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Opinion
Reading & Literacy Letter to the Editor

More Books, Not More Phonics

January 11, 2021 1 min read

To the Editor:
A study published by a digital learning company shows that 40 percent of participating 1st graders who took the DIBELS test this fall are below grade level in early literacy skills, “particularly around phonics,” and need intensive intervention to catch up from “COVID-slide” (“Students’ Reading Losses Could Strain Schools’ Capacity to Help Them Catch Up,” Dec. 15, 2020).
The testing revealed gaps in “phoneme segmentation and letter sounds.” Does this mean the children need more phonemic awareness and phonics training?
Neither phonemic-awareness training nor intensive phonics instruction results in better reading comprehension, as discussed in my 2001 and 2009 articles published in Perceptual and Motor Skills and Knowledge Quest, respectively. But studies show that children improve in reading comprehension as a result of reading in areas of great interest to them, according to my research with Jeff McQuillan. Unfortunately, many students living in poverty have less access to books at home, at school, and in local libraries.
In the 2017 book that I co-authored with Christy Lao and Sy-Ying Lee, Comprehensible and Compelling: The Causes and Effects of Free Voluntary Reading, an analysis of studies of 10-year-olds from 40 countries shows that poverty is the strongest predictor of reading achievement in grade 4. It also shows that access to books (school libraries) can reduce or even balance the negative effect of poverty, a result consistent with the findings of Keith Curry Lance and Debra E. Kachel. Reading instruction (usually phonics) had either no effect or a negative effect.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.

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A version of this letter appeared in the Jan. 13, 2021 edition of Education Week as “More Books, Not More Phonics.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 13, 2021 edition of Education Week as More Books, Not More Phonics

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