Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Krashen and the phonics debate

I have found that it is helpful to distinguish three approaches to phonics. Two of them are extremist positions that few people in the real world hold:

Intensive systematic phonics: Teach ALL the major rules in a strict order. This is the official position of the National Reading Panel in the US, and is the foundation for Reading First, which failed every empirical test.

ZERO phonics. Never teach phonics, ever. Teach phonics, go to jail. Whole language is accused of holding this position, but it never has.

There is a third position, BASIC PHONICS. Not a compromise, but one that fits nicely with the Comprehension Hypothesis, the idea that we develop literacy and acquire language by understanding messages. In literacy, this is the Kenneth Goodman/Frank Smith position that we learn to read by reading, and that most of our phonics knowledge is the result of reading.

Basic phonics says that we should teach the rules that children can learn and remember and actually apply to texts to make the texts more comprehensible. In practice, for English this amounts to initial consonants and more straight-forward vowel rules. Some people call this "alphabetics."

Whole language supports basic phonics.

The arguments against intensive systematic phonics: There are too many rules, many are very complex and don't work well, and different phonics programs teach different rules (Frank Smith). In addition, intensive gives good results only on tests in which children pronounce words presented in a list. The impact on tests in which children have to understand what they read is microscopic and insignificant. I summarized this research here: http://sdkrashen.com/articles/does_decoding_contribute/all.html

For more details, please see articles at: http://sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=1 <../../../../index.php?cat=1> and http://sdkrashen.com/index.php?cat=4


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