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June 2, 2019

For reading to be fluent it must be accurate, at a reasonable rate and prosodic (Kuhn and Stahl, 2003).  Accuracy and speed pertain to decoding automaticity and the word superiority effect (Reicher, 1969 – more here) but prosody (the ability to make oral reading sound like authentic oral speech (Rasinski et al., 2011)) is more nuanced and demanding to identify.

Prosody focuses on the features of speech that are layered...

May 4, 2019

With a quarter of ten and eleven year-olds in England unable to read to the expected standard (DfE, 2018), and with the majority of those children now having had phonics instruction for two years of their initial schooling perhaps Glazzard (2017) is correct when he asserts that if a child has received phonics instruction from aged five to seven and is still struggling to read then more phonics instruction is irrational; somethin...

April 17, 2019

Systematic phonics instruction has been described as the nearest thing to a silver bullet for the development of literacy.  With all the economic and social ills associated with illiteracy (detailed here), it would be a brave person who would deny the weight of research in its favour.  There remains considerable resistance to this form of instruction from the teaching profession (detailed here) but also a number of high-profile...

April 7, 2019

‘The question for teachers is no longer “look and say” or phonics. Instead, the question is which phonics programmes are most effective…’ (Gibb, 2018). The English Schools’ Minister’s assertion that the reading wars have been won by the relentless barrage of research undermining ‘look and say’ approaches may not be strictly true – the rear-guard anti-phonics battles being fought in Australia by academics, the pervasiveness of ‘B...

December 9, 2018

By 1955, the American academic elite had come to an almost universal conclusion: phonics was dangerous. In that year the most eminent publication on reading instruction, ‘The Reading Teacher’ in its editorial penned by the ‘distinguished’ (Terman and Walcutt, 1958 p110) Emmett Betts concluded that children taught by a phonics approach ‘can call words but cannot read…’ (1955, p2).  Phonics instruction was almost completely discar...

November 25, 2018

Although educational research was in its infancy in the early decades of the twentieth century there was sufficient concern and curiosity from both teachers and universities as to the veracity of whole word methods versus phonics that a number of rudimentary studies were conducted.  The majority of these studies compared phonic and non-phonic approaches to the teaching of reading and had little concern with the actual programmes...

October 23, 2018

Huey’s (1908) ‘scientific’ proof that phonic instruction was a superfluous, torpid stage of reading development resulted in a revival of whole-word reading methods.  Phonics was not entirely expunged from reading education but was exiled to the peripheries of instruction as a post facto analytical intervention.  Along with Dewey’s influential environment-driven approach to child learning, the course away from early phonics instr...

October 2, 2018

The word method of teaching reading dominated instruction methods for a century with its word lists and flash cards and repeated vocabulary and culminated in the seemingly rational mutation into Goodman’s (1971) whole language approach.  It was only the glaring, incontrovertible fact that the millions of children taught by this method were unable to read that finally brought this edifice crashing down – 60% of Californian nine a...

September 1, 2018

By the late nineteenth century in the United States the vice-like grip of the whole-word method on initial reading instruction and the reliance on the McGuffy Reader was starting to diminish as the long-term effects of the method were starting to become evident.  Pupils made apparently huge initial strides in reading fluency in the early grades, but as Smith notes from a contemporary journal ‘…pupils in the higher grades are not...

August 6, 2018

However, confused and ineffective the teaching of reading had become in the United States in the nineteenth century, at least there was national debate, rudimentary research and a desire to find the pedagogical El Dorado.  No such national debate occurred in Britain at this time. The enlightenment experiment of the United States that saw a well-educated and literate populace as a fundamental driver of democra...

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