National inquiries into the teaching of reading have been held in Australia, the UK and the USA. All the reports are online so you can read them yourself – here are the links and what I regard as a few key excerpts:
“The evidence is clear, whether from research, good practice observed in schools, advice from submissions to the Inquiry, consultations, or from Committee members’ own individual experiences, that direct systematic instruction in phonics during the early years of schooling is an essential foundation for teaching children to read. Findings from the research evidence indicate that all students learn best when teachers adopt an integrated approach to reading that explicitly teaches phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension. This approach, coupled with effective support from the child’s home, is critical to success (p11).
(NB This report followed on from a House of Commons report on Teaching Children to Read – click here to read it).
“Despite uncertainties in research findings, the practice seen by the review shows that the systematic approach, which is generally understood as ‘synthetic’ phonics, offers the vast majority of young children the best and most direct route to becoming skilled readers and writers. When thinking about phonic work, what most people have in mind is the teaching and learning of reading. However, phonic work is also essential for the development of writing, especially spelling. The teaching of beginners must lead them to understand how reading and writing are related.
“It is widely agreed that reading involves far more than decoding words on the page. Nevertheless, words must be decoded if readers are to make sense of the text. Phonic work is therefore a necessary but not sufficient part of the wider knowledge, skills and understanding which children need to become skilled readers and writers, capable of comprehending and composing text. For beginner readers, learning the core principles of phonic work in discrete daily sessions reduces the risk, attendant with the so-called ‘searchlights’ model*, of paying too little attention to securing word recognition skills” (p4).
* In Australia the ‘searchlights’ model is called the ‘three-cueing model’ or ‘multicueing‘.
“The results of the meta-analysis were impressive. Overall, the findings showed that teaching children to manipulate phonemes in words was highly effective under a variety of teaching conditions with a variety of learners across a range of grade and age levels and that teaching phonemic awareness to children significantly improves their reading more than instruction that lacks any attention to PA….
“The meta-analysis revealed that systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students in kindergarten through 6th grade and for children having difficulty learning to read. The ability to read and spell words was enhanced in kindergartners who received systematic beginning phonics instruction. First graders who were taught phonics systematically were better able to decode and spell, and they showed significant improvement in their ability to comprehend text. Older children receiving phonics instruction were better able to decode and spell words and to read text orally, but their comprehension of text was not significantly improved.
“Systematic synthetic phonics instruction…had a positive and significant effect on disabled readers’ reading skills. These children improved substantially in their ability to read words and showed significant, albeit small, gains in their ability to process text as a result of systematic synthetic phonics instruction. This type of phonics instruction benefits both students with learning disabilities and low-achieving students who are not disabled. Moreover, systematic synthetic phonics instruction was significantly more effective in improving low socioeconomic status (SES) children’s alphabetic knowledge and word reading skills than instructional approaches that were less focused on these initial reading skills.
“Across all grade levels, systematic phonics instruction improved the ability of good readers to spell. The impact was strongest for kindergartners and decreased in later grades. For poor readers, the impact of phonics instruction on spelling was small, perhaps reflecting the consistent finding that disabled readers have trouble learning to spell.
“Although conventional wisdom has suggested that kindergarten students might not be ready for phonics instruction, this assumption was not supported by the data. The effects of systematic early phonics instruction were significant and substantial in kindergarten and the 1st grade, indicating that systematic phonics programs should be implemented at those age and grade levels”. (click here for more details).