Goswami and Bryant (1990) proposed a theory of reading development based on three causal connections. One of these causal connections was based on the relationship between rhyming skills and reading development found in English. To explain this connection, they suggested that young readers of English used analogies based on rimes as one means of deciphering the alphabetic code. This proposal has recently become the subject of some debate. The most serious critique has been advanced by Seymour and his colleagues (Duncan, Seymour, & Hill, 1997; Seymour & Duncan, 1997; Seymour & Evans, 1994). These authors reported a series of studies with Scottish schoolchildren which, they claim, show that progression in normal reading acquisition is from a small unit (phonemic) approach in the initial stage to a large unit (rime-based) approach at a later stage. Two experiments are presented which replicate those conducted by Seymour and his group with samples of English schoolchildren. Different results are found. It is argued that methodological and instructional factors may be very important for the conceptual interpretation of studies attempting to pit “small” units (phonemes) against “large” units (onsets and rimes) in reading. In particular, it is necessary to consider whether a given phonological awareness task requires the recognition of shared phonological segments (“epilinguistic” processing) or the identification and production of shared phonological segments (metalinguistic processing). It is also important to take into account the nature of the literacy instruction being implemented in participating schools. If the phonological aspects of this tuition focus solely on phonemes (small units), then poor rime-level (large unit) performance may be found in metalinguistic tasks.
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