Ending the reading wars: reading acquisition from novice to expert

Anne Castles*, Kathleen Rastle, Kate Nation

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    584 Citations (Scopus)


    There is intense public interest in questions surrounding how children learn to read and how they can best be taught. Research in psychological science has provided answers to many of these questions but, somewhat surprisingly, this research has been slow to make inroads into educational policy and practice. Instead, the field has been plagued by decades of “reading wars.” Even now, there remains a wide gap between the state of research knowledge about learning to read and the state of public understanding. The aim of this article is to fill this gap. We present a comprehensive tutorial review of the science of learning to read, spanning from children’s earliest alphabetic skills through to the fluent word recognition and skilled text comprehension characteristic of expert readers. We explain why phonics instruction is so central to learning in a writing system such as English. But we also move beyond phonics, reviewing research on what else children need to learn to become expert readers and considering how this might be translated into effective classroom practice. We call for an end to the reading wars and recommend an agenda for instruction and research in reading acquisition that is balanced, developmentally informed, and based on a deep understanding of how language and writing systems work.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)5-51
    Number of pages47
    JournalPsychological Science in the Public Interest
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018

    Bibliographical note

    Corrigendum error has been fixed in the final published article.
    DOI of corrigendum: https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100618786959


    • reading
    • language
    • reading acquisition
    • phonics
    • text comprehension


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