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Publication - Professor Jeffrey Bowers

    The importance of correctly characterising the English spelling system when devising and evaluating methods of reading instruction

    Comment on Taylor, Davis, and Rastle (2017)

    Citation

    Bowers, J & Bowers, P, 2018, ‘The importance of correctly characterising the English spelling system when devising and evaluating methods of reading instruction: Comment on Taylor, Davis, and Rastle (2017)’. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Series A Human Experimental Psychology, vol 71., pp. 1497-1500

    Abstract

    Taylor, Davis, and Rastle employed an artificial language learning paradigm to compare phonics and meaning-based approaches to reading instruction. Adults were taught consonant, vowel, and consonant (CVC) words composed of novel letters when the mappings between letters and sounds were completely systematic and the mappings between letters and meaning were completely arbitrary. At test, performance on naming tasks was better following training that emphasised the phonological rather than the semantic mappings, whereas performance on semantic tasks was similar in the two conditions. The authors concluded that these findings support phonics for early reading instruction in English. However, in our view, these conclusions are not justified given that the artificial language mischaracterised both the phonological and semantic mappings in English. Furthermore, the way participants studied the arbitrary letter-meaning correspondences bears little relation to meaning-based strategies used in schools. To compare phonics with meaning-based instruction it must be determined whether phonics is better than alternative forms of instruction that fully exploit the regularities within the semantic route. This is rarely assessed because of a widespread and mistaken assumption that underpins so much basic and applied research, namely, that the main function of spellings is to represent sounds.

    Full details in the University publications repository