The Theory and The Research

The Why Underlying the How

Lauren Marple, ECED 321


The author reflects on her personal experiences with phonics over the years and what she learned through her various placements both as a teacher and as a student.


Teaching students to read (and read well) has always been something that has made me nervous. I picked up reading very quickly, and fell in love with it at an early age. If I was baffled about how I learned to read, how would I be able to help my future students? Cunningham carefully lays out the process in this article using personal stories paired with theory explanation. Cunningham compiles decades worth of studies and information to propose important aspects of reading instruction. While there is no "research proven" way to teach phonics, research has shown how readers read.

  1. Readers look at virtually all of the words and almost all of the letters in those words
  2. Readers usually recode printed words into sound
  3. Readers recognize most words immediately and automatically without context
  4. Readers accurately and quickly pronounce infrequent, phonetically regular words
  5. Readers use spelling patterns and analogy to decode words
  6. Readers divide big words as they see them based on interletter frequencies

When a person reads, the brain searches for patterns. Cunningham found that word families are useful, but only for one or two syllable words. Family literacy is also important for reading success.

After reading this article and completing the course, I feel much more confident in teaching new readers. At first, I felt like I would be flying blind, but now I have so many tools in my "teaching toolbox" that I will be able to implement in order to see success in my students.


The text of this article obviously fits with phonics, but it also discusses fluency and comprehension a great deal. Cunningham writes about how to inspire reading for understanding, not just letter recognition. It's important that readers make sense of content, rather than simply sounding out patterns.


Cunningham, P. M. (2013). The theory and the research - the why underlying the
how. In P. M. Cunningham (Author), Phonics they use (6th ed., pp. 1-19).