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Diane McGuinness

Diane McGuinness is a reading consultant and Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of South Florida. She is the author of Why Our Children Can't Read and What We Can Do about It, Early Reading Instruction (MIT Press, 2004), and other books on reading and learning.

Titles by This Author

The Scientific Study of How Language Development Affects Reading Skill

Research on reading has tried, and failed, to account for wide disparities in reading skill even among children taught by the same method. Why do some children learn to read easily and quickly while others, in the same classroom and taught by the same teacher, don't learn to read at all? In Language Development and Learning to Read, Diane McGuinness examines scientific research that might explain these disparities. She focuses on reading predictors, analyzing the effect individual differences in specific perceptual, linguistic, and cognitive skills may have on a child's ability to read. Because of the serious methodological problems she finds in the existing research on reading, many of the studies McGuinness cites come from other fields—developmental psychology, psycholinguistics, and the speech and hearing sciences—and provide a new perspective on which language functions matter most for reading and academic success.

McGuinness first examines the phonological development theory—the theory that phonological awareness follows a developmental path from words to syllables to phonemes—which has dominated reading research for thirty years, and finds that research evidence from other disciplines does not support the theory. McGuinness then looks at longitudinal studies on the development of general language function, and finds a "tantalizing connection" between core language functions and reading success. Finally, she analyzes mainstream reading research, which links reading ability to specific language skills, and the often flawed methodology used in these studies. McGuinness's analysis shows the urgent need for a shift in our thinking about how to achieve reading success.

What Science Really Tells Us about How to Teach Reading

Early Reading Instruction is a comprehensive analysis of the research evidence from early writing systems to computer models of reading. In this book, Diane McGuinness provides an innovative solution to the "reading war"—the century-old debate over the efficacy of phonics (sound-based) versus whole-word (meaning- based) methods. She has developed a prototype—a set of elements that are critical to the success of a reading method.

McGuinness shows that all writing systems, without exception, are based on a sound unit in the language. This fact, and other findings by paleographers, provides a platform for the prototype. Other elements of the prototype are based on modern research. For example, observational studies in the classroom show that time spent on three activities strongly predicts reading success: learning phoneme/symbol correspondences, practice at blending and segmenting phonemes in words, and copying/writing words, phrases, and sentences. Most so-called literacy activities have no effect, and some, like sight word memorization, have a strongly negative effect.

The National Reading Panel (2000) summarized the research on reading methods after screening out thousands of studies that failed to meet minimum scientific standards. In an in-depth analysis of this evidence, McGuinness shows that the most successful methods (children reading a year or more above age norms) include all the elements in the prototype. Finally, she argues, because phonics-type methods are consistently shown to be superior to whole-word methods in studies dating back to the 1960s, it makes no sense to continue this line of research. The most urgent question for future research is how to get the most effective phonics programs into the classroom.