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REL Central Ask A REL Response


December 2020


To what extent are comprehensive grammar, usage, and mechanics necessary components of a developmentally appropriate progression of reading skills?


Following an established research protocol, REL Central conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of the references provided in this response, and we offer them only for your information. We compiled the references from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant sources may exist.

Research References

Elhassan, Z., Crewther S. G., & Bavin, E. L. (2017). The contribution of phonological awareness to reading fluency and its individual sub-skills in readers aged 9- to 12-years. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, Article 533. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Research examining phonological awareness (PA) contributions to reading in established readers of different skill levels is limited. The current study examined the contribution of PA to phonological decoding, visual word recognition, reading rate, and reading comprehension in 124 fourth to sixth grade children (aged 9–12 years). On the basis of scores on the FastaReada measure of reading fluency participants were allocated to one of three reading ability categories: dysfluent (n = 47), moderate (n = 38) and fluent (n = 39). For the dysfluent group, PA contributed significantly to all reading measures except rate, but in the moderate group only to phonological decoding. PA did not influence performances on any of the reading measures examined for the fluent reader group. The results support the notion that fluency is characterized by a shift from conscious decoding to rapid and accurate visual recognition of words. Although PA may be influential in reading development, the results of the current study show that it is not sufficient for fluent reading.”

Foorman, B., Beyler, N., Borradaile, K., Coyne, M., Denton, C. A., Dimino, J., Furgeson, J., Hayes, L., Henke, J., Justice, L., Keating, B., Lewis, W., Sattar, S., Streke, A., Wagner, R., & Wissel, S. (2016). Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade (NCEE 2016-4008). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“The goal of this practice guide is to offer educators specific, evidence-based recommendations for teaching foundational reading skills to students in kindergarten through 3rd grade. This guide is a companion to the existing practice guide, ‘Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade’, and as a set, these guides offer recommendations for preparing students to be successful readers. Both guides recommend some practices that can and should be implemented beginning in kindergarten, and both guides also suggest some instructional practices that can be implemented after students have mastered early reading skills. This guide synthesizes the best available research on foundational reading skills and shares practices that are supported by evidence. It is intended to be practical and easy for teachers to use. The guide includes many examples in each recommendation to demonstrate the concepts discussed. This guide provides teachers, reading coaches, principals, and other educators with instructional recommendations that can be implemented in conjunction with existing standards or curricula and does not recommend a particular curriculum. Teachers can use the guide when planning instruction to support the development of foundational reading skills among students in grades K-3 and in diverse contexts. Professional-development providers, program developers, and researchers can also use this guide. Professional-development providers can use the guide to implement evidence-based instruction and align instruction with state standards or to prompt teacher discussion in professional learning communities. Program developers can use the guide to create more effective early-reading curricula and interventions. Finally, researchers may find opportunities to test the effectiveness of various approaches to foundational reading education and explore gaps or variations in the reading-instruction literature. The following are appended: (1) Postscript from the Institute of Education Sciences; (2) About the Authors; (3) Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest; and (4) Rationale for Evidence Ratings. A glossary is included. [For the companion guide, ‘Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten through 3rd Grade: IES Practice Guide. NCEE 2010-4038,’ see ED512029.]”

Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Booth Olson, C., D’Aoust, C., MacArthur, C., McCutchen, D., & Olinghouse, N. (2012). Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers (NCEE 2012-4058). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“Instructional tips help educators carry out recommendations contained in IES Educator’s Practice Guides. The tips, based on a practice guide authored by Steve Graham, Alisha Bollinger, Carol Booth Olson, Catherine D’Aoust, Charles MacArthur, Deborah McCutchen, and Natalie Olinghouse, translate these recommendations into actionable approaches that educators can try in their classrooms. This brief document provides instructional tips for: (1) assisting students to use strategies for writing; (2) teaching students to write for a variety of purposes; and (3) helping students write strong sentences. These tips are based on ‘Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers: A Practice Guide. NCEE 2012-4058’ (ED533112). [For related teacher resources on this topic, see ED578427 and ED578428.]”

Hodge, E., & Benko, S. L. (2014). A “common” vision of instruction? An analysis of English/Language Arts professional development materials related to the Common Core State Standards. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 13(1), 169–196. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“The purpose of this article is to describe the stances put forward by a selection of professional development resources interpreting the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) teachers, and to analyze where these resources stand in relation to research in ELA. Specifically, we analyze resources written by English educators and/or literacy scholars and by the lead authors of the ELA standards, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel. The visions of ‘Common Core instruction’ forwarded by these resources are sometimes similar, but frequently different. These differences illustrate key tensions between the Common Core authors’ interpretation of what current instructional practices are–and how they need to be changed–and the perspectives of others from ELA and literacy. We also consider what these materials imply for teachers’ voice and autonomy in educational reform.”

Sparks, J. R., & Deane, P. (2015). Cognitively based assessment of research and inquiry skills: Defining a key practice in the English language arts. Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Current educational standards call for students to engage in the skills of research and inquiry, with a focus on gathering evidence from multiple information sources, evaluating the credibility of those sources, and writing an integrated synthesis that cites evidence from those sources. Opportunities to build strong research skills are critical, yet empirical research demonstrates that students from Grades K–16 struggle with inquiry tasks, particularly in online environments. There is a need to create models that will support teachers in developing students’ research skills and can be used to develop reliable and valid assessments of such skills while aligning with standards. Under the CBAL™ research initiative, we have developed a model of conducting research and inquiry as a key literacy practice in the English language arts (ELA). In this paper, we draw on literature from the cognitive and learning sciences–including work in discourse processing, science education, educational technology, and information literacy –to provide the theoretical background for this key practice. We identify a set of activities and skills that are critical for participating in research; each skill is accompanied by a set of provisional learning progressions, which outlines tentative predictions about the qualitative changes in a skill that develop over time with appropriate instruction. These learning progressions and their relation to the key practice can be leveraged in the design of cognitively based assessments of research and inquiry that are sensitive to students’ developmental level. We conclude, with an example design for such an assessment to illustrate how key practices and learning progressions can be integrated to support measurement of research and inquiry skills.”

Templeton, S. (2015). Building foundational and vocabulary knowledge in the Common Core, K–8: Developmentally-grounded instruction about words. Language and Literacy Spectrum, 25, 7–17. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“How young children’s and older students’ knowledge of words develops–their structure, their meanings, how they work in context–is reflected in the Common Core English Language Arts expectations. Meeting these expectations for each learner requires that we teach in a developmentally-responsive manner. This includes our being familiar with the nature of the English spelling system, determining what each learner knows about the system, and then providing instruction that stretches but does not frustrate learning. There is a reciprocal relationship between reading and spelling words and understanding how this relationship develops over time is the key to developmentally-responsive decoding and encoding instruction, as well as to developing every learner’s vocabulary.”


Keywords and Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “Academic standards”
  • “Developmentally appropriate practices”
  • “English language arts”
  • “Language arts”
  • “Language skills”
  • “Learning from text”
  • “Reading and writing”
  • “State standards”
  • “Teaching methods”
  • “Vocabulary development”
  • “Writing instruction”
  • “Writing processes”
  • “Writing skills”
  • “Writing strategies”

Databases and Resources

REL Central searched ERIC for relevant references. ERIC is a free online library, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, of over 1.6 million citations of education research. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching for and reviewing references, REL Central considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: The search and review included references published between 2010 and 2020.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar and Google.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types, such as randomized controlled trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive analyses, and literature reviews; and (b) target population and sample.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.