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Jennifer Chew reviews 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M.Clark) + more on denialists

Posted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 12:35 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Jennifer Chew, advisor to the UK Reading Reform Foundation, reviews this book written collaboratively by people from the UK and Australia. The book was written to time with discussions in Australia regarding the promotion of systematic synthetic phonics and the possible adoption of a national phonics check. Thus, this review is very important and invaluable for those in favour of phonics and the phonics check:

I’ve now read the whole of the Clark book: ‘Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning’. I’d be interested in any comments from others who have read it. See also the thread headed ‘Recent blog-post by Greg Brooks’.

Nick Gibb is repeatedly criticised in the book for his enthusiasm for synthetic phonics (s.p.) and the Phonics Screening Check (PSC).

5 of the 7 authors cite the 2006 Torgerson, Brooks and Hall review and all 5 accept its conclusion that there is no definitive evidence showing that s.p. is more effective than analytic phonics. This suggests that these authors, who set store by ‘reading the evidence’, are nevertheless unaware of Johnston and Watson’s 2014 and 2016 critiques of the Torgerson et al. analysis or have chosen to ignore them. See Johnston R.S. and Watson, J. (2016) The trials and tribulations of changing how reading is taught in schools: Synthetic phonics and the educational backlash. In K Durkin, HR Schaffer (Eds) The Wiley Handbook of Developmental Psychology in Practice: Implementation and Impact, pp 203-221, and Johnston, R. and Watson, J. (2014) Teaching Synthetic Phonics, 2nd edition. Sage (Learning Matters).

The relationship between s.p. and comprehension is mentioned over 20 times in the book – some authors say that there is a lack of evidence that s.p. has an impact on comprehension, while others assume that it has no impact or even a negative impact. The book actually ends with the negative-impact type of assumption. The chapter is by Henrietta Dombey, and the final two paragraphs are as follows:

It is clear that the authors of this book are amongst the 'phonics denialists' - a description used by blogger Andrew Old - see this thread here:


Re: Jennifer Chew OBE reviews Clark's book, 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M.Clark

Posted: Sun Dec 10, 2017 7:00 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Blogger John Kenny writes about those who are wading into the debate about phonics and the phonics check in Australia: ... omment-241

Re: Jennifer Chew OBE reviews Clark's book, 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M.Clark

Posted: Mon Dec 11, 2017 12:33 am
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Here we go - more phonics denialists undermining the importance of phonics.

Dr Alison Arrow has just tweeted the article below with this comment:

Not sure where he has been for 30 years then. "Research consistently shows that phonics ability does not influence scores on tests of comprehension." All the research I read (and conduct) finds the complete opposite.

Here are two dismaying letters published in The Guardian in the 'Letters' section:

Don't read too much into the Pirls literacy test results

Government claims for the shift to phonics in the teaching of English are challenged by Stephen Krashen and Dr Jonathan Solity ... are_btn_tw

England’s nine- and 10-year-olds showed a modest improvement on the 2016 Pirls (Progress in international reading literacy study) reading test, compared with 2011 scores (English pupils improve results in international reading exams, 6 December). Contrary to the assertion by school standards minister Nick Gibb, an increased emphasis on phonics does not deserve the credit. The Pirls test is a test of reading comprehension: students have to understand what they read. Research consistently shows that phonics ability does not influence scores on tests of comprehension. This is consistent with results showing high scores on phonics screening tests do not result in better reading several years later.

In our analyses of previous Pirls tests (2006 and 2011), the strongest predictors of achievement were level of poverty (negative) and the presence of a school library (positive). In our analysis of the 2006 results, amount of reading instruction was negatively related to scores; in the 2011 test, there was no relationship between amount of reading instruction and reading test scores.

Stephen Krashen

Professor emeritus, University of Southern California, Los Angeles

Nick Gibb claims the Pirls 2016 results are the “best in a generation”. However, of the 50 countries that took part, England was the lowest ranking of any English-speaking country for pupils enjoying reading (34th) and was the lowest-ranking English-speaking country (29th), with the exception of Australia, for pupil engagement in reading. Twenty countries made greater progress in reading between 2011 and 2016 than England. Furthermore, 29% of pupils in this same cohort failed to reach the required standard in English in the 2017 key stage 2 Sats.

Dr Jonathan Solity

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Stephen Krashen promotes whole language and devalues phonics.

Jonathan Solity's programme promotes limited alphabetic code for its phonics content, along with sight words learnt as wholes, along with 'real books' rather than cumulative, decodable reading books.

Re: Jennifer Chew OBE reviews Clark's book, 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M.Clark

Posted: Mon Dec 11, 2017 2:31 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
With regard to this constant niggle that an emphasis on phonics is to the detriment of comprehension, Susan Godsland has just reminded me of this piece by James Murphy via the ThinkingReadingWriting blog:

Does phonics help or hinder comprehension?

https://thinkingreadingwritings.wordpre ... rehension/

A recent TES article headlined “Call for researchers to highlight negative ‘side effects’ of methods like phonics” drew a predictable response. Though the article supplied not one piece of evidence to support the assertion that phonics had “negative side effects”, and despite the academic quoted having zero background or expertise in reading science, tweets and comments celebrated this damning of the barbaric practice of phonics in schools.

Re: Jennifer Chew OBE reviews Clark's book, 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M.Clark

Posted: Wed Dec 13, 2017 2:23 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Literacy specialist John Bald makes reference to Stephen Krashen and Jonathan Solity (see message two places above this one) in his piece for Conservative Home:

John Bald: The alternative to phonics is guessing – which does not work ... -work.html

Our opponents were soon on the case, represented by Professor Steven Krashen from Southern California and Dr Jonathan Solity, followed by an ill-informed session on the BBC Daily Politics, presented by Jo Coburn and featuring Professor Sandra McNally of the LSE as the sceptic.

Professor Krashen’s theory of language learning – he calls it acquisition – has done great damage to language learning in schools, and neither he nor Professor McNally have carried out research into the teaching of reading. Dr Solity has his own reading scheme, which makes extensive use of learning words at sight and “real books”. In the BBC programme, Professor McNally was not challenged on her assertion that the benefits of phonics were washed out by the time children were 11 – the research shows otherwise – while Jo Coburn hit rock bottom with her comment that “everybody has learned to read in the past”. I replayed the clip to check that she really did say this. Professor McNally also produced the old chestnut about “different types of phonics”, as if there were no essential distinction to be made between the blending and word-building of the government’s approach, and word-breaking and guessing from the first letter used in “analytic phonics”.

I would like to comment, however, that John Bald is not entirely accurate in his description of practice about letters 't' and 'h' combined as 'th'. There may well be phonics programmes that introduce the word 'the' as a whole word, but they also teach the letter group 'th' as code for two sounds - voiced and unvoiced - as in the words 'this thumb'. John writes somewhat mistakenly:

One complication of early reading is that many of the most frequent words in the language cannot be blended by using the most frequent sound represented by one letter at a time. T in cat does not represent the same sound as the t in the, when it is combined with h. The standard approach is to teach these words as “sight” words, requiring children to suspend what they have just been taught. Most manage this, but a lot don’t, and I frequently have to teach children whose idea of phonics is sounding out each letter of a word and then trying to put them together – I currently have three such pupils.

I suggest that if learners do not recognise 'th' as a discrete letter group, this could reflect weak phonics teaching and weak practice, not necessarily the lack of introducing 'th' as a letter group in phonics programmes.

I agree whole-heartedly with John when he recommends this practice:

The solution is not to ask the child to suspend belief, but to add words like “usually”, or “most of the time” to the early teaching, and then to explain what happens when letters don’t behave as we expect.

I promote the following phrase when necessary to teach specific letter/s-sound correspondences of the alphabetic code: 'in this word' or 'in some words' or 'in these words'...

With this flexible approach in mind, I promote 'two-pronged systematic and incidental phonics teaching' and this is underpinned by the constant use of overview Alphabetic Code Charts. I've written about incidental phonics provision and the use of Alphabetic Code Charts: ... andout.pdf

And although we're wandering off topic somewhat, I've provided a link to a wide range of free Alphabetic Code Charts for various users and uses here:

Re: Jennifer Chew reviews 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M.Clark) + more on denial

Posted: Wed Dec 13, 2017 5:29 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
I am cross-referencing this thread to another featuring Sir Jim Rose's response to Professor Greg Brooks and Margaret Clark and, generally, other phonics detractors:

Sir Jim Rose responds to Professor Greg Brooks: 'War and Peace in Reading - Time for a truce?'


Re: Jennifer Chew reviews 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M.Clark) + more on denial

Posted: Tue Jan 30, 2018 1:20 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Margaret Clark's collaborative book 'launched' in Scotland.

You can see what we are up against - there will be no-one at this event pointing out the errors in understanding of the academics who have contributed to this book. No wonder Anne Glennie is having such a hard time to penetrate the block to good systematic synthetic phonics teacher-training in Scotland: ... 58?aff=es2


You are invited to the Scottish launch of Professor Clark's edited book Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning, an English-Australian collaboration which focuses on the imposition of the synthetic phonics method on England's primary schools and the recent attempt to have this adopted across Australia. The presentation will highlight flaws in the research used to justify this, and misleading data derived from the Phonics Screening Check. The nature of 'synthetic phonics' teaching will be explained, and contrasted with rich and well-established practices of situating phonics teaching in the enjoyable experience of picture books.

Below is the thread featuring Anne Glennie and others raising awareness about the urgent need in Scotland to introduce truly evidence-informed teacher-training in Scotland - I describe this as a 'must watch' video because the evidence and issues raised in the testimony of Anne, Gordon and Sarah are relevant to any settings where the English language is taught to include reading and writing:


Re: Jennifer Chew reviews 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M.Clark) + more on denial

Posted: Mon Mar 05, 2018 12:40 am
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Thanks to John Walker of Sounds-Write, flagging up Alison Clarke's review of M. Clark and co.'s book - and more: ... more-22407

Alternative facts about phonics

I’ve just read a new e-book called Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning, edited by Margaret M Clark OBE, a UK Visiting and Emeritus Professor who the About The Editor section says “has undertaken research on a wide range of topics and has developed innovate (sic) courses”.

Its announcement elicited some e-eye-rolling from members of the Developmental Disorders of Language and Literacy Network, and jovial suggestions that others buy, read and comment on it, but apparently I’m the only one with nothing more important to do (sigh).

Also on my reading list at the moment is The Influential Mind, about how to persuade people in the face of Confirmation Bias, our tendency to ignore or dismiss evidence that’s not consistent with what we already believe. Confirmation Bias is why presenting scientific data to the climate sceptic in your life never works. You can watch a video about it here.

Re: Jennifer Chew reviews 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M.Clark) + more on denial

Posted: Tue Mar 13, 2018 12:09 am
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Dr Kerry Hempenstall flagged up this study linking the benefits of early phonics and vocabulary acquisition for later reading comprehension:

“In this study, researchers examined the extent to which several fundamental measures of reading proficiency from kindergarten students (N = 3180) were linked to reading comprehension in tenth grade while controlling for third grade vocabulary and oral reading fluency. Analyses tested the direct and indirect relations between and among kindergarten, third grade, and tenth grade measures. Results showed significant direct effects from kindergarten nonsense word fluency and letter naming fluency to tenth grade reading comprehension, along with significant indirect effects of kindergarten nonsense word fluency and vocabulary to tenth grade reading comprehension. Findings suggest that fundamental precursors maintain strong impact upon reading comprehension into the secondary school years. (p. 133) …

Findings from this analysis lend partial support to key literacy theory. For instance, support is lent to the SVR framework—particularly decoding—in relation to reading proficiency measures linked with decoding skills and vocabulary acquisition in kindergarten impacted reading comprehension in tenth grade. Results underscore the need for researchers and practitioners to carefully consider reading proficiency in kindergarten. Moreover, the DIME [direct and indirect mediation] model suggests fundamental reading skills and vocabulary acquisition support text-processing skills, which in turn impacts the ability to comprehend text in later years. The findings from this study would appear to support the notion that indirect effects are apparent between fundamental literacy skills and vocabulary in early elementary school, and consequent reading comprehension in secondary school. In this particular case, third grade ORF perhaps being indicative of text-processing skills. The results from this study may also help inform theories and approaches to identification of learning disabilities (LD) and subsequent intervention given that some of the first signs of difficulty may be apparent in kindergarten. To illustrate, discrepancy models necessitate an achievement test of reading to be administered and evaluated prior to LD detection, which may take considerable time. This lag may cause parents and teachers to lose valuable time in supporting students who need support. In the context of reading, decoding skills can be enhanced well before formal reading assessments may be administered (e.g., Spencer et al., 2014). Therefore, there is evidence that meaningful assessments may be made before some form of ‘‘failure’’ is apparent. Other contemporary methods of intervention, including response to intervention and hybrid approaches similarly benefit from incorporating early decoding skill assessments; not only in terms of enhancing proximal reading outcomes such as third grade ORF, but also distal measures of reading comprehension in secondary school. These may be particularly important given the most commonly reported LD appears to be specific to reading skills (Fuchs, Fuchs, Mathes, Lipsey & Roberts, 2002). (p. 148-149)

Stanley, C.T., Petscher, Y., & Catts, H. (2018). A longitudinal investigation of direct and indirect links between reading skills in kindergarten and reading comprehension in tenth grade. Reading and Writing, 31, 133–153

Re: Jennifer Chew reviews 'Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning' (ed. M.Clark) + more on denial

Posted: Mon Jul 30, 2018 8:46 am
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Published in the free NOMANIS magazine, Sir Jim Rose reflects on the ongoing debate about official promotion of systematic synthetic phonics and a national phonics check with reference to Clark's and Brooks' opinions:

War and Peace in reading: how about a truce? ... -JUL18.pdf

...On the face of it, two recent papers, seem to be another attempt to stir the porridge in Australia and in England. The first, by Greg Brooks, argues forcibly that Australia should resist the temptation to introduce a version of England’s Phonics Screening Check (PSC)1. The second is one of a brigade of papers in a recent book edited by Margaret Clark2, a long-standing critic of the Reading Review (Rose 2006), who seems to be mired in an unreconstructed, Plowdenist view of primary education.

Australia is debating the value of a Phonic Screening Check for their schools and is wisely drawing upon rich seams of national and international academic expertise and professional practice to inform their decisions. This paper
focuses upon Clark’s book and the paper by Brooks in the case of England. In passing, however, it is perhaps worth saying that the PSC is turning out to be an exceptional initiative in England, not least by providing a very strong incentive for schools and teachers to verify their judgements and keep children’s progress in phonics under review.

Do read Jim's full piece, and then read the other great articles in this edition of NOMANIS: ... -July-2018