Friday 13 July 2012

Education now: research-free zone? Stephen Krashen's case

We desperately need to be talking about  the question of whether these 3 major changes in education concerning:

1) learning to read
2) spelling
3) grammar

are being implemented with or without evidence to support the changes. Our children's experience of schooling is about to change drastically. Two years of intensive phonics is being implemented now, costing England's school budget millions of pounds.  The new Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation test (SPAG) will fundamentally affect primary school education. We are entitled to know if this is going to benefit them or not. 

(As it happens, I think the essential 'push' of these changes coincides with what is going on in Science education  where truly experimental science (including predictive, speculative elements etc)  is about to be abolished for years 1-4 (5-9 year olds) even though many children of this age do this at the moment. 

People reading this blog will know my views on this (see previous blogposts).

I've been in correspondence with Professor Stephen Krashen from the University of Southern California.

Here's his wikipedia entry:

His university entry is here:

On June 10 the Daily Telegraph (UK) published this article:

Stephen replied with the following letter (not published) which he is quite happy for me to publish here:

Research-free policy in language education
Sent to the Telegraph (UK), June 10. (Not published)

In “Children will learn to recite poems by heart from age of 5,” (June 10), we are told that schools in England will put greater emphasis on spelling, grammar and phonics instruction in order to insure that children “leave primary school with a strong command of both written and spoken English, with high standards of literacy”.

Education Secretary Gove and his staff are clearly unaware of some very well-established results: (1) studies done over the last 100 years show that spelling instruction has very little effect on spelling accuracy; (2) studies done over the last 100 years show that the formal study of grammar does not improve students’ reading and writing; (3) studies done over the last 25 years show that systematic intensive phonics study only helps children do better on tests in which they pronounce lists of words out-loud. It has no significant effect on tests in which children have to understand what they read.
The best way to make sure students “leave primary school with a strong command of both written and spoken English, with high standards of literacy” is to encourage wide self-selected reading, which is only possible when all children have access to reading material.
Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California


If anyone reading this believes that they know of research evidence which contradicts anything that Stephen Krashen is saying here, do get in touch and let's have a debate about it. 

You can reach me on twitter, facebook or at my email

Here's today's handy slogan to take away with you:

Teaching phonics teaches children to decode. It doesn't teach them to read for meaning.