"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, March 22, 2019

Re: “Deeper phonics and other reforms.” [https://hechingerreport.org/opinion-phonics-and-other-ways/]
Submitted to the Hechinger Report, March 22, 2019

When we argue for increased phonics instruction, we need to distinguish between heavy phonics instruction (“systematic, intensive”) and “basic phonics.”  Systematic intensive phonics means teaching all the rules relating spelling to pronunciation to all students in a strict sequence. This is impossible:  Specialists admit that they haven’t yet described all the rules, and many rules are much too complicated to teach, and even remember.  Also, many of the rules don’t work very well: For example, in one study the famous rule, “when two vowels go walking the first does the talking” (say the letter name of the first vowel, as in “bead) held in less than half of the cases. Most instances of two vowels back to back were exceptions (e.g. “chief”, “captain”). 

Teaching the basic rules can be useful in helping children understand texts, but it is limited to the simpler rules, eg initial consonants and a few vowel rules. Basic Phonics appears to be the position of authors of Becoming a Nation of Readers, a book widely considered to provide strong support for phonics instruction:

“…phonics instruction should aim to teach only the most important and regular of letter-to-sound relationships … once the basic relationships have been taught, the best way to get children to refine and extend their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences is through repeated opportunities to read. If this position is correct, then much phonics instruction is overly subtle and probably unproductive” (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott and Wilkinson, 1985, p.38).

Stephen Krashen

“Basic phonics appears to be the position …”: Anderson, R., Hiebert, E., Scott, J., and Wilkinson, I. (1985) Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Education.
 “In one study”: Clymer, T. (1963) The utility of phonics generalizations in the primary grades. The Reading Teacher. 16(4: 252-258.

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