Phonics - A Bibliography
Material on this page was derived from an excellent summary of phonics research that was compiled by the SRA division of McGraw-Hill, Inc., to whom we are very grateful. You can find out more about SRA educational products by calling 800-843-8855. Many of the conclusions and summaries here were ultimately derived from meta-research conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). This page was produced by the I Can Read! after-school reading program.
Research News Release
The National Reading Panel (a Congressionally mandated independent panel) has recently completed the most comprehensive-ever review of reading research, and it has released its recommendations regarding reading instruction. You can read the panel's conclusions by visiting our highlighted copy of the National Research Panel Summary, or you can read the summary directly on the web site of the National Institute of Child and Human Development. At I Can Read!, we've been following the recommendations of the research community very explicitly since the day we opened - which is why our incredible success is not so surprising!
Assertion: Focused instruction in decoding (phonics) is more effective than instruction that does not provide a decoding focus.
In reporting results of 25 acceptable studies undertaken between 1900 and 1960, Chall(1,2) concluded that focused instruction in phonics was more effective than instruction without this focus, in teaching students word recognition, oral reading, and spelling. These findings held for both low performers and normally-achieving students.
Research reported by Dykstra(3) on end-of-school-grade effects, and Bond and Dykstra(4) on end-of-first-grade effects, confirmed the superiority of a phonics approach in teaching word recognition and spelling. Dykstra's later work(5) supported his earlier conclusions.
Two other research studies by Jeffrey et. al. and Polloway et. al.(6,7) found that a phonics program resulted in significantly better reading comprehension than other programs.
Haskell et. al.(8) found that students who received explicit training in letter-sound correspondence were more accurate on word recognition tests consisting of both regular and irregular words than students who received whole word training or no training.
Dieterich(9) concluded that "one of the few conclusions of reading research in which we can have a high degree of confidence is that earlier and more systematic instruction in phonics is essential".
In Becoming a Nation of Readers(10), the national Commission on Education reviewed the research on reading and concluded that adopting a phonic (code emphasis) approach to reading instruction in America would greatly improve literacy, saying, "Classroom research shows that, on the average, children who are taught phonics get off to a better start in learning to read than children who are not taught phonics. The advantage is most apparent on tests of word identification, though children in programs in which phonics gets a heavy stress also do better on tests of sentence and story comprehension, particularly in the early grades".
Adams(11) was commissioned by the National Center for the Study of Reading to comprehensively review all the research on reading. She concluded that the research supports phonic approaches for initial reading instruction. One of the criteria in selecting Adams for the task was that she was perceived as having had no vested interest in any particular approach to reading instruction.
Stahl and Miller(12) reviewed the research comparing whole language and language experience approaches with other approaches and found "strikingly larger effects for systematic phonics used in first grade" (p. 108). Stahl, McKenna, and Pagnucco(13) updated that analysis, noting that little whole language research involves comparisons.
Stanovich(14) reports that when he began his 20-year career as a reading researcher he believed that meaning-emphasis programs would prove to be better for comprehension. Through his own research he became convinced otherwise. "That direct instruction in alphabetic coding facilitates early reading acquisition is one of the most well established conclusions in all of behavioral science" (p. 285).
Foorman (15) reviewed the research on the great debate and concluded, "empirical evidence favors explicit instruction in alphabetic coding" (p. 388). Baker and Stahl(16) emphasize the importance of explicitly teaching alphabetic coding.
(1) Chall, J. (1967), The Great Debate. New York: McGraw-Hill.
(2) Chall, J. (1983). "Literacy: Trends and Explanations", in Educational Researcher, 12, 3-8.
(3) Dykstra, R. (1968). "Summary of the second-grade phase of the cooperative research program in primary reading instruction", in Reading Research Quarterly, 4, 49-70.
(4) Bond, G., Dykstra, R. (1967). "The cooperative research program in first grade reading instruction", in Reading Research Quarterly, 2, 5-142.
(5) Dykstra, R. (1974). "Phonics and beginning reading instruction", in C.C. Walcutt, J. Lamport & G. McCracken (Eds.): Teaching reading: A phonic/linguistic approach to developmental reading. New York: Macmillan.
(6) Jeffrey, W., Samuels, S. (1976). "Effect of method of reading training on initial learning and transfer", in Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 6, 354-358.
(7) Polloway, E., Epstein, M., Polloway, C., Patton, J., Ball, D. (1986). "Corrective reading program: An analysis of effectiveness with learning disabled and mentally retarded students", in Remedial and Special Education, 7, 41-47.
(8) Haskell, D.W., Foorman, B.R., Swank, P.R. (1992). "Effects of three orthographic/phonological units on first grade reading", in Remedial and Special Education, 13, 40-49.
(9) Dietrich, P. (1973). Research 1960-70 on methods and materials in reading. (Quote excerpted from p. 7). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. ERIC Clearinghouse on Tests, Measurement and Evaluation (TM Report 22).
(10) Anderson, R., Hiebert, E., Scott, J., Wilkinson, I. (1985). Becoming a nation of readers: The report of the commission on reading. Washington DC: National Institute of Education.
(11) Adams, M. (1988). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
(12) Stahl, S., Miller, P. (1989). "Whole language and language experience approaches for beginning reading: A quantitive research synthesis", in Review of Educational Research, 59, 87-116.
(13) Stahl, S., McKenna, M., Pagnucco, J. (1994). "The effects of whole language instruction: An update and reappraisal", in Educational Psychologist, 29, 175-185.
(14) Stanovich, K. (1994). "Romance and reality", in The Reading Teacher, 47(4), 280-291.
(15) Foorman, B. (1995). "Research on 'the great debate': Code oriented versus whole language approaches to reading instruction", in School Psychology Review, 24(3), 376-392.
(16) Baker, S. Stahl, S. (1994). "Beginning reading: Educational tools for diverse learners", in School Psychology Review, 23(3), 372-394.
Assertion: Phonemic awareness should be taught explicitly.
Research on phonemic awareness has found the following types of tasks to have a positive effect on reading acquisition and spelling(1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9):
Lack of phonemic awareness seems to be a major obstacle for some children in learning to read (10,11). Explicit phonemic awareness instruction is more effective than implicit instruction(3). In a study by Ball and Blachman(1), seven weeks of explicit instruction in phonemic awareness combined with explicit instruction in letter-sound correspondences for kindergarten children was more effective than instruction in letter-sound correspondences alone and more effective than other language-related activities conducted by the control group.
(1) Ball, E.W., Blachman, B.A. (1991). "Does phoneme awareness training in kindergarten make a difference in early word recognition and developmental spelling?", in Reading Research Quarterly, 26(1), 49-66.
(2) Byrne, B., Fielding-Barnsley, R. (1989). "Phonemic awareness and letter knowldege in the child's acquisition of the alphabetic principle", in Journal of Educational Psychology, 81(3), 313-321.
(3) Cunningham, A.E. (1990). "Explicit versus implicit instruction in phonological awareness", in Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 50-, 429-444.
(4) Lie, A. (1991). "Effects of a training program for stimulating skills in word analysis in first-grade children", in Reading Research Quarterly, 26(3), 234-250.
(5) Lundberg, I., Frost, J., Petersen, O. (1988). "Effects of an extensive program for stimulating phonological awareness in preschool children", in Reading Research Quarterly, 23(3), 263-284.
(6) O'Connor, R.E., Jenkins, J.R., Slocum, T.A. (unpublished). "Unpacking phonological awareness: Two treatments for low-skilled kindergarten children".
(7) Smith, S., Simmons, D., Kameenui, E. (1995). Synthesis of research on phonological awareness: Principles and implications for reading acquisition. Technical report #21 produced for the National Center to IMmprove the Tools of Educators, University of Oregon.
(8) Vellutino, F.R., Scanlon, D.M. (1987a). "Phonological coding, phonological awareness, and reading ability: Evidence from a longitudinal and experimental study", in Merrill-Parlmer Quarterly, 33(3), 321-363.
(9) Yopp, H.K. (1988). "The validity and reliability of phonemic awareness tests", in Reading Research Quarterly, 23(2), 159-176.
(10) Vellutino, F.R., Scanlon, D.M. (1987b). "Linguistic coding and reading ability", in Advances in Applied Psycholinguistics (1-69). New York: Cambridge University Press.
(11) Wagner, R., Torgesen, J. (1987). "The nature of phonological processing and its causal role in the acquisition of reading skills", in Psychological Bulletin, 101, 192-212.
Assertion: Each letter-sound correspondence should be taught explicitly.
Phonemic awareness alone is not sufficient for many children. Explicit instruction in common letter-sound correspondences is also necessary(1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9). Over the years an enormous amount of research effort has gone into evaluating whether instruction-specific letter-sound correspondences was important for reading acquisition. The two famous reading research reviews by the Commission on Reading(10) and Adams(1) both concluded that the research supported an explicit-phonics approach. Similar conclusions were drawn from yet another analysis of existing research(11) and in a longitudinal study on reading comprehension acquisition(12).
Two types of findings generally emerge from the specific studies with normally achieving students. The majority of studies find that explicit phonics achieves better results than implicit phonics(13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23). Another group of studies finds no differences(24,25). A study by Putnam & Youtz(26) initially found results favoring an implicit approach, but by second grade the explicit phonics group significantly outperformed the implicit phonics group on a measure of reading comprehension.
Several studies found explicit phonics more effective for low-performing, at-risk, or special education students of varying ages(27,28,29,30).
Taken together, these findings indicate that although explicit instruction in letter-sound correspondences does not seem necessary for every group of children, it is for others. On the other hand, implicit phonics instruction offers no known advantage over explicit phonics. Because explicit phonics instruction never seems to hurt and often seems to help, one can conclude that a reading program that teaches letter-sound correspondences explicitly will better meet the needs of all students.
(1) Adams, M. (1988). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
(2) Ball, E.W., Blachman, B.A. (1991). "Does phoneme awareness training in kindergarten make a difference in early word recognition and developmental spelling?", in Reading Research Quarterly, 26(1), 49-66.
(3) Byrne, B., Fielding-Barnsley, R. (1989). "Phonemic awareness and letter knowldege in the child's acquisition of the alphabetic principle", in Journal of Educational Psychology, 81(3), 313-321.
(4) Mann, V.A. (1993). "Phoneme awareness and future reading ability", in Journal of Learning Disabilities, 26(4), 259-269.
(5) Rack, J.P., Snolwing, M.J., Olson, R.K. (1992). "The nonwoard reading deficit in developmental dyslexis: A review", in Reading Research Quarterly, 27(1), 29-53.
(6) Spector, J.E. (1995). "Phonemic awareness training: Application of principles of direct instruction", in Reading & Writing Quarterly, II, 37-51.
(7) Stanovich, K.E. (1986). "Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy", in Reading Research Quarterly, 21(4), 360-407.
(8) Vellutino, E.R. (1991). "Introduction to three studies on reading acquisition: Convergent findings on theoretical foundations of code-oriented versus whole-language approaches to reading instruction", in Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(4), 437-443.
(9) Vellutino, E.R., Scanlon, D.M. (1987). "Linguistic coding and reading ability", in Advances in Applied Psycholinguistics (S. Rosenberg, Editor, pp. 1-69). New York: Cambridge University Press.
(10) Anderson, R., Hiebert, E., Scott, J., Wilkinson, I. (1985). Becoming a nation of readers: The report of the commission on reading. Washington DC: National Instutute of Education.
(11) Pflaum, S., Walberg, H.J., Karigianes, M.I., Rasher, S.P. (1980). "Reading instruction: A quantitative analysis", in Educational Researcher, 12-18.
(12) Meyer, L. A., Hastings, C.N., Wardrop, J.L., Linn, R.L. (1988). "How entering ability and instructional settings, not the length of the school day, mediates kindergartners' reading performance". Final report submitted to the OREI.
(13) Carnine, D. (1977). "Phonics versus look-say: Transfer to new words", in Reading Teacher, 30(6), 636-640.
(14) Gettinger, M. (1986). "Prereading skills and achievement under three approaches to teaching word recognition", Journal of Research and Development in Education, 19(2), 1-9.
(15) Grant, E.M. (1973). "A study of comparison of two reading programs (Ginn 360 and DISTAR) upon primary inner city students." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Washington.
(16) Haddock, M. (1976). "Effects of an auditory and an auditory-visual method of blending instruction on the ability of prereaders to decode synthetic words", in Journal of Educational Psychology, 69, 825-831.
(17) Haddock, M. (1978). "Teaching blending in beginning reading instruction is important", in The Reading Teacher, 31, 654-658.
(18) Hayes, R.B., Wuerst, R.C. (1967). "ITA and three other approaches to reading in the first grade - extended into the second grade", in The Reading Teacher, 20, 694-698.
(19) Hayes, R.B., Wuerst, R.C. (1969). "Four instructional approaches to beginning reading - three years later." Paper presented at convention of the International Reading Association, Boston. (ERIC document Reproduction Service No. ED 020-098).
(20) Jeffrey, W., Samuels, S. (1976). "Effect of method of reading training on initial learning and transfer", in Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 6, 354-358.
(21) Jenkins, J., Bausell, R., Jenkins, L. (1972). "Comparisons of letter name and letter sound training as transfer variables", in American Educational Research Journal, 9, 75-86.
(22) Lynn (1973). Basal reading program: Keys to reading (Research Report No. 73-144). Dallas, TX: Department of Research and Evaluation, Dallas Independent School District.
(23) Yawkley, T. (1973). "Attitudes toward black Americans held by rural urban white early childhood subjects based upon multi-ethnic social studies materials", in The Journal of Negro Education, 42, 164-169.
(24) Fox, B., Routh, D. (1976). "Phonemic analysis and synthesis as word-attack skills:, in Journal of Educational Psychology, 68, 700-74.
(25) Muller, D. (1973). "Phonic blending and transfer of letter training to word reading in children", in Journal of Reading Behavior, 5(3), 13-15.
(26) Putnam, L.R., Youtz, A.C. (1972). "Is a structured reading program effective for disadvantaged children?", in Reading World, 12, 123-135.
(27) Biggins, C., Uhler, S. (1979). "Is there a workable decoding system?", in Reading Improvement, 16, 47-55.
(28) Enfield, M.L. (1976). An alternative classroom approach to meeting special learning needs of children with reading problems", unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota.
(29) Richardson, E., Winsberg, G.G., Binler, I. (1973). "Assessment of two methods of teaching phonics skills to neuropsychiatrically impaired children", in Journal of Learning Disabilities, 10, 628-635.
(30) Williams, J.P. (1980). "Teaching decoding with an emphasis on phoneme analysis and phoneme blending", in Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 1-5.
Assertion: High frequency letter-sound relationships should be taught early.
Burmeister (1) synthesized a number of studies evaluating the utility of the 100 to 200 phonic generalizations that were taught in traditional basals. Most of the traditional phonics rules did not generalize well enough to justify teachering them; there were more exceptions to the rule than instances of the rule. Others were rarely used in words the children read in children's literature (e.g. "sc" sounds like /sss/ as in "scene"). She identified a smaller set of approximately 45 letter-sound correspondences that had a utility rate high enough to justify instruction. By learning only one sound for each unique letter or pair of letters, children could decode 95% of the sounds in the preceding five sentences and would reach close approximations for 98% of the sounds. The rules used to sequence the introduction of letter-sound correspondences have been evaluated in comparative research(2).
(1) Burmeister, L. (1975). "Words-from print to meaning", in Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
(2) Carmine, D. (1980). "Two letter discrimination sequences: High confusion alternatives first versus low-confusion alternatives first", in Journal of Reading Behavior, 12(1), 41-47.
Assertion: Sound-blending should be taught explicitly.
Coleman(1) noted that blending is a strategy that students can apply to many different words, but direct instruction in the blending strategy using many sounds is necessary before students will acquire the generalized skill. Skailand(2) and Silberman(3) reported that if subjects are taught sound-symbol relationships but not blending, they will not use sounding out as a decoding strategy. Others (4,5,6,7) reported that teaching letter-sound correspondences and sounding out resulted in students' correctly identifying more unfamiliar words than when students were trained on a whole-word strategy. Yet others (8,9) found that only when blending is directly taught will students successfully use a sounding-out strategy for attacking words.
(1) Coleman, E. (1970). "Collecting a data base for a reading technology", in Journal of Educational Psychology Monograph, 61(4), Part 2.
(2) Skailand, D. (1971). "A comparison of four language units in reaching beginning reading", a paper presented to the American Educational Research Association, New York.
(3) Silberman, H. (1964). "Exploratory research on a beginning reading program", Santa Monica, CA: System Development Corporation.
(4) Bishop, C. (1964). "Transfer effects of word and letter training in reading", in Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 3, 214-221.
(5) Jeffrey, W., Samuels, S. (1976). "Effect of method of reading training on initial learning and transfer", in Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 6, 354-358.
(6) Carnine, D. (1977). "Phonics versus look-say: Transfer to new words", in Reading Teacher, 30(6), 636-640.
(7) Vandever, T. Neville, D. (1976). "Transfer as a result of synthetic and analytic reading instruction", American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 30, 498-503.
(8) Haddock, M. (1976). "Effects of an auditory and an auditory-visual method of blending instruction on the ability of prereaders to decode synthetic words", in Journal of Educational Psychology, 69, 825-831.
(9) Chapman, R., Kamm, M. (1974). "An evaluation of methods for teaching initial sound isolation", ERIC document ED-0660231.
Assertion: Every oral reading error should be corrected.
Pany and McCoy (1) found that third grade children with reading disabilities who made a large number of errors during reading (10-15%) significantly improved their word recognition and comprehension scores when given immediate feedback on every single error. When corrective feedback was provided after every error, the children made significantly fewer errors overall, significantly fewer meaning-change errors during reading of the passage, significantly fewer errors on lists of error words presented on an immediate and delayed basis, and significantly fewer errors on passage-comprehension questions. Simply receiving feedback on errors that altered the meaning of the passages had no effect.
(1) Pany, D., McCoy, K. (1988). "Effects of corrective feedback on word accuracy and reading comprehension of readers with learning disabilities", in Journal of Learning Disabilities, 21(9), 546-550.
Assertion: Code-based readers should be used during early instruction.
In 1978, Beck and McCaslin analyzed eight reading programs and found that the meaning-emphasis programs they reviewed were between 0% and 13% code based. In reviewing the problems of a whole language approach, Foorman(1) commented, "Thus, to the extent that meaning-oriented programs include instruction in phonic principles, there is little opportunity to practice applying these principles in connected reading. On the other hand, just because a program is described as a phonics program, one cannot assume that there will be a good match between phonic generalizations taught and opportunity to exercise the generalization in text."
Singer, Samuels, and Spiroff(2) compared three procedures for introducing new words: words in isolation, words in sentences (context), and words with pictures. Both context and picture cues slowed acquisition. During the beginning reading stage, students often are not proficient enough in decoding to benefit from context clues(3,4) and, in fact, the context clues may draw their attention away from the task of decoding. In a review of the research on using pictures to facilitate student learning of a sight vocabulary, Samuels(5) found that pictures hamper performance. The experiments usually compared two groups - one in which a picture appeared with each word and one without pictures. When pictures accompanied the words, students required longer to reach criterion and made more errors than when pictures were not present. More recent research tends to confirm these findings(6). Contrary findings do not test the students on word identification without the pictures(7). Since the pictures were always present in this contrary research, the students may have learned nothing more than picture reading.
Although Goodman(8) found that students correctly identified more words when they were presented in context (rather than in isolation), other researchers did not replicate this effect(9). Gibson and Levin(10) also conclude that the sooner a child learns that what he/she says is determined by the letters that make up the words, the better: "Many children start school with the notion that reading is speaking with books open in front of them ... the earlier the realization by the child that what he says must be determined by what is printed, the better is the prognosis for early reading achievement."
(1) Foorman, B. (1995). "Research on 'the great debate': Code oriented versus whole language approaches to reading instruction", in School Psychology Review, 24(3), 376-392.
(2) Singer, Samuels, Spiroff (1973). "The effect of pictures and contextual conditions on learning responses to printed words", in Reading Research Quarterly, 9(4), 555-567.
(3) Groff, P. (1976). "Sequences for teaching consonant clusters", in Journal of Reading Behavior, 4, 59-65.
(4) Hochberg, J. (1970). "Components of literacy: Speculations and exploratory research", in H. Levin & J.P. Williams (editors), Basic Studies on Reading. New York: Basic Books.
(5) Samuels, S.J. (1970). "Effects of pictures on learning to read, comprehension, and attitudes", in Review of Educational Research, 40, 397-408.
(6) Harzem, P., Lee, I., Miles, T.R. (1976). "The effect of pictures on learning to read", in The British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, 318-322.
(7) Denberg, S.D. (1976). "The interaction of picture and print in reading instruction", in Reading Research Quarterly, 12(2), 176-189.
(8) Goodman, K.S. (1965). "A linguistic study of cues and miscues in reading", in Elementary English, 42, 639-643.
(9) Williams, P., Camine, D. (1978). "Introducing words in lists and in isolation", unpublished manuscript, Project Follow Through, University of Oregon.
(10) Gibson, E.D., Levin, H. (1975). The Psychology of Reading. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.