Monday, September 30, 2013

The (limited) impact of heavy phonics instruction

Published in The Australian, October 1, 2013 as "Foster Love of Reading"

In "Bad teaching kills reading skills," (Sept. 30) Jennifer Buckingham claims that failing to include "explicit, systematic and structured" phonics is bad teaching. This means phonics instruction that teaches all students all the major rules of phonics in a strict order.

Published scientific studies show that students who have experienced intensive systematic structured phonics do better only on tests in which they have to pronounce lists of words presented in isolation. This kind of heavy phonics instruction has only a microscopic influence on tests in which children have to understand what they read -- tests of reading comprehension given after first grade.

Study after study has shown that performance on tests of reading comprehension is heavily influenced by the amount of self-selected free voluntary reading that children do, not whether they have had explicit, systematic and structured phonics.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Brian Cambourne
Associate Professor 
Principal Fellow

Faculty of Education

University of Wollongong

Letter published:

Some Sources (not published with the letter)

Definition of explicit, systematic and structured phonics:
Ehri, C.L., Nunes, S.R., Stahl, S.A., & Willows, D.M. (2001). Systematic Phonics Instruction Helps Students Learn to Read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel’s Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 71, (3) 393-447.

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.

Self-selected reading and reading comprehension:
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

original article:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for responding to that article and for your definition "This means phonics instruction that teaches all students all the major rules of phonics in a strict order."
    As to the word "explicit", would you say that it means a teacher centred approach rather than a child centred approach? Or what would you say?