Sunday, May 28, 2017

The case against heavy phonics

Sent to the Sydney Morning Herald, May 28, 2017

Monica Dux claims the evidence supporting explicit systematic instruction is "overwhelming" and that whole language is "non-evidence-based" ("Phonics debate sorts friends from the literally deluded," May 26).
Published studies show that intensive systematic phonics is effective only for performance on tests in which children pronounce lists of words presented in isolation. It has only a microscopic influence on tests in which children have to understand what they read -- tests of reading comprehension given after first grade.
Whole language is based on the hypothesis that we learn to read when we understand what is written, when we understand the text. Some knowledge of phonics can be helpful in making print more comprehensible, but there are severe limits on how much phonics can be directly taught and consciously learned: many of the rules are very complex with numerous exceptions. They cannot be taught but are gradually acquired, or absorbed, through reading.
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, strong evidence for whole language.
Ms. Dux is free to disagree with this body of work, but is not free to ignore it.
Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

original article:


  1. The Power of Reading (research/book) is the best source of authentic, reliable, and practical reading approach I have found in my 17 years of ESL/EFL/ELA experience. Thank you so much Dr. Krashen.

  2. if you can't read the words you can't get the meaning. You cannot have taught phonics correctly if you think there are "severe limits" on how much phonics can be directly taught. I have many years experience in teaching phonics explicitly and it works.

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