“Good readers need rich literature but no evidence phonics harms,” academic response to “Phonics damages able readers” pamphlet

Expert reactions on “phonics is damaging able readers,” as published in IMPACT*

Following on from today’s media reports, for example on BBC on line, which raised some criticism about the teaching of synthetic phonics.

NEW COMMENT – Kathy Sylva, Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Oxford:

“The majority of the evidence based studies on synthetic phonics, many of which were carried out in the United States, are on children of all abilities. These studies show clear gains for children in the synthetic phonics group compared with other phonics programmes and with a control group These studies show the effectiveness of synthetic phonics for all children. However, other studies show that children exposed to a rich array of literature can benefit from this.

I find no evidence that able readers are being harmed by synthetic phonics. Being denied access to rich literature may hinder them, so the secret is to embed synthetic phonics in a programme of rich literature, and aim at a balanced diet for children of different reading levels.”

NEW COMMENT – Emeritus Professor Morag Stuart, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of Education, University of London:

“Is the government really imposing only synthetic phonics teaching in the teaching of reading? The quick answer to this question is a resounding “No!” as a glance at the statutory requirements for Year 1 demonstrates.

Davis completely ignores the statutory requirements for reading comprehension (reading for meaning), which state:

Pupils should be taught to develop pleasure in reading, motivation to read, vocabulary and understanding by:

· listening to and discussing a wide range of poems, stories and non-fiction at a level beyond that at which they can read independently

· being encouraged to link what they read or hear read to their own experiences

· becoming very familiar with key stories, fairy stories and traditional tales,

· retelling them and considering their particular characteristics

· recognising and joining in with predictable phrases

· learning to appreciate rhymes and poems, and to recite some by heart

· discussing word meanings, linking new meanings to those already known

Understand both the books they can already read accurately and fluently and those they listen to by:

· drawing on what they already know or on background information and vocabulary provided by the teacher

· checking that the text makes sense to them as they read and correcting inaccurate reading

· discussing the significance of the title and events

· making inferences on the basis of what is being said and done

· predicting what might happen on the basis of what has been read so far

· participate in discussion about what is read to them, taking turns and listening to what others say

· explain clearly their understanding of what is read to them

That is, to make an ideological point, he completely ignores the potential richness of the reading curriculum. ”


*To read or not to read: decoding Synthetic Phonics, IMPACT No20, Philosophical Perspectives on Education a pamphlet by Andrew Davis with Editorial Introduction by Michael Hand. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/2048-416X.2013.12000.x/pdf

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