Phonics debate heats up

John Kenny Blog

I’ve noticed an increase in activity on Twitter from academics and teachers who do not support Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) and/or the proposed Phonics Screening Check (PSC). This isn’t a coincidence. The release of PIRLS 2016 data and the meeting of education ministers both took place in the last week, giving proponents of SSP and the PSC much to feel positive about, and giving SSP and PSC opponents much to worry about.

PIRLS 2016 shows Australia is letting down the neediest

Make no mistake, SSP and PSC advocates are most concerned about the ones at the bottom. They understand that, through a combination of factors, most students will learn to read to an acceptable level no matter the approach taken. It is the ones at the bottom, usually suffering from high levels of disadvantage or dyslexia, that need high quality, phonics-based instruction to stand a chance of learning to read.

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Don’t let phonics denialists move the goal posts after PIRLS 2016

Scenes From The Battleground

A big difference between scepticism and denialism is that sceptics can identify what evidence would persuade them and then change their position when they have it. Denialists will move the goalposts, acting as if the evidence has no consequences for their arguments. When dealing with denialists you have to constantly remind them of their own arguments otherwise they will simply move on.

The recent PIRLS results, that assessed reading in “4th grade” in 61 countries, and allowed for comparisons between countries and with previous scores was a perfect example of this. This was the first PIRLS cohort to have been through the phonics check. They indicated who was right and who was wrong in their predictions about the effects of the phonics check. The results showed that since the previous round of PIRLS, reading scores in England had improved (to their highest ever) with spectacular gains for the weakest readers.

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Addendum: A 4th Way phonics denialists will try to fool you

Scenes From The Battleground

Last week I wrote about phonics denialism for the first time in ages. About 24 hours after listing the arguments I most often hear from those who deny the evidence about early reading I remembered I missed one out. So here it is.

4) When phonics doesn’t work

Some children struggle to learn to read. There are a number of possible reasons for this. It could be that the child has some particular difficulty. It could be that even where they were supposedly taught high quality SSP, they weren’t, but learning to read goes wrong sometimes.

Now, in some cases there may be a problem, for instance with hearing, that can be treated directly, but generally most difficulties are lumped together under labels such as dyslexia. This, combined with those children with the opposite aptitude, who learnt to read more quickly than expected, has led to a notion of different…

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