2003 Conference Proceedings

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Jerry Stemach
Start-to-Finish Publishing Co.
26799 W Commerce Drive
Volo, IL 60073
Fax: 847-740-7326
Email: jstemach@bigplanet.com

The average child at the 90th percentile reads almost two million words per year outside of school, over 200 times more words than the child at the 10th percentile, who reads just 8,000 words outside of school during a year. (Cunningham and Stanovich, 1998). It should come as no surprise, therefore that these same struggling readers lag behind their able-reading peers in vocabulary development, background knowledge, fluency, and comprehension skills.

Increased fluency, vocabulary, background knowledge, and comprehension are outcomes of the volume of text read. The more students read, the more information, motivation, and pleasure they derive.

As good readers spiral upward to higher and higher levels of language and knowledge, struggling readers spiral downward into lowered expectations, lack of motivation and limited practice. (Stanovich, 1986).

Older, struggling readers are failed readers. They struggle in reading even the simplest of texts smoothly, and so teachers are at a loss in finding material that is at once motivating, age-appropriate, and at a skill level that allows these students to read with some degree of independence and fluency.

The Start-to-Finish(tm) library of books uses the advantages of combining a computer book, audiocassette and a paperback book to scaffold older, struggling readers so that they can successfully transition to print text.

Suddenly, these students are motivated to read content that is relevant to their interests and issues because they can follow highlighted text as it is read by an adult narrator in digitized, recorded speech. They "pay attention" to the words because the text is considerate of their developing syntactic competence, developing vocabulary and background knowledge. They become willing to read themselves, resting comfortably in the knowledge that they can hear every single word with a simple mouse click.

Struggling readers "build volume" first with stories written in narrative, conversational language, transitioning from computer book to paperback book, then move on to computer and print books written in more formal, literary language.

Start-to-Finish is the perfect companion to a good word study program. The books are loaded with high-frequency words, phonetically decodable words, and words following traditional suffix and syllabication rules.

Struggling readers lag behind able readers in vocabulary because vocabulary acquisition is linked to reading volume. Start-to-Finish books build vocabulary systematically. Less frequently occurring words are supported by definitions, illustrations, story context and illustrations. These words are included because the story requires their usage and because there is an obvious link to the demands of the curriculum.

Struggling readers lag behind able readers in background knowledge because much of this knowledge comes from reading. Background knowledge is "built into" the text, increasing the students' comprehension and preparing them for higher-order thinking skills.

Fluency is "reading with the kind of intonation and stress that maximizes comprehension." (Rasinski, T.V., 1990).

Fluency practice improves rate, intonation and phrasing (prosody). Increased fluency leads to increased motivation and greater volume of reading, which in turn lead to increases in vocabulary, background knowledge and comprehension.


Cunningham, A.E. & Stanovich, K.E. (1998). What reading does for the mind. American Educator. Spring/Summer.

Rasinski, T.V. (1990). Investigating measures of reading fluency. Educational Research Quarterly. 14: 34-44.

Stanovich, K.E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, 360-407.

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