Monday, September 17, 2018

Brief comments on Hard Words (Why aren't kids being taught to read?)

S. Krashen. Sept 16, 2018
Hard Words ( champions systematic intensive phonics, teaching all the rules of phonics is a strict order to all children. Here are objections to their conclusions.
(1) Researchers admit we have not discovered all the rules.
(2) Even among those rules that have been described, some are extremely complex.
(3) Many children learn to read with little or even no phonics instruction.
(4) Studies show that intensive phonics produces strong results only on tests in which children pronounce words out of context. Systematic intensive phonics has little or no impact on tests in which children have to understand what they read.
(6) The best predictor of performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read is real reading, especially self-selected reading.
(7) “Basic phonics” can be helpful: teaching straight-forward rules that children can learn and can actually apply to texts to make them more comprehensible. Our ability to use complex rules is acquired as a result of reading.
(8) I know of no scholars or teachers who support “zero phonics.”

Supporting bibliography is available for free download at, section on phonics and phonemic awareness. Many of these points have been presented by Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman.
Hard Words strongly supports the report of the National Reading Panel. For another point of view, please see papers in the Phi Delta Kappen by Garan, by Krashen, and by Yatvin. I will supply references if requested.


  1. "Many children learn to read with little or even no phonics instruction." Of course we all know that. There was only 'Whole language' teaching for many years and many of the students who then learned are teachers now.

  2. "Researchers admit we have not discovered all the rules." If my first comment above is acceptable then why do we need to discover all the rules or if we have discovered why do we need to teach all the rules.Would there be question on students test papers as to what are the rules etc? I would have thought that phonics is being taught for the sole purpose to be able to read unfamiliar words. Once unfamiliar words have been learned they become sight words.

    After having taught,observed and 'interviewed' more than 60 so-called dyslexic kids since 2004 I would say that the problem is not phonics but it is the teachers who do not know how to teach phonemes correctly. If we teach phonemes of alphabets correctly, kids who are prone to shutting down will not disengage from learning to read.

    These disengaged kids are those who are then wrongly classified as dyslexic and phonics is blamed.

    Many children disengage or shut down from learning to read when what is subsequently taught does not reconcile with what they have initially learned (Thorndike 1913.)