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Phonics Evidence

This is not a definitive list of (synthetic) phonics research studies.

”The term “synthetic phonics” lacks what, in scientific terminology, is known as an “operational definition.”
(D. McGuinness)

1999. Stuart. M. Synthetic phonics teaching improves reading and spelling in inner-city second language learners.

2001. The effect of phonics instruction on the reading comprehension of beginning readers

2004. ‘Accelerating the development of reading, spelling and phonemic awareness skills in initial readers’.
Johnston & Watson.

2005. The Clackmannanshire study: A Seven Year Study of the Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment.

Rhona Johnston’s ppt. slides on the Clackmannanshire study

Long-term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching on the reading and spelling ability of 10-year-old boys and girls.

2005. ”An Australian study by Christensen and Bowey (bit.ly/30xedZM) found significant advantages for systematic synthetic phonics over analytic phonics in reading and spelling for students in their second year of school”

Sound~Write’s longitudinal study of literacy development from 2003-2009, following 1607 pupils through KS1

2011. An empirical study using a synthetic phonics programme ‘Sound Discovery’ from YR-KS2 (700 children)
Note, ”dyslexia eliminated

Synthetic phonics and early reading development. ”A synthetic phonics approach may be particularly suitable for children starting school with weaker than average language skills (e.g., those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds)”.

2014. ”(S)pelling practice has been found to result in superior orthographic learning, relative to print exposure through reading alone”  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00117/full

2017. Phonics works. New research suggests that sounding out words is the best way to teach reading
”Results showed striking benefits of print–sound training on reading aloud, generalization, and comprehension of single words”

2018. Effectiveness of Preschool-Wide Teacher-Implemented Phoneme Awareness and Letter-Sound Knowledge Instruction on Code-Based School-Entry Reading Readiness
”Overall, preschool-wide, teacher-implemented, phoneme-focused PA and LSK instruction can support code-based reading readiness skills for children with SLD and TD”

2018. Machin et al ‘Changing How Literacy Is Taught: Evidence on Synthetic Phonics’
Good results (see p239) but the phonics programme used was the ERDP, not high quality phonics.

2019. Meta-analysis regarding the teaching of phonics to students with intellectual disabilities:
”Teaching decoding skills to students with intellectual disability can be challenging”
”Phonics instruction has a large overall effect size (g = 1.42) on their decoding skills.”

2020. Reconsidering the evidence that systematic phonics is more effective than alternative methods of reading instruction. Dr. J. Buckingham.

2020. ‘A 2020 Perspective on Research Findings on Alphabetics (PA & Phonics): Implications for Instruction’.
Prof. Susan Brady
”Phonics instruction is most effective with a synthetic method. The implications of research on phonics are ever more compelling. The studies that have been done with careful comparisons of analytic versus synthetic methods have shown strong advantages of synthetic approaches”

2021. Study showing the dramatic impact of direct instruction in learning to read over “discovery” learning.

Examining the evidence on the effectiveness of synthetic phonics teaching: the Ehri et al (2001) and C. Torgerson et al (2006) meta-analyses.
Rhona Johnston, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of Hull

Effectiveness of Treatment Approaches for Children and Adolescents with Reading Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.
”The results revealed that phonics instruction is not only the most frequently investigated treatment approach, but also the only approach whose efficacy on reading and spelling performance in children and adolescents with reading disabilities is statistically confirmed”

Three large-scale classroom (observational) research studies provide evidence about exactly which elements of instruction are effective, and which of those are not, when teaching children to read:

”Interestingly, it was found that out of these ten activities, only two were highly correlated with success in reading and spelling. These two were: ‘phonics’ (which included all phonics activities involving print, letter-sound correspondences, blending, segmenting, detecting sounds in words all with the printed form of the word), and ‘letter formation’ (which involved talking about the shapes of letters, writing letters and words in the context of learning letter-sound relationships). These were the only activities that mattered in terms of subsequent reading and spelling performance. However, equally important was the finding that six activities made no difference whatsoever to reading and spelling success, and two activities were actually related to worse reading and spelling achievement. The six activities that made no difference were: ‘Auditory phonological awareness’ (in the absence of print), ‘sight word learning’ (learning to recognise whole words as units without sounding out), ‘reading/grammar’ (grammar or punctuation explanations, reading by children that appeared to be real reading usually with the teacher), ‘concepts of print’ (learning about reading, chanting pattern books), ‘real writing’ (included any attempts to write text), ‘letter name learning’ (included only the learning of letter names, not sounds). The two activities that resulted in worse achievement were: ‘non-literacy activities’ (such as play, drawing, colouring, crafts), and ‘oral vocabulary’ (language development, story discussions, show and tell, teacher instructions).”

”One remarkable study conducted in 1985 by Carr and Evans in Canada showed this by recording ‘time on task’ for each individual child on 50 occasions per child over several months. They then correlated ‘time on task’ with each child’s reading-test score. They found that ‘ONLY three activities were positively and significantly correlated to reading skill: that is, the more time spent on these activities the higher the reading scores were. These are: practice segmenting and blending sounds in words (phonemes), specific phonics activities such as learning letter-sound relationships and writing words, phrases and sentences, by copying or from memory. The memorizing of sight words, lessons on vocabulary and grammar and listening to the teacher read showed strong negative correlations to reading scores – in other words, the more time children spent on these activities, the poorer their reading test scores were.” http://www.rrf.org.uk/archive.php?n_ID=173&n_issueNumber=59