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Reconsidering the Evidence that Systematic Phonics is More Effective than Alternative Methods of Reading

 Bowers, J. Educational Psychology Review (2020) 32:681-705

In this article the author reviews and critiques experimental studies that have assessed the efficacy of systematic phonics instruction. The article claims there is a need for new alternative approaches to reading instruction as the strength of claims and the strength of evidence around phonics instruction is disconnected.  The author highlights an approach which teaches students the logic of the writing system through a structured inquiry into words and how they work.

Key words: Phonics  Explicit Systematic Phonics instruction

Everybody's Selling It- But just what is explicit, systematic phonics instruction?

 Heidi Anne E. Mesmer & Priscilla L. Griffith. (2005)  International Reading Association (pp. 366–376) 

Very experienced K-3 teachers from across the United States, who were members of the ‘International Reading association’, responded to a questionnaire which was used to gauge their perceptions about explicit and systematic phonics instruction. There were 382 respondents, a 38.2% return rate, which “was in line with other U.S. surveys.” Six common phonics strategies were considered: “(1) songs, (2) word sorts, (3) making words, (4) scripted teacher directions, (5) worksheets, and (6) games”. The strategies, which required teacher-student interaction,’ word sorts’ and ‘making words’, were most often identified as ‘highly explicit and systematic’. The strategy ‘worksheets’ was least often identified and the researchers concluded that: “teachers seemed to demonstrate that explicit, systematic phonics instruction should be engaging and responsive.”

Key words: Phonics Explicit  Systematic Phonics Instruction

P is for Pterodactyl

Beryl Exley  ALEA Practically Primary June 2020

Intelligent reading teachers know that learning to read is a journey, from the place where the child first experiences language and starts to make sense of sounds and their written representations whilst being nurtured in the bosom of the family, to a place of reading a wide range of disciplinary texts fluently, with meaning and critical intent.

Key words: Phonics  Reading  Writing

What's your system? Thinking about what we mean by being 'systematic' in our teaching about letter-sound relationships in context.

Jessica Mantei and Lisa Kervin  ALEA Practically Primary Vol 24 No2  2019

In this article, published in ALEA’s Practically Primary, Jessica Mantei and Lisa Kervin explore the many ways teachers can be ‘systematic’ in their assessment and teaching of phonics. They suggest that teachers constantly draw on their extensive knowledge about the teaching of literacy; namely the needs of their learners and the way the content they are teaching is actually used in context of the reader’s meaning making. In particular, they demonstrate that there is no single pedagogical approach that is superior to others. They share several approaches currently used in today’s classrooms.

Teaching phonic knowledge, formative assessment, guided reading, independent writing, planning pedagogy

Applying New Visions of Reading Development in Today's Classrooms

Dougherty Stahl, Katherine A. (2011) The Reading Teacher 65 (1) pp.52-56

This article explains the differences between the constrained and unconstrained skills (Paris, 2005) that are important in the reading process. It is suggested that these skills can be placed on a continuum. At one end of the continuum are tightly-constrained skills such as name-writing, letter knowledge and decoding. Phonological awareness and oral reading fluency are moderately constrained, while vocabulary and comprehension are least constrained. Teachers are encouraged not to allow the teaching of the constrained skills to dominate the teaching of reading because they can be more easily measured/tested. Sufficient time must also be allocated to teaching a child the more complex unconstrained abilities throughout the learning to read process.

Key words:   Constrained skills  Unconstrained skills  Reading  Phonological awareness  Phonics  Vocabulary  Comprehension Fluency

Exploding some of the myths about learning to read: A review of research on the role of phonics

Robyn Ewing 2018

This review of research explores the role of teaching phonics in learning to read. It considers some of the most powerful and well established predictors for success in learning to read including the development of oral language with parents and caregivers; shared reading and access to a range of reading in the home and preschool. It then focuses on developing an understanding of the background to and rationale for the current focus on synthetic phonics in early reading in England, and more recently the suggestion that Australia might introduce a synthetic phonics check for all six-year-olds. Contemporary research about phonics — synthetic and analytic — and the role it plays in learning to read is then considered alongside other strategies.

Key words: Reading  Phonics  Synthetic phonics  Oral language  Research  Systematic phonics  Struggling readers  Individual needs

The Place of Phonics in Learning to Read and Write

Emmitt, M; Hornsby, D. and Wilson, L. Published by ALEA in 2006 Revised in 2013

This brief (22-page) article makes a strong case that children best learn to read when teachers help them engage with meaningful and engaging texts rather than with commercial programs. The writers point to the value of children learning about letter/sound relationships through writing; they suggest what teachers can do; they consider the research evidence to support their views. They cite evidence that shows that students with difficulties are more likely to overcome difficulties if they have meaning-centred assistance from teachers who understand language learning.

Key words: Reading  Writing  Meaning  Phonics

What are 'decodable readers' and how do they work?

Misty Adoniou, Brian Cambourne and Robyn Ewing  The Conversation Nov 12 2018

Money for books must surely be a good thing. But what exactly is a “decodable reader”? After all, surely all books are decodable. If they weren’t decodable they would be unreadable.

Key words: Decodable readers  Decoding  Quality texts  Phonics  Teaching reading  Books

Decoding the Phonics Screening Check

Darnell, C., Solity, J. & Wall, H. (2017)  British Educational Research Journal. 43.3: 24-25.

Darnell, Solity and Wall question the role and purpose of the phonic check for six year old children given its proposed introduction in Australia. The article reviews the first three years (2012-2014) of the phonic check introduced in England. The article highlights some of the problems with the check given its stated purpose. For example: the check fails to test some of the most common letter/sound matches in English; and children only need limited phonic knowledge to achieve a pass. The value of such a check is thus highly questionable.

Key words: Phonics  Grapheme–phoneme correspondences  Reading  Decoding  Phonics check

GERM or Global Education Reform Movement, is increasingly influencing Australia

Paul Gardner  Curtin University, Perth, WA

Literacy Today Issue 91 December 2019

GERM, or the Global Education Reform Movement. The movement here is evident in the Federal Government’s push for synthetic phonics and the UK phonics test, and in the appointment of two non-educators to a three-person “expert” panel established to inform AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) on accreditation of teachers in relation to the teaching of reading.Some members of the panel have pecuniary interests in commercial synthetic phonics programs.

Key words: Synthetic phonics  Phonics screen  Phonics

An Evidenced - based Critique of Synthetic Phonics in Literacy Learning

Clark, M.

In this short paper, Clark summarises key points from her own research, and the work of many other researchers over several decades.  Most researchers support the belief that there is a benefit from the inclusion of phonics with the early instruction in learning to read in English, within a broad program. There is NOT evidence to support phonics in isolation as the one best method. There is NOT evidence for synthetic phonics as the required approach over other approaches. Clark also summarises major concerns about the so-called phonics screening ‘check’. She worries that evidence from research is being ignored, simplistic tests are driving the curriculum, and available resources for schools are being spent on commercial products linked to the tests.

Key words:  Synthetic  Phonics  Phonics screening

The Australian Curriculum English and the Proposed Year 1 Phonics Test

David Hornsby  2017

This two-page paper informs teachers, principals and parents about some of the issues regarding the Year 1 phonics check. The author’s many years of classroom experience, and his publications, demonstrate that he is “pro-phonics”.  However, he outlines several reasons why the proposed Year 1 phonics check is neither valid nor reliable.

Key words: Morphemic  Phonics  Meaning  Orthography

A New Phonics Test is Pointless - we shouldn't waste precious money buying it from England

Misty Adoniou

The Conversation; September 2017. 

This article was as the Australian Coalition Government was canvassing the introduction of a phonics screening assessment for all year 1 children in Australia. Adoniou tests the claims that the then Minister for Education Birmingham states the phonics screen will address and finds them lacking evidence and the test is unable to deliver what was hoped. Adoniou concludes that Australia should look elsewhere for answers to its literacy challenges.  The article will be of interest to educators, parents and policymakers.

Key words: Phonics  Phonics screening

Phoney Phonics: How Decoding Came to Rule and Reading Lost Meaning

by Nicola Yelland

Teachers College Press

August 19, 2020

The current debate around the teaching of reading in primary schools is a global phenomenon, even framed as being the “reading wars.” In the western world, education departments in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have implemented phonics packages from the start of compulsory schooling (usually beginning at five years of age) and “screening” test regimes in the second year of school (in Australia, Year One). The stated aims of these tests imply that there is one element that is common across successful readers: being able to decode text using what is technically called the synthetic phonics approach. According to the information for parents provided with South Australia’s phonics screening test, “Phonics is vital in learning to read… The phonics screening check is a short, simple assessment that tells teachers how students are progressing in phonics.”
Key words: Synthetic phonics  Analytic phonics  Phonics screening test  Whole language  Reading wars

The 'Synphonpreneurs', the Minister and the English Test

Dr Paul Gardner

The Phonics Screening Check (PSC), which was recently made available to parents across Australia, has been imported from England, where it has been criticised by teachers, parents and literacy experts. Paul Gardner reveals some of the reasons why the PSC is not a good idea for Australia.

Key words: Synthetic phonics  Phonics screen  Phonics

How justified is it to dominate government policy on early literacy with synthetic phonics and the phonics screening check? Part II: A critique of evidence

Margaret M. Clark OBE Education Journal No.352 16.10.18

This article provides a critique of the evidence used to claim the effectiveness of the Phonics Screening Check implemented in the UK. Clark cites academics who make it clear that while there is a place for phonics in the teaching of reading, what they oppose is the UK Ministry’s claim that synthetic phonics should be mandated as the only method of teaching initial literacy. The article outlines that a narrow methodology for teaching reading supports a push for the direct-instruction entrepreneurs, who profit financially when federal and state governments mandate the use of curricular materials like the ones they produce. This article is of interest to educators, parents and policy makers.

Key words: Phonics  Early reading  Synthetic phonics

Beginning to Read and the Spin Doctors of Science:  An Excerpt 

Denny Taylor  

from Beginning to Read and the Spin Doctors of Science

Theorising and research are informed by assumptions about what knowledge is and who gets to say what counts as knowledge.  In this excerpt, Taylor critically unpacks the recent debates over phonemic awareness and reading.  She meticulously unpacks the spin embedded in the "research" which extreme phonics advocates use to promote their views.  She reveals the bias and pseudo science inherent in their claims.
Key words: Phonics  Phonemic awareness  Phonemic awareness research  Beginning reading

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