Teaching kids how to read is amazingly controversial. Or at least, it was controversial until recently, when we achieved a proper scientific consensus that the best way to teach them is to use systematic phonics. This method has seen big successes here in the UK, and is helping thousands of children achieve proper literacy.
…that’s the story, anyway. But how strong is that scientific consensus? What evidence do we have that systematic phonics is the best way to learn to read? In this episode of The Studies Show, Tom and Stuart look into the work of a prominent “phonics sceptic”, and find his arguments pretty compelling.
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Big 2018 review article on “ending the reading wars”, with excellent background on the debate and on the science of reading more generally
“fish” = “ghoti”
The UK’s 2006 Rose Report into the best ways to teach reading
Survey showing a lot of teachers don’t like the Phonics Check
In defence of phonics, by Prof. Kathy Rastle
Prof. Jeffrey Bowers’s 2020 article on “Reconsidering the evidence” that systematic phonics is better than other ways to teach reading (see here for references to all the individual meta-analyses mentioned in the show)
One of several critiques of Bowers
Bowers’s 2023 reply to several critics
Bowers’s blog (many posts about various aspects of the phonics debate; see the comment sections for contributions from his critics and further debate)
Report on England’s 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) scores
The Studies Show is produced by Julian Mayers at Yada Yada Productions.