Sent to the Sydney Daily Telegraph (Australia)
Re the new "phonics requirement": ("Education minister orders universities to teach phonics or face losing accreditation," August 10)
"Phonics" could mean "systematic, intensive phonics,": teaching all phonics rules to all children in a strict sequence. Research done by Prof. Elaine Garan shows that systematic intensive phonics results only in better results on tests in which children are presented with words in a list and have to pronounce them outloud. It does not produce better results on tests in which children have to understand what they read.Systematic, intensive phonics has other problems. As literacy expert Frank Smith has reported, many rules of phonics are very complex and have numerous exceptions. Many teachers say that they have to review the rules before trying to teach them: If experienced teachers can't remember the rules, how can six-year-old children remember them? Smith also notes that different phonics programs teach different rules, which makes it unlikely that learning all the rules is essential.
An approach that makes sense is "basic phonics": teaching those rules that children can learn, that teachers don't have to look up, and that actually help children understand what they read.