Monday, January 5, 2015

The limits of extensive, systematic phonics

Frank Smith calls this "the never-ending debate." 

Re: "Teacher training fails on literacy" (Jan. 5, 2015)  Sent to The Australian
The Australian fully accepts the assertion of the NSW Board of Studies that that explicit, systematic phonics is supported by research, and joins the report in scolding universities that do not emphasize it in teacher education.
The writers of the report are clearly unaware that study after study shows that those who have endured explicit, systematic phonics, a method that demands that we teach all major rules of phonics in a strict order to all children, results in better performance only on tests in which children pronounce words presented on a list, in isolation. Explicit, intensive phonics has no effect on tests in which children have to understand what they read.
Rejection of explicit, systematic phonics not does exclude the teaching of "basic" phonics. A small amount of consciously learned knowledge of the rules of phonics can help in the beginning stages to make some texts more comprehensible, but there are severe limits on how much phonics can be learned and applied because of the complexity of many of the rules.
This conclusion is consistent with the views of Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman who have, for decades, presented strong evidence that our ability to decode complex words is the result of reading, not the cause.

Stephen Krashen

First section of Australian editorial:

Teacher training fails on literacy


MANY primary school teachers are ill-equipped to help students learn to read, with an audit of education degrees revealing the teaching of reading is mired in theory, with too little focus on practical skills.

The nation’s first evaluation of the content covered in teaching degrees identifies “significant concerns” about the skills of many existing teachers in proven methods for teaching reading and questions whether graduating teachers are properly equipped.

The report by the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards reveals the time spent on the subject and the strategies covered vary considerably between universities.

It calls for guidelines setting out core ​essential content for the teaching of reading, including a range of evidence-based ​approaches and the appropriate balance of theory to practice.

“Although research evidence from recent major studies into the teaching of reading unequivocally supports the explicit and systematic teaching of ... phonics in the early years of schooling, it is not apparent that all graduate teachers would be able to do so,” it says.

“While all programs address early literacy learning, the place of phonics in programs is variable. For example, phonics is variously addressed as one teaching strategy that may be used, as a remediation strategy only or as an essential strategy for the teaching of reading.”


  1. "Study after study". Could you please provide some references. Many thanks.

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