Uta Frith identified three distinct phases in the acquisition of written language leading to the level of reading which we describe as fluent. .Uta’s model is widely accepted as the standard model of reading acquisition in alphabetic systems. The stages she identified as are as follows:-

Phase One - Logographic

A small number of very commonly encountered words are recognized by the overall shape made by the the letters of the word. At this stage children are not aware of individual letters or the idea that those letters relate to the sound the child associates with the words.

Phase Two - Alphabetic

The concept of letter/sound relationship takes over from whole word shape recognition. The child develops the knowledge of letter sound correspondence which is commonly referred to as phonetics and rigorously taught in synthetic phonics.

Phase Three - Orthographic

In some senses the child circles back to where they started. The building up of words from letter/sound correspondences is replaced once again by word recognition - albeit of a much more robust nature backed up by the ability to ‘sound out’ unfamiliar words as necessary. Debate still goes on as to whether this stage represents merely very fast decoding or a wholly separate perceptual strategy.


The third ‘Orthographic’ phase in Uta Frith’s learning model describes the critical transition between decoding and fluency. Only when a student has made this leap can they be described as ‘readers’.

The key thing to recognize about Uta’s model is that decoding - in the middle Alphabetic phase - is a stage on the road to reading but not the end goal itself. It is orthographic fluency and not decoding which Uta identifies as the ultimate state which students must reach. It is on this skill on which Literacy Toolbox is focussed.

The Literacy Toolbox

In order to teach fluency the Literacy Toolbox deals in complete passages rather individual words.  Almost every category of exercise starts with the student choosing a passage which interests them.   When they are reading the passage, if a student baulks at a particular word the computer helps them with it by saying it aloud.  After the student has worked through a passage in this way they go through it again at a fixed rate based on their first read through. The words which the student needed help with in the first run through are vocalized again automatically in the second.