with letter tiles. Results indicated those in the experimental group learned to read more efficiently than those in the control group. Results of posttests suggest that participants were also better at segmenting and spelling. The authors concluded that, for beginning readers, instruction in spelling may increase their ability to read words.

Expanding on research by Ehri and Wilce (1987), Uhry and Shepherd (1993) examined the effects of spelling instruction on first graders' reading skills. Students were trained in segmenting and spelling consonant-vowel-consonant words. The authors concluded that students who received spelling training outperformed control student on measures of nonsense word reading, timed word reading, and timed oral passage reading, as well as making significant gains in segmenting and spelling.

A direct link between the instruction of reading and spelling was investigated by O'Connor and Jenkins (1995). They examined whether the application and transfer of segmentation and letter knowledge to reading could be encouraged by teaching spelling alongside code-based reading instruction in Reading Mastery I (Engelmann & Bruner, 1988) to matched pairs of 10 kindergarten children with developmental delays. Twenty 10-min individual spelling sessions were conducted in which students matched magnetic letters and wrote letters on paper to dictated sounds from those letter-sound correspondences presented in their reading lessons. Results not only favored children in the treatment group on measures of spelling but they also surpassed children in the control group on reading measures of unpracticed words drawn from the classroom curriculum and reading of pseudowords, providing evidence of transfer from the spelling treatment to decoding. The authors concluded that segmentation and spelling practice appear to contribute to decoding improvements even for children receiving explicit phonics instruction from a code-emphasis curriculum that included extensive blending instruction.

In a study with kindergarten students, Vandervelden and Siegel (1997) administered an integrated intervention to half the participants, while half remained as controls. Students in the intervention group received explicit instruction in matching sounds to letters using plastic letters, matching oral words to their printed form using plastic letters, finding the rime from written examples once the onset was deleted, reading and spelling word families, phrase construction with word cards, and rereading of text that contained the words which were spelled and read in isolation. Control students were provided with implicit instruction on letter knowledge and oral phoneme awareness which was not matched to reading and writing activities. Those in the training group exhibited enhanced growth in speech-to-print matching, phoneme awareness, spelling, pseudoword reading and on a word-learning task. The authors concluded that instruction emphasizing letter-sound correspondences which is immediately applied to integrated spelling and reading activities is preferable to instruction in letter naming and sounding in isolation.

Given the theoretical and empirical support for integrating spelling with instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics, we were interested in learning how current first-grade core reading programs embed spelling responses into reading instruction (i.e., contextualized spelling). We chose first grade programs because of the emphasis on phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. The purpose of this study was to examine first-grade core reading programs and report the extent to which contextualized spelling activities are used to support reading.


We examined whether contextualized spelling was used to support reading in three typical components of core reading instruction: (a) sound-symbol instruction in which children learn to identify and manipulate the alphabetic code (e.g., How do you spell the /mmm/ sound? Write the first sound in 'sat.'); (b) phonics or word study instruction, in which children learn to read words that follow regular sound-symbol patterns (e.g., man, pan, ran), and in which children learn to memorize words that follow irregular sound-symbol patterns (e.g., said, one, of); and (c) in the story reading instruction, to examine whether spelling activities were used to support reading words either before, during, or after story reading.


To ensure that we examined what could be considered as representative of strong scientifically-based core reading programs, we used results from the Oregon Reading First Center: Review of Comprehensive Programs (2004). We chose for evaluation the five top-ranked kindergarten through third grade programs (p. 8), out of nine submitted by publishers for review. These five programs met criteria from a compiled scoring of "essential components" (p. 2) in phonics, phonological awareness, and fluency as defined by Reading First legislation. The programs are Reading Mastery Plus (RMP; Engelmann & Brunner, 2002), Houghton Mifflin Reading: The Nation's Choice (HM; Cooper et al., 2003), Open Court Reading (OC; Bereiter et al., 2002), Harcourt Trophies (HT; Beck et al., 2003), and Scott Foresman Reading (SF; Afflerbach et al., 2004).

Each program is composed of multiple books or units, each with a teacher's guide. All programs include student books, teacher's guides, and various resource materials that support the teacher's instruction and students' learning needs. With the exception of RMP (2002), instruction is organized into a 5-day sequence with a focus on particular skills for the week (e.g., decoding with sound combinations ai and ay, a set of 10 spelling words, reading of particular stories). The daily lessons are broken into three or four labeled skill sections (e.g., Reading, Phonics/Word Study, Oral language, Writing and Language) with labels which vary across programs but are consistent within the program. An array of skills is addressed under each section; however, assignment of specific skills to sections differed across programs. For example, phonemic awareness might be addressed under Reading, Phonics/ Word Study, or Oral Language. The Reading section generally includes listening to story selections, student reading of decodable text, comprehension skills, and fluency building. Phonics/Word Study typically includes phonemic awareness, sound-symbol correspondence, word pattern work, and spelling skills. Oral Language addresses such skills as vocabulary development, speaking, listening, and comprehension. Writing and Language sections might include penmanship, writing process strategies, vocabulary, grammar, word usage and mechanics. In contrast, RMP is formatted without weekly plans. Instead, skills gradually build in difficulty. The RMP teacher's edition addresses phonemic awareness, decoding, passage reading, and literal comprehension. RMP provides practice in handwriting, copying, writing and spelling in separate workbooks.

Analysis of the Core Reading Programs

We chose to examine all activities within 15 lessons from each of the five programs for a total of 75 daily lessons across programs. The beginning set of five lessons was from the first week in the first teacher's guide of each program, not including any kindergarten review lessons. The middle set of five lessons was from the first week in the middle teacher's guide of each program, and the final set of five lessons was from the last week in the final teacher's guide of each program. We used the teacher's guide from each program to evaluate every activity conducted with the full class. We did not use peripheral materials such as audiocassettes, CDs, supplementary readers, games, or assessment materials in our evaluation.

Analysis of Activities

The definition of spelling used in our study is one defined by Perfetti (1997), "Spelling requires the retrieval rather than the recognition of the graphemes" (p. 30). Therefore, we examined the use of spelling production tasks by the student (i.e., spelling via oral, written, or symbol selection of graphemes) within a reading activity, versus spelling through dictation of letters or copying tasks (e.g., activities in which students are told which letters to write/select or that involve copying, matching of letters or entire words) within reading activities.

There is at least one study that has compared spelling production and spelling by copying on reading. Rieben, Ntamakiliro, Gonthier, & Fayol (2005), assigned 145 five-year old children to four treatment groups: invented spelling (children wrote their own spellings for a dictated word), copied spelling (copied words from a model), invented spelling with feedback on correct spelling (children produced their own spellings followed by feedback on how the words were actually spelled, along with comments on the orthographic characteristics they missed), and a control group that made drawings of words. Results indicated that the group given the treatment with invented spelling with feedback significantly outperformed the other groups on orthographic knowledge tasks (orthographic spelling of new words, orthographic reading of practiced words, and word reading of practiced words) with moderate effect sizes. The other two treatment groups (including the group that copied words from a model) did not perform any better than the control group that drew pictures of the words.

We identified six opportunities in which spelling production might be used to support reading. These possible opportunities became items on a data collection sheet used when we examined each program. The first item was designed to review the extent of integration of spelling in sound-symbol instruction. The second item reviewed the extent of integration of spelling in phonemic awareness activities. The third and fourth items were designed to determine the extent of integration of spelling in various word level reading activities. The last two items were designed to examine whether spelling was integrated in activities associated with passage reading instruction. We also included a seventh item which reported the integration of reading in the spelling section of the lesson. For this item we searched for evidence of oral reading of spelling words.

We examined all activities in the reading lessons regardless of activity label (e.g., comprehension). We chose to limit our examination to what the typical student would receive during whole group instruction, rather than independent student activities without apparent feedback from the teacher, or activities that required a selected volunteer. We did not examine supplemental activities designed to address subgroups of students (e.g., struggling readers, learners with Limited English Proficiency, accelerated learners). We required evidence of only one item of class-wide activity to code that item present for the lesson. We did not evaluate the quality of the activity, just its occurrence.

Prior to coding the five literacy programs, all three examiners practiced coding using Macmillan/McGraw-Hill Reading (Flood et al., 2001). During the coding practice, reviewers met periodically to refine items, inclusion and exclusion criteria, reconcile discrepancies, and conduct reliability checks. Practice continued until all three reviewers were in agreement on the scoring requirements for all seven items.

The presence or absence of items was marked on a review form developed for the study. Each activity was coded by two independent reviewers. Items 1 through 6 required examiners to record "yes" or "no" responses for the evidence of spelling used as a strategy to support reading acquisition within each program's daily reading lessons. Item seven required examiners to record a "yes" or "no" response if oral reading was required within daily spelling lesson activities. A reference to the exercises and page numbers were noted on the review form to support the reviewer's decision.

Inter-rater Reliability

The three authors used a review form to record instances for each of the seven items for each of the three weeks included in the program review. The second author reviewed all five programs, the first author reviewed three of the five programs, and the third author reviewed the remaining two programs, resulting in two reviews of each program. Inter-rater reliability was conducted by examining the reviewer records and marking items where reviewers both indicated the presence or absence of an element or marking items where there was not a match between reviewer records of the item. Percentage of agreement was calculated as the number of agreements divided by the number of agreements plus disagreements. Reliability data were obtained for each item across programs and also within programs. Reliability for items 1 through 7 ranged from 93 to 100 percent. Reliability within programs was 96% for SF, 97% for HM, 99% for OC, 100% for HT, and 100% for RMP. Activities in which researchers disagreed whether spelling was integrated (items 1-6) or whether reading was used within spelling components of lessons (item 7) were discussed and resolved.

Items Used in Evaluation of Programs

1. Sound-to-symbol relationships are practiced. For this item we considered activities that target isolated phonemes (i.e., sounds) that require students to represent those phonemes with graphemes (i.e., a letter or letter combination that represents an individual sound) usually by writing or choosing a letter tile. We coded "yes" if we found an activity practicing letter-sound relationships ("Letter 'm' says /mmm/") reinforced by having the students identity the symbol for the requested sound ("Show me the letter that says /mmm/."). Activities which practice a symbol-to-sound connection without the sound-to-symbol practice did not qualify. The growth of young readers' understanding of the alphabetic principle, which underpins fluent reading and comprehension skills, depends fundamentally on knowledge of sound-spelling relations (Adams, 1990). The NRP (2000) underscores this alphabetic understanding as essential (p.2-89).

2. Phoneme segmentation exercises use letters. For this item we examined activities in phonological/phonemic awareness sections of the lesson. We coded "yes" for this item if the teacher's guide suggests having students segment sounds in words while choosing or manipulating letters to represent (spell) the sounds.

Phonemic awareness activities often involve oral manipulation of phonemes without letters. However, research conducted with activities that involve phoneme segmenting with letters has demonstrated increased reading skills of participants (Ball & Blachman, 1991; Blachman, Ball, Black, & Tangel, 1994; Blachman, Tangel, Ball, Black & McGraw, 1999; Ehri, et al., 2001; Foorman, et ah, 2003; Hohn & Ehri, 1983; Vandervelden & Siegel, 1997). In a meta-analysis by Ehri et ah, phonemic awareness instruction using letters produced effect sizes on reading and spelling almost twice as large as instruction without letters.

The following is an example adapted from Blachman, Ball, Black, and Tangel, (2000, pp. 114-115) which demonstrates the integration of spelling and phonemic segmentation: The teacher gives students three blank tiles and a tile with 'i.' The teacher calls out vowel-consonant and consonant-vowel-consonant words. The children echo the dictated word and segment the sounds, pulling down a tile for each sound. If the word the teacher calls out contains the /i/ sound, the child uses the tile with the 'i' to represent that sound in the word. For example, the three sounds in the word 'fit' are represented by a blank tile, an 'i' tile, and a blank tile. As more letter-sound associations are mastered, letter tiles may replace blank tiles.

3. During word level reading practice, regular word patterns practiced for decoding are spelled. For this item, we examined activities which focus on the instruction of individual decodable words. We coded "yes" for activities in which whole or partial word spellings (e.g., onset or rime) are produced by students for word level decoding practice. An example from Adams (1990, p. 318) demonstrates the integration of reading and spelling in an activity at the word level. First students are led through division of the word 'men' into the onset /m/ and the rime, /en/. Next students are shown that the /m/ sound is represented by a letter 'm' and the /en/ sounds are represented by the letters 'e-n.' The process of reading and spelling words within this word family continues with words like ten, den, and hen.

4. During word level reading practice, irregular words are spelled. Irregular words are typically words which include sounds that do not conform to common sounds or contain letters or combinations not yet introduced (Carnine et al., 2004). Irregular words are traditionally taught as a whole word, not sound-by-sound. Irregular words within the programs we evaluated are also sometimes referred to as high-frequency words or non-decodable words. We coded "yes" if we found irregular word-level reading activities which incorporate spelling production of entire or partial spellings of words to help students learn to read selected words as wholes.

In a single-subject study, Noell, Connell, and Duhon, (2006) investigated the acquisition of sets of irregular words using whole word instructional procedures with three at-risk first grade students. After students completed: (a) a reading acquisition session, in which students read a set of words from index cards and (b) a spelling acquisition session, in which students orally spelled a separate set of dictated words; then (c) students participated in a generalization session in which they read their spelling words from cards and spelled their reading words from dictation. Results suggest all three students generalized the irregular words taught from spelling to reading and reading to spelling, with greatest growth favoring generalization from spelling to reading, in spite of never seeing the spelling session words prior to the generalization session.

5. During the story reading activity, regular words are spelled and

6. During the story reading activity, irregular words are spelled. Stories that students are expected to read sometimes contain activities conducted immediately before, during, or after reading to help learners practice reading regular or irregular words contained within those stories. We coded "yes" if spelling was used as a strategy to assist students in reading words which appear in the story. Since the focus for items 5 and 6 was word level practice, which occurs in the context of story reading, it is supported by the same research as items 3 and 4.

7. During spelling lesson activities, students read their spelling words. For this item we examined the spelling section of the lesson to see if there are opportunities for students to read the words they practice in the spelling lesson or component. We coded "yes" if one class-wide activity existed in which students either spelled words first and then read the words they spelled second, or read the list of words prior to spelling them.


Each of the five reading programs was reviewed using the seven items described above. The results for the first six items, which address the use of spelling to support reading lesson components, are presented in Table 1.

I. Phoneme to grapheme relationships are practiced. Frequently the teacher's guides direct teachers to show children a grapheme and then have children say the sound. This example from RMP (Teacher's Guide 1.C, p. 2) illustrates the grapheme to phoneme connection, "Teacher: (Point to the sounds.) Tell me these sounds. Get ready. (Touch the sound.) The children say the sound." However, we found few opportunities in the lessons we examined to include the reverse of this activity, in which teachers provide the sound, then require the children to write or identity the matching grapheme through tile or card selection. Our examination revealed two programs (OC and SF) which incorporate phoneme to grapheme correspondence during the first week of first grade instruction (see Table 1). The following is a qualifying example from OC (Bereiter, et ah, 2002).

Write the letters s, h, p, m,... on the board. Touch each letter and have the students say the appropriate sound. Then distribute the Letter Cards for the above letters. Tell the students that you are going to say some words that have these sounds at the beginning. When you say each word, have the students repeat it after you, and look for the Letter Card with the beginning sound that they hear. On your signal, the students pick up the correct Letter Card and say the sound. (Teacher's Guide 1.6, p. T107).

It appears that once the programs moved from basic letter sound correspondence, included at the kindergarten level, to letter combinations in first grade, the production, manipulation and identification of graphemes declined.

2. Phoneme segmentation exercises use letters. Only two programs (OC and HM) use letters, and only during the beginning week we examined (see Table 1). OC uses letters in their exercises daily during that week, and HM uses them once during that time period. A qualifying example from HM (Cooper, et al., 2003) is described below.

Distribute punchout trays and letter cards. Say 'wag' and have children repeat it. Ask: What is the first sound? Put the letter that spells that sound on your tray. What is the next sound? Put the letter that spells that sound on your tray. What is the last sound? Put the letter that spells that sound on your tray. Then write the word on the board and have children check their work. Repeat for the words rack, wax, sack, and the sentence Matt sat. (Teacher's Guide 1.2-3, p. T27).

3. During word level practice, decodable words are spelled. Four out of five programs (i.e., OC, SF, HM, and HT) use spelling in activities designed to teach students to decode specific words or word types (see Table 1). Each of these four programs incorporates spelling production tasks in some of the word-level activities per week from the beginning, middle, and end of the programs. An example from a section in HM (Cooper, et al., 2003) titled "Connecting Sounds to Spelling and Writing" (Teacher's Guide 10, p. T148) illustrates the integration of reading, spelling, and writing. Students apply skills learned from both phonics and spelling lessons on how to add comparative and superlative forms to base words. In this activity, students are told to choose a word from the board, read it, then spell it by adding -er and -est (e.g., big, bigger, biggest). Next, they write the two new words to the right of each base word. Finally, they illustrate one set of three words and label each picture with the appropriate adjective. In this activity, students must apply knowledge of the "doubling rule" to decide whether they double the final consonant when adding the ending.

In another qualifying example, HT (Beck, et al., 2003) directs the teacher to have students do the following:

Write the following sentences on the board or on chart paper and have children read them aloud. The chip is an inch long. I have an itch on my chin. ... Dictate to children several words from the pocket chart, and have them write the words on a dry-erase board or in their journal. Chip chin inch itch ... (Teacher's Guide 1.3, p. 8R)

We found the integration of spelling most frequent at the word level of instruction and within lesson sections referred to as word study or phonics.

4. During word level practice, irregular words are spelled. Three programs (SF, HM, and HT) use spelling in word level activities to assist students in acquiring irregular words (see Table 1). In the following example from HT (Beck, et al., 2003), it is the act of recalling the word by memory after the word card is removed from view that illustrates how this occurs.

As you show each word card, have children say the word, spell it, say it again, and spell it again. Put down the word card, but continue to hold up your hand as if holding the card. Have children mentally picture the word as they say and spell the word two more times. (Teacher's Guide 1.5, p. 2471).

In our sample, integrated activities occurred from 0 to 3 times across the 15 lessons, with most of these activities in the middle and end of the program. Some of the programs introduce few irregular words at the beginning of first grade, which may explain the lack of these spelling activities within that time period.

5. During the story reading activity, decodable words are spelled and 6. During the story reading activity, irregular words are spelled. Although spelling could be used to strengthen recognition of newly introduced regular and irregular story vocabulary encountered in story passages, only one example of spelling was found, which occurred during the story reading component of the lesson (see Table 1). The teacher's guide from SF (Afflerbach, et al., 2004) included directions related to the story Leon and Bob by Simon James. To help readers decode the word noises, teachers were directed to ask, " What did Leon hear one Saturday? (noises on the street below) What letters spell the /oi/ sound in noises? (oi) " (Teacher's Guide 1.6, p. 174-175).

Our sample had no examples where spelling was used to support the reading of irregular words, during or just prior to story reading. Instead of integrating spelling production procedures to assist readers during story reading preparation, some programs used spelling dictation or copying activities. For example, SF (Afflerbach et al., 2004) directs the teacher to show irregular words on a wall chart or card and have students spell words shown to them in unison (Teacher's Guide 1.2, p. 10). This type of activity exemplifies oral "copying" from a printed model and did not fit our criteria for spelling (i.e., spelling production).

7. During spelling lesson activities, students read their spelling words. Four programs inconsistently incorporate reading of spelling words. HM (Cooper et al., 2003) includes activities in which students read spelling list words in two out of five lessons in the beginning week, none of the five lessons during the middle week, and one of the five lessons in the last week. HT (Beck et al., 2003) suggests having students read their spelling list words in two out of five lessons in each of the beginning, middle, and end weeks sampled. OC (Bereiter et al., 2002) does not initiate traditional weekly spelling lists until the seventh of their 10 Teacher's Guides, so results are available for only the last week in our sample. No activities were found which involve oral reading of spelling list words for this program. RMP (Engelmann & Brunner, 2002) includes activities in which students read their spelling words in three of the first five lessons, in none of the middle five lessons, and in all of the last five lessons. SF (Afflerbach et al., 2004) includes activities in which students read spelling list words in two out of five lessons in both the beginning and middle weeks sampled, and in one lesson during the last week.

The following example is an activity from HT (Beck et al., 2003) which illustrates this item. After students take a pretest for the week, the class completes a word sort with the spelling words. In this activity, the teacher places the numerals 4 and 5 at the top of a pocket chart. The children direct the teacher to place spelling word cards in the pocket chart under either the 4 or 5, depending on the number of letters in the word. After words are sorted, children read them aloud (Teacher's Guide 1.5, p. 218K).


The purpose of this study was to investigate the extent to which contextualized spelling is used to support reading in first-grade core reading programs. We identified six components of reading instruction in which contextualized spelling could be used as a support for decoding. Our analysis of 75 lessons across five programs revealed that contextualized spelling is not a consistent feature of reading lesson components. This finding aligns with the results of a study reported by Footman, Schatscheider, Eaken, Fletcher, Moats, and Francis (2006) in which they analyzed the percentage of time teachers spent in specific reading and language arts activities in first and second grade core reading instruction. Foorman et al. found that a low percentage of time (i.e., less that 4%) was spent on activities in which spelling was integrated into the context of teaching reading skills.

In the present study, occurrences by item across programs ranged from 0 occurrences for item 6 (i.e., spelling of irregular words prior or during passage reading) to a high of 39 occurrences for item 3 (i.e., spelling in decodable word level reading). Although little integration occurs across and within programs, there is some integration between spelling and reading in all programs evaluated, most frequently in word level practice of decodable words during phonics or word study portions of the lesson.

We also examined the spelling components of these programs to determine if students were prompted to read the words they spelled as an additional means of strengthening the spelling and reading relationship. Again, across the lessons we examined, there were few opportunities for students to practice reading the words they spelled.

Implications for Practice

As a result of their review of research on phonics, the NRP (2000) concluded that, "An essential part of the process for beginners involves learning the alphabetic system, that is, letter-sound correspondences and spelling patterns, and learning how to apply this knowledge in their reading" (p. 2-89). Many teachers of early literacy rely on core reading programs to provide activities that will be successful in helping their students acquire these skills. While having program authors include systematic use of spelling production within the reading activity would be preferable, teachers can make simple changes to the program activities or integrate their own spelling activities to support reading. For example, we found program activities where students were asked to spell from dictation of letters, say or write the letters in a word while looking at a model. Teachers could change these existing tasks into spelling production tasks (e.g., direct recall via oral, written, or symbol selection of graphemes). Following are examples for each of the items where spelling was not used frequently but could be added.

In programs where there are few opportunities to identity the letters that spell sounds (item 1), teachers could add a step in their instructional procedures to verify whether students are connecting letters and their sounds. This step could involve students writing or holding up selected letter cards to dictated letter sounds. This practice would be a quick way to determine which students need further practice on which correspondences. This step could also be incorporated into instruction on larger phonograms such as vowel teams, rimes, and affixes.

In phonemic awareness instruction (item 2), teachers could change the program activities to incorporate letters. For example, students could select a vowel or consonant card when doing oral phonemic awareness activities (e.g., Which letter stands for the vowel sound you hear in the middle of 'cat,' 'bat,' and 'rat'?; Hold up the letter for the sound I need to take off when I change the word 'seat' to 'eat.')

At the word level (items 3 and 4), we found the most frequent use of spelling to support reading within phonics or word study activities of regular words; however, many instances of reading irregular or high frequency words were combined with the use of oral spelling while viewing the word from a board or word wall. An example illustrating this procedure comes from HM (Cooper, et al., 2001, Teacher's Guide 1.5, p. T38). The teacher is directed to have children reading a word from a chart or transparency after the teacher reads it, then students clap as each letter is chanted. Using a minor adaptation, teachers could cover the whole word or a part of the word (e.g., onset or rime), and then ask students to spell the word from memory.

We found that spelling is not used with either review of specific vocabulary prior to reading or with correction of errors during the story reading component of the lesson (items 5 and 6). To respond to difficulties that occur during story reading, most programs instruct teachers to have students use context clues, break words into sounds or syllables and then blend, or supply the word to the student. None of these strategies incorporates spelling. When students struggle identifying words in context, students could spell word parts (e.g., suffixes, vowel teams) or whole words, to assist students in word retrieval of sight vocabulary or decoding of regular vocabulary.

Since authorities (e.g., Carreker, 1999; Henry, 1997; Moats, 1995; Templeton, 1997; Treiman, 1998) concluded spelling and reading should be integrated (item 7), teachers could make overt connections between reading and spelling by having students read their spelling words aloud. Teachers could at a minimum make sure all students in their classes can read their spelling list words at the beginning of each new weekly unit, and consider adding additional opportunities to read their words throughout the week.


We used several parameters that affected the outcome of this study. Had we used a broader definition of spelling, the number of times we recorded lessons with spelling as a support to reading activities would have increased. We could have which included recognition tasks such as student selection of correct spelling or copying of words or calling out the letters of visible words. Our conservative definition was used since it resulted in higher reliability and prevented an overestimation of what might be considered as spelling by others. Second, we chose to consider the experiences a typical student would have during group instruction and considered only active student responding with the opportunity for teacher feedback, in order to ensure that the activities we counted were typical across students and robust examples of spelling. We did not consider supplements or differentiated instruction in these programs. Additionally, our data are not equivalent representations of what occurred during a lesson. When examining a reading lesson for spelling support, we found instances where a component includes only one opportunity for spelling whereas another lesson might have repeated opportunities; both were marked as occurring with no additional credit for the component with more opportunities. Finally, it is also possible that activities with spelling-reading integration existed more numerously in weeks that were not examined.

Future Research

Research and teaching experience demonstrate that spelling provides information about words that facilitates reading, and that lessons which take advantage of this reciprocity build strength in literacy acquisition skills (Cramer, 1998). As core reading programs undergo transformations to ensure that they align with new national standards for research-based components and practices, researchers and practitioners should review curriculum materials to determine whether and how strongly lessons contain elements that support those standards (e.g., Simmons & Kame'enui, 2003). As part of this review, spelling could be considered.

The programs we reviewed include a wide variety of activities we coded as spelling (e.g., orally spelling words, writing words from dictation, exchanging letters to create new words, pointing to a grapheme when a sound is given, manipulating onsets and rimes) as well as activities we did not count (e.g., copying or reciting letters in a word as they were pointed to). Since the NRP (2000) found insufficient component analyses of programs which use spelling beyond phonemic awareness, to recommend specific spelling practices as a way to support reading, additional research is needed to specifically isolate the contribution of spelling to the reading process. With the exception of studies described within this paper, there appears to be a paucity of literature systematically comparing the contributions of specific spelling activities and their effects on reading.

Additional research is needed to evaluate those activities most salient in strengthening reading skills. The integration of reading and spelling may be of particular importance for those students at-risk for reading failure. It may be critical that these students have the relationship of decoding and encoding made explicit. An evaluation of supplements to the core reading program or supplementary reading programs designed for this population would be of particular importance.

While this study describes what may be some common practices regarding the use of spelling to support reading, much more work needs to be done before clear guidance can be offered to publishers and consumers of reading programs. Empirical studies need to be conducted that will provide much needed evidence for identifying which spelling activities are most effective, how often they need to be used, with which type of reading activity, and which groups of students benefit most from closely linking spelling with reading. In our examination, we did not evaluate the appropriateness of individual literacy activities. Instead, our study represents an initial step in examining the interconnectedness of spelling and reading to support literacy learning in evidence-based core reading programs.


The University of North Carolina at Charlotte


The University of North Carolina at Charlotte


Office of Superintendent of Instruction, Olympia, Washington


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Table 1 Number of Reading Lessons with Integrated
Spelling Activities across Five Lessons from Beginning
(B), Middle (M), and Last (L) Weeks of the Program

            HM         HT          OC
Item    B   M   L   B   M   L   B   M   L

1 (a)   0   0   0   0   0   0   2   1   0
2 (b)   1   0   0   0   0   0   5   0   0
3 (c)   1   3   1   4   3   4   5   5   2
4 (d)   0   0   3   1   1   1   0   0   0
5 (e)   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0
6 (f)   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0

           RMP         SF
Item    B   M   L   B   M   L   Total

1 (a)   0   0   0   1   0   0     4
2 (b)   0   0   0   0   0   0     6
3 (c)   0   0   0   5   3   3     39
4 (d)   0   0   0   0   2   2     10
5 (e)   0   0   0   0   0   1     1
6 (f)   0   0   0   0   0   0     0

Note. Total possible per item across all lessons and all programs = 75.

(a) Phoneme to grapheme relationships are practiced. (b) Phoneme
segmentation exercises use letters. (c) During word level practice in
reading lessons, decodable words are spelled. (d) During word level
practice in reading lessons, irregular words are spelled. "During the
story reading activity, decodable words are spelled. During the story
reading activity, irregular words are spelled.
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Author:Cooke, Nancy L.; Slee, Jill M.; Young, Cheryl A.
Publication:Reading Improvement
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Date:Mar 22, 2020

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