Friday, February 23, 2018

Phonics and reading: Some basics

Submitted for publication

A recent (2018) ILA report, “Explaining phonics instruction: An educator’s guide” provides an incomplete and often unclear picture, in my view, of what educators need to know about phonics, and about learning to read in general.

The report claims that phonics is an “essential part of instruction in a total reading program.”  Essential? Perhaps, but certainly not the main thing.

Here is my alternative report:
(1) Only simple rules of phonics can be consciously learned: The complex rules have many exceptions and are not even clear to many teachers and scholars.
(2) Knowledge of the simple rules of phonics can make texts more comprehensible and thus help in reading development. Contrary to popular opinion, no reading expert or organization forbids the teaching of some phonics rules.
(3) Readers’ knowledge of most phonics rules is the result of reading, not study.
(4) Children’s performance on tests of phonics (eg pronouncing words in isolation) is not related to eventual reading competence.
(5) The best way to insure that young children become good readers is through hearing stories. This builds vocabulary and grammar knowledge and encourages a reading habit, by far the best way of developing reading ability, writing competence, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling.
(6) The real problem in developing readers Is providing access to books. For many children of poverty, the library is their only source of books.

A few references (none of these authors are mentioned in the ILA report.)
(1) Smith, F. 2004.  Understanding Reading, especially pp. 281-282.
(2) Ibid, pp. 152.
(3) Goodman, K. 1993, Phonics Phacts, Heinemann, chapter five.
(4) Garan, E. 2002. Resisting Reading Mandates. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann; Krashen, S. 2009. Does Intensive Decoding Instruction Contribute to Reading Comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74,
(5) Krashen, S. Lee, S.Y. and Lao, C. 2017. Comprehensible and Compelling: The Causes and Effects of Free Voluntary Reading. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited. ABC-CLIO, LLC.
(6) Neuman, S. and Celino, D. 2001. Access to print in low-income and middle-income communities. Reading Research Quarterly 36(1): 8-26. 

1, and 3: “…phonics instruction should aim to teach only the most important and regular of letter-to-sound relationships … once the basic relationships have been taught, the best way to get children to refine and extend their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences is through repeated opportunities to read. If this position is correct, then much phonics instruction is overly subtle and probably unproductive” (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott and Wilkinson, 1985, p.38; Becoming A Nation of Readers.)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Comments on "dual immersion"

 Feb. 17, 2018
An edweek blog is dedicated to “dual immersion.” I just posted four comments:  

1.    Elizabeth Beltran gives me undeserved credit: Jim Cummins, not Stephen Krashen, informed us that the development of academic competence in a second language takes more than one to two years.

2.    I worry about Elizabeth Beltran’s recommendation that we need “continuous data” on progress in bilingual programs.  This can be misread as a demand for constant standardized testing. How about “continuous feedback”? This would include teacher reactions, by far the most valid source of information.

3.    I appreciate Conor Williams’ remarks about terminology.  I submitted this letter to Language Magazine recently:
I have a suggestion that might improve communication among language educators as well as communication between language educators and the public.  
   For language education professionals, the term “immersion” usually means subject-matter instruction through a second language, with efforts made to make sure the language used is comprehensible to students. For the public, however, “immersion” generally means “submersion,” surrounding yourself with the target language, whether comprehensible or not. I suggest we simply stop using the term “immersion.”
   “Dual language” is used in two ways: It could mean “bilingual education” in general or it could mean a specific program known as “two-way” bilingual education.  I suggest we avoid confusion by dropping the term “dual language” and using either “bilingual education” or “two-way bilingual education.”
   And please, let’s avoid creative but even more confusing terminology such as  “dual immersion” and “bilingual immersion.”

4.    Margarita Calderon recommends direct instruction in vocabulary, reading strategies, syntax, phonics and lots of writing “practice.”  We have gathered a great deal of evidence of the years that much, maybe all, of this is the results of self-selected pleasure reading.  In addition, there is growing evidence that students who develop a reading habit in English do not become long-term ELLs. 

 (Many of my papers on this and related topics are available for free download at This includes Krashen, S. 2005. The acquisition of English by children in two-way programs: What does the research say? In V. Gonzales and J. Tinajero (Eds.) Review of Research and Practice, National Association for Bilingual Education, vol 3: 1-19.  AND Dow, P., Tinafero, J. and Krashen, S.  2011. A note on English language development in one-way and two-way bilingual programs.  TABE Journal 13(1): 82-87.)

Friday, February 2, 2018

Aliens and Language Acquisition: Some Preliminary Comments

Stephen Krashen (1)
It is possible that alien (non-human, from other worlds) language will be completely different from human languages. McKenna (1991) has suggested that aliens are already here and are already communicating with (some of) us: the aliens are psilocybin mushrooms and communication happens when we eat them.
Science-fiction writers often assume that at least some aliens will use ordinary human-type language, or languages that are easily translated into human language by translating devices.
The universal translator of Star-Trek has little trouble doing this, acquiring and translating at the same time. Its occasional problems and hesitations reveal that it operates on the principle of comprehensible input: the translator does not try to produce and then adjust its system when the communication fails (comprehensible output) nor does it get corrected. Rather, it listens and understands, and gradually acquires the system (see e.g. Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Episode 30: Sanctuary). (2)  
A great deal of communication with aliens has been reported in accounts of UFO alien abductions. In the vast majority of cases, communication from alien to human is telepathic (e.g. Fuller, 1966, Jacobs, 1998). It is not clear whether the aliens understand spoken human language; Jacobs argues that human-alien communication is also telepathic ( Clearly, research in this area has only begun.
1.    These comments were originally part of Krashen, S. 2009. The Comprehension Hypothesis extended. In T. Piske and M. Young-Scholten (Eds.) Input Matters in SLA. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. pp. 81-94. The outrageous price of the book, however, made it difficult to access.
2.    In general, Star Trek gets a mixed report card on language acquisition theory. In the first episode of the series Star Trek Enterprise, Ensign Sato was observed using a version of the audio-lingual method in teaching an alien language at Star Fleet academy (Star Trek Enterprise, Episode 1: Broken Bow). But in a subsequent episode, Sato presented a perfect portrayal of a Monitor over-user (Krashen, 1981), hesitant to speak without a firm conscious knowledge of the grammatical system of an alien language. Captain Archer persuaded her that the survival of the Enterprise was more important than the subtleties of the future tense.
Fuller, J. (1966) The Interrupted Journey. New York: Berkley Publishing Corporation.
Jacobs, D. (1998) The Threat. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Krashen, S. (1981). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. New York: Prentice-Hall. (Available at www.
McKenna, T. (1991) The Archaic Revival. New York: HarperCollins.