Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Krashen on phonics

Sent to Parade Magazine, September 23, 2007

Readers Need Access to Print, Not Intensive Phonics

Bill Gates ("Can Bill Gates fix our failing schools?"
September 23) feels that we should never have given up
phonics. But we never did. Schools always taught and
continue to teach basic phonics, the rules of matching
sounds to letters that actually help children learn to
read (sometimes called "alphabetics").

The controversy is whether we should expand this to "systematic, intensive phonics," an extremist view that insists that we teach all the major rules of phonics in a strict order. Many of these rules are extremely complicated, more suited to linguists than children trying to learn to read. Try to remember this
one: "the a-e combination is pronounced with the long
vowel and the final e silent (except when the final
syllable is unaccented - then the vowel is pronounced
with a short-i sound, as in "palace," or the
combination is "are," with words such as "have" and
"dance" as exceptions)."

According to Prof. Elaine Garan of Fresno State
University, intensive systematic phonics produces
gains only on tests in which children pronounce lists
of words presented in isolation; it has an
insignificant impact on tests in which children need
to understand what they read.

The evidence is overwhelming that when children are
read to by parents and/or teachers, and have access to
wide range of books in their school libraries or at
home, they read a great deal, read well, develop
larger vocabularies, write well, develop good control
of grammar, spell well (but not always perfectly), and
easily acquire the complex rules of phonics.

The groups that lag behind in reading are those that
are read to least and have the least access to books,
not those who get less phonics instruction.

Stephen Krashen,Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California


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