Sunday, June 15, 2014

The limits of phonics

Published in the Guardian (UK), June 23, 2014

Re:  "Phonics education technique shown to have positive impact on literacy,"June 16

The Guardian's enthusiastic report about the efficacy of phonics is an example of "Cold Fusion" journalistic practice: Presenting research reports to the public before the scientific community has reviewed them.  I provide one brief "peer review" here.

Neither the study (thanks to the Guardian for providing a link to the preliminary report) nor the Guardian's article pointed out that the study only confirmed what we already know: Intensive phonics instruction helps children do better on tests in which they are asked to pronounce words outloud, and on tests of spelling.

Not mentioned is the consistent finding that intensive phonics instruction makes no significant contribution to performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read: Real reading ability is the result of actual reading, especially of books that readers find very interesting. Good readers eventually acquire nearly all the rules of phonics and spelling, as a result of reading.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Original article:
Hat-tips Michael Rosen, Brian Cambourne

Some sources
Limited impact of phonics:
Garan, E. (2001). Beyond the smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National Reading Panel report on phonics. Phi Delta Kappan 82, no. 7 (March), 500-506.
Garan, E. (2002) Resisting Reading Mandates. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Krashen, S. 2009. Does intensive decoding instruction contribute to reading comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74.

Smith, F. 2004. Understanding Reading. Erlbaum (5th edition)

Real reading ability comes from reading.
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Heinemann Publishing Company and Libraries Unlimited.
Sullivan, A. and Brown, M. 2013. Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education, University of London

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