Chall's model of reading development grew out of her seminal research on the effectiveness of different beginning reading approaches (Chall, 1967). In her later book on the Stages of Reading Development (l983), Chall described six stages of development that are entirely consistent with the stages of instruction that constitute the direct-instruction model which we advocate. For that reason, we describe Chall's model briefly here and then discuss important commonalities among her model, the direct-instruction model, and the NRP report.

Stage 0 (up to Age 6) Stage 0 (up to age 6) is a prereading stage that is characterized by children's growth in knowledge and use of spoken language. Increasing control of words (vocabulary) and syntax is apparent. In addition, children acquire some beginning understandings of the sound structures of words. For example, they learn that some words sound the same at the beginning (alliteration) and/or the end (rhyme), that spoken words can be broken into parts, and that the parts can be put together to form whole words. Most children also acquire some knowledge of print at this stage. They may, for example, learn the names of the letters of the alphabet and learn to print their names and some letters not in their names. Although much of their reading may best be described as "pretend reading," most children do learn to hold the book right-side up and turn the pages. Some may learn to point at a word on the page while saying the word. Reading to children provides them with opportunities to acquire this kind of prereading knowledge.

Stage 1 (Grades 1–2) In Stage 1, children learn the letters of the alphabet and the correspondences between the letters and the sounds that they represent. By the end of this stage, they have acquired a general understanding of the spelling-sound system. Direct teaching of decoding accelerates development in Stage 1, particularly for those with limited readiness.

Stage 2 (Grades 2–3) In Stage 2, confirmation of what was learned in Stage 1 takes place and children learn to apply the knowledge gained in Stage 1 to read words and stories. Children learn to recognize words composed of increasingly complex phonic elements and read stories composed of increasingly complex words. Through practice, oral reading of stories and passages becomes more fluent and sounds more like talking.

Stages 1 and 2 Together Together, Stages 1 and 2 constitute a "learning to read stage," at the end of which children are no longer glued to the print on the page. They recognize most words automatically and read passages with ease and expression. Decoding the words on the page no longer consumes all of their cognitive attention; cognitive capacity is freed for processing meaning. At this point, children are ready to make the important transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn."

Stage 3 (Phase A, Grades 4–6; Phase B, Grades 7–8 and/or 9) In Stage 3, children begin to learn new knowledge, information, thoughts, and experiences by reading. Growth in word meanings (vocabulary) and background knowledge are primary goals. Children read selections from an increasingly broad range of materials (e.g., textbooks, magazines, encyclopedias) about an increasingly broad range of topics (e.g., history, geography, science). Most reading is for facts, concepts, or how to do things. In Phase A of Stage 3, when vocabulary and background knowledge are still rather limited, reading is best developed with materials and purposes that focus on one viewpoint. As students move through Phase B, they start to confront different viewpoints and begin to analyze and criticize what they read.

Stage 4 (High School) In Stage 4, students must deal with more than one viewpoint. Topics in textbooks are treated in greater depth and from more than one viewpoint. Dealing with more than one set of facts, competing theories, and multiple interpretations provides not only multiple viewpoints, but knowledge of how to acquire new points of view and how to acquire increasingly complex concepts. Study skills and practice in efficient reading are beneficial at this stage.

Stage 5 (Age 18 and Above) At this highest stage of reading development, readers can read materials in the degree of detail and completeness that is needed to serve their purposes. Readers select materials to serve their purposes; they know what not to read as well as what to read. They analyze, synthesize, and make judgments about what they read. They balance their own comprehension of the words with their analysis of the content and their own ideas about the topic. At this stage, reading is constructive. The reader constructs knowledge and understanding from reading what others have written.

Chall (1983) attempted to prevent misunderstanding of her model by elaborating the following points:

  1. The ages or grades at which the stages occur are approximate.
  2. Whether reading develops as described at any given stage depends, to a considerable extent, upon the instruction that is provided in the classroom and/or at home.
  3. Development at each stage is dependent upon adequate development at the prior stages. For example, Stage 1 reading is dependent upon the development of language in Stage 0; rhyming, alliteration, and vocabulary are particularly important prerequisites to beginning reading instruction. Reading development in Stage 4 (i.e., critical reading) is dependent upon the acquisition of a rich base of information and vocabulary in Stage 3.
  4. The reading stages are not discrete; they are continuous and overlapping. For example, although most spelling-sound correspondences are learned in Stage 1, other more complex correspondences are learned throughout Stages 3 and 4 and perhaps even Stage 5. And, even though fluent passage reading does not become a clear focus of reading development until Stage 2, the rudiments of fluency are developing in Stage 1. Also, although comprehension is not emphasized in Stages 1 and 2, literal comprehension of simple passages is inherent in the development of word recognition skills (Stage 1) and fluency (Stage 2). Although not discrete, each of the stages is associated with particular aspects of development that are of primary importance.

A stage model has important implications for individualization of instruction. Because development at each stage is dependent upon adequate development at the prior stages, it is necessary that educators conduct assessments to determine students' levels of development. Assessments provide the information that will enable educators to provide children with instruction that starts where they are and then build on that base to help children advance to the higher levels. For example, the child who lacks knowledge of rhyming and alliteration (Stage 0) will need some instruction in those skills before moving on to the more formal phonics instruction that is associated with Stage 1. The child who lacks knowledge of most of the letter-sound correspondences will need some instruction in those basic phonics skills before fluency of passage reading is emphasized. The child who has not yet "learned to read" will need instruction in one or more aspects of decoding and fluency before moving on to the "reading to learn" stages. And, similarly, the child who has not acquired sufficient information and vocabulary in Stage 3 will likely have great difficulty when confronted with the need to deal with different viewpoints in Stage 5; explicit teaching of vocabulary and background knowledge will be necessary.

Stanovich (1988) coined the term "Matthew Effect" to describe the educational dilemma that students face throughout their schooling when they are expected to perform at particular levels even though they lack prerequisite knowledge and skills. Children who begin school with little or no phonemic awareness have difficulty learning letter-sound correspondences and therefore have trouble with word recognition. When word recognition places too many demands on cognitive capacity, less cognitive attention is available for allocation to higher-level comprehension processes. Trying to read for meaning without the necessary cognitive resources is not a rewarding experience. Unrewarding early experiences squelch motivation and lead to less involvement in reading-related activities. This lack of involvement, and therefore lack of practice, further delays the development of automatic word recognition. The negative spiral of cumulative disadvantage continues and troublesome emotional side effects begin to be associated with school experiences. The emotional problems, in turn, present yet another hindrance to school achievement.

In contrast, children who develop efficient decoding processes quickly and easily find reading enjoyable because they can concentrate on the meaning of the text. They read more; the additional exposure and practice further develops their reading abilities. The "Matthew Effect" analogy is used frequently to explain the rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer effects that are embedded in the educational process. The term derives from the Gospel according to Matthew: "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."