Phonics debate in The Australian
Contents: Our letter, then two responses, then our response
The (limited) impact of heavy phonics instruction
Published in The Australian, Oct 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.
Some Sources (not included in published 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 www.cls.ioe.ac.uk
original article: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/bad-teaching-kills-reading-skills/story-e6frgd0x-1226729534319#.
Letter published: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/letters/foster-love-of-reading/story-fn558imw-1226731109304
RESPONSE TO OUR LETTER:
Some children need rote learning to succeed at reading
IT appears there has been a breakdown of communications between schools, teacher training and curriculum requirements.
Phonics is taught in primary schools for the purposes of learning to read and spell. Each student learns in their own way and good teachers employ multiple strategies to teach them.
I have taught in primary schools for more than 40 years and have noticed that phonics, whole word and other ideas are implemented, but what is missing is rote learning. It has been some time since I saw daily repetition of spelling.
Top students may learn quickly but for others, constant repetition is necessary to achieve high levels of competency. A musician has to practice constantly. So do children learning to read and spell.
Augusta Monro, Dural, NSW
TIM Mahar, Stephen Krashen and Brian Cambourne (Letters, 2/10) do not seem to appreciate that children can be immersed in literature but still be unable to read since they cannot crack the code of written language.
Your editorial ("After years of studies and fads, Jaydon still can't read", 1/10) sums up the deplorable and inexcusable state of literacy teaching in Australia.
Good phonics-based teaching has ample scope for discussing meaning. The children and adults I treat each day as a special education therapist do not self-select books, because they cannot read. So many parents complain to me that their child won't read, but when I do an assessment I find the child does not know the sounds of the letters nor how to blend them.
It is a false dichotomy to argue that the choice is between reading great and enjoyable books or lists of mind-numbing words. Indeed, structured phonics ensures that children can access any book in English to pursue their own interests.
Antonia Canaris, Ashfield, NSW
published at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/letters/some-children-need-rote-learning-to-succeed-at-reading/story-fn558imw-1226732514169#sthash.Mh1kr6nt.dpuf
OUR RESPONSE, Published October 8.
AUGUSTA Monro and Antonia Canaris's letters (4/10) commented on our letter on the limited effect of phonics (Letters, 2/10). The research does not condemn all phonics instruction, only extensive, systematic phonics, an extremist position that demands that we teach all the rules of phonics in a strict order.
A knowledge of basic phonics, straight-forward rules that can help make texts more comprehensible and that children can easily learn and remember, is helpful.
Not all reading results in improvement in reading ability. The texts that help are those that are comprehensible and interesting. These texts will provide all the repetition that Monro feels is important.
Canaris is correct in saying that self-selected reading is not for beginners. Beginning readers need to hear lots of stories, read easy texts and, as mentioned earlier, learn some basic phonics.