Bridge to Research

Reading research is clear. The most effective way to teach children to read is by explicit phonics. But first, the teacher must understand how phonics instruction is dependent on phonemic awareness, how reading fluency begins with sound fluency and how all the components of effective instruction are vital to reading comprehension. STEPS is more than just phonics. STEPS training classes will help you understand how reading research can inform and improve your knowledge of reading, spelling, and writing.

In spring of 2000, the National Reading Panel released the results of their congressionally mandated review of 100,000 research studies on reading. Their goal was to help parents, teachers, and policymakers identify key skills and methods that consistently produced reading success. In the preface of the report, Susan Neuman states,

"In addition to identifying effective practices, the work of the National Reading Panel challenges educators to consider the evidence of effectiveness whenever they make decisions about the content and structure of reading instruction programs. By operating on a "what works" basis, scientific evidence can help build a foundation for instructional practice. Teachers can learn about and emphasize methods and approaches that have worked well and caused reading improvement for large numbers of children."
Susan B. Neuman, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education Former Director, the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement

“Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read” by the NICHD.
Order from www.

At STEPS Reading Center, we are vitally interested in the findings of these studies. Of these 5 key components of reading instruction, STEPS provides for the systematic teaching of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and vocabulary. According to the report, "Systematic and explicit phonics instruction significantly improves children's reading comprehension." It is imperative that explicit phonics instruction be done early in a child's school career. Again, the article reiterates, "Systematic phonics instruction produces the greatest impact on children's reading achievement when it begins in kindergarten or first grade." But what about the older struggling student who did not have the benefit of an explicit phonics program like STEPS?

We, at the STEPS Reading Center, have used the same principles of systematic and explicit phonics instruction to retrain older students and adults. A learner can be taught the basic phoneme sounds through handwriting and be taught to use the blending and decoding skills necessary to read and write. We have also used STEPS very successfully to teach both children and adults for whom English is a new language. As the report suggests, the most effective time to teach students these skills is K.-2nd grade. However, STEPS can provide you with the tools to meet the needs of a diverse population of any age.


Teachers cannot teach what they do not know. STEPS provides teachers with the tools necessary to better understand the alphabetic system and rule based nature of the English language. With these tools and the multi-sensory process involved in STEPS, the teacher will be prepared to follow the research based scientific guidelines delineated in this groundbreaking national report.

Precise Directions & Materials for Teaching

Each STEP includes these sections:

Teacher Manual

  • ACTIVITY- Hands-on Learning
  • LESSON- Building a Student Learning Log
  • ONLINE STEPS SUPPORT- Resources and Training

Page 16 of the report, Put Reading First, The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read, provides "guidelines for evaluating programs of phonics instruction." The chart below recreates that information in the left column. The right column correlates skills from the STEPS program and defines how STEPS meets and exceeds the tenets of effective phonics programs.

Suggested Guidelines for Evaluating Effective Phonics Instruction

Put Reading First, The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read, p. 16 * STEPS, Sequential Teaching of Explicit Phonics & Spelling
Effective programs offer phonics instruction that: The STEPS program teaches:
1. Helps teachers explicitly and systematically instruct students in how to relate letters and sounds, how to break spoken words into sounds, and how to blend sounds to form words. STEPS 1,3,4,9,11,14, 16, & 25 teach the grapheme/phoneme connection as phonograms (written sounds). Students learn to read and write the sounds to the point of automaticity.

STEP 8 and beyond teach students to take a spoken word, segment it into syllables and then write each sound, grapheme by grapheme as they apply the spelling rules from STEPS 6,7,10, 12,13,15,17, & 18.

STEP 8 introduces students to the multi-sensory spelling process with instruction and daily practice on blending sounds to form words. This process is repeated daily in STEPS 9 - 25.
2. Helps students understand why they are learning the relationships between letters and sounds. STEP 8 begins the spelling instruction component of STEPS. Teachers use the WISE Guide, a collection of 2000 most commonly used words derived from work by Leonard P. Ayres. Packed with ideas for practice and arranged in order of difficulty, the list becomes the teacher's spelling program. The daily dictation continues throughout the remainder of the school year. Students learn to segment a word into syllables and then spell words sound by sound as they step toward becoming independent spellers. As students' spelling mastery rises and their ability to manipulate the phonemes into recognizable words improves, their understanding and desire to master the spelling process becomes self-motivating.
3. Helps students apply their knowledge of phonics as they read words, sentences, and text. The spelling component in STEPS 8 -25 instructs and allows practice in controlled application of phonics sounds and English rules. Words are formed as students say each sound and write each grapheme. Independent reading follows, as teachers model and teach the vital blending skill that is the direct opposite of spelling.

A teacher learns to apply the STEPS process and vocabulary to broaden across curriculum lines, as she directly teaches a child how to "sound out" a word using the reverse of the spelling dictation in any subject area. "What is the first sound? Next? Next? Blend. Syllable? Next sound? Blend."

Each STEPS student makes his/her own STEPS log, a reference source containing examples of applications of each spelling rule. Daily spelling words are also stored and studied from this personal log. Students build the log in class and are taught to use it in all curriculum areas for reference.
4. Helps students apply what they learn about sounds and letters to their own writing. STEPS 3 and 4 begin the process of writing by making the multi-sensory link between the written and spoken sound. Students are taught to directly link the two by voicing the letter sound as they write the grapheme. They are taught to correctly write the letter, stroke by stroke, moving left to right and top to bottom. This intense early instruction in writing, unique to STEPS among phonics programs, plays a definitive role in preventing and remedying reversals and confusion seen in many learning disabled students. STEPS teachers report that students whose writing mechanics become automatic show an ease and confidence with writing and are more able to express themselves in writing.
5. Can be adapted to the needs of individual students, based on assessments. STEP 2 is a comprehensive series of diagnostic tools. Students take a Monthly Spelling test to monitor their grade spelling status. A Baseline Writing prompt measure is provided. Recommendations are made concerning keeping "cold" comprehension measures throughout the year. Fluency rates are taken on grade appropriate texts and compared to national norms. Tools are included to ease record keeping and to encourage a teacher to maintain data. Teachers use these scores to determine where in the WISE Guide to focus instruction. Coupled with the daily spelling test scores after STEP 8, teachers constantly monitor and adjust the number and complexity of words for both individual students and the class as a whole. This STEPS feature allows a teacher to gear her instruction to any grade level, thus teaching below or above grade level according to her students' needs within a given school year.
6. Includes alphabetic knowledge, phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, and the reading of text, as well as systematic phonics instruction. STEPS 1 - 18 concentrate on the skills of alphabetic knowledge, phonemic awareness, and the reading of text, both within the STEPS program and in other curriculum areas. STEP 13's activity is to begin the Vocabulary Section of the STEPS Log. This section of the reference log allows teachers to link the reading skills in STEPS with other curriculum areas as students store knowledge such as number words, states and capitals, and science vocabulary.

STEPS 19 - 25 are an in-depth study of individual words and word learning strategies. Students learn to use affixes, base words, and word roots according to the English spelling rules. Upon completion of STEP 24, students will have transformed their STEPS Log into an analytical tool that takes them through a series of questions to determine how to add endings to change the meanings of words.
* Please refer to:

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2001). Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read (NIH Publication No.R305R70004). Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing

For additional copies: "Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read," please contact:
National Institute for Literacy at ED Pubs
PO Box 1398
Jessup, MD 20794-1398
Phone 1-800-228-8813 Fax 301-430-1244
To download the document, go to the National Institute for Literacy website at


More About It!

How Spelling Supports Reading

And Why It Is More Regular and Predictable Than You May Think

By Louis C. Moats, AMERICAN EDUCATOR (2005)

Voices of Carolina: Phonics program teaches all ages to read

This article by Ashley Landiss of the SC Policy Council Education Foundation chronicles STEPS success in SC. The author is vice president for public affairs of the South Carolina Policy Council Education Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization in Columbia, SC.

Thank You, Whole Language
In this sadly humorous article, the author chronicles the effects of whole language instruction. From Illinois Loop

Whole Language Lives On: The Illusion of "Balanced" Reading Instruction
By Louisa Cook Moats
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, Oct. 2000.

Teaching Adolescents to Read
By Reid Lyon

One Teacher

Often the story of STEPS is in how it changes the definition of "on grade level" in a school.

Ninth Grade Student Quote

One student speaks.

See Dick Flunk
By Tyce Palmaffy
The evidence is overwhelming that kids with reading problems need phonics-based instruction.
Why aren't educators getting the message?

12 Components of Research-Based Reading Programs

By Texas Education Agency 1996

Why Johnny Can't Decode

By G. Reid Lyon
The Washington Post
Sunday, October 27 1996

How Johnny Should Read
A war is on between supporters of phonics and those who believe in the whole-language method of learning to read; Caught in the Middle--the Nation's Schoolchildren.
Oct. 27, 1997

Why Reading Is Not a Natural Process
Nearly four decades of scientific research on how children learn to read supports an emphasis on phoneme awareness and phonics in a literature-rich environment. These findings challenge the belief that children learn to read naturally.
G. Reid Lyon
Educational Leadership, March 1998, Volume 55, Number 6

This teacher shares how learning STEPS has changed her approach to teaching reading

Some Issues in Phonics Instruction
Implicit and explicit phonics instruction.
Dr Kerry Hempenstall

When Older Students Can't Read
Both students and educators become frustrated when students beyond 3rd grade display reading difficulties. Research based reading strategies can build a foundation for reading success in students of all ages.
By Louisa Moats, Educational Leadership, March 2001

The Epidemic of Reading Disabilities

By Carl L. Kline, M.D. with Carol Lacey Kline
Testimony of Mrs. Pam Barret Before the Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.
September 26, 2000

A Kindergarten Teacher

Many kindergarten teachers are reluctant to believe young children can learn to read through explicit phonics. Read what this kindergarten teacher has to say after she's seen the amazing results of STEPS in her class.

A special education teacher speaks about about learning STEPS.

Reading Recovery: Anatomy of Folly

Kozloff, Martin. 2004

"Whole Language" Faulted for U.S. Reading Woes "Balanced" reading instruction allows worst practices to continue

by George A. Clowes

Ten Important Research Findings, from Scholastic
And the winner is… Phonics!
By Martha Miller, Better Homes and Gardens, November 2001
Good overall article. Consider making copies for parents

Reading Rockets: Ten Myths About Learning to Read

By: Sebastian Wren (2004)

Susan is a ninth grader who took a semester class in STEPS.

A Scientific Approach to Reading Instruction
Barbara Foorman, Jack Fletcher, and David Francis
Center for Academic and Reading Skills (CARS) 1997

Stanovich, K. E. & Stanovich, P. J. (1995). How research might inform the debate about early reading acquisition. Journal of Research in Reading, 18, 87-105.

Phonics: It is a legitimate teaching method, not a right wing- conspiracy

Lynne Cheney, Dallas Morning News, November, 1999

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