Linguistic Phonics

In 2021, I had the opportunity and pleasure to interview the esteemed Dr. Steve Truch of the Reading Foundation. Similar to Bowers, Truch shared the criticism of traditional phonics instruction for being too focused on the sounds letters make. As both Truch and Bowers point out, the English language often has multiple letters and letter combinations that can make the same sounds. While Dr. Bowers has focused his instructional strategies on the meanings associated with different sounds/letter combinations (morphology) Dr. Truch has focused his instruction on teaching sounds before letters, an approach referred to in the literature as linguistic phonics. So for example, rather than teaching the letter F and its correlated sound, Dr. Truch would teach the F phoneme and the associated letters/digraphs that can make this sound. Whereas, Dr. Bowers would teach the meaning/context behind each letter combination that makes the F sound. I have to admit, the linguistic phonics approach made a lot of intuitive sense to me, and appears easier for teachers to learn/implement.

Unfortunately, the only  Linguistic Phonics program I could find high quality research on was the Reading Simplified program by Dr. Marnie Ginsberg. While there are no studies directly studying the program, Dr. Marnie Ginsberg informed me that the program was based on a previous program she created called Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI) which includes “the same instructional framework, word work activities, and diagnostic thinking”. She was also kind enough to provide me with a bibliography of studies conducted on TRI, which I then used to conduct a meta-analysis.

 

For studies, which an effect size had already been calculated, I accepted the authors original calculations. When no effect size was available, I calculated my own using Cohen's d. To the best of my knowledge, there have been 8 studies conducted on TRI, half of which were co-authored by Dr. Ginsberg. Overall, I would say that it is fair to call the quality of the research high, as all of these studies have sample sizes above 100, a few have sample sizes in the thousands and over half of these studies were randomized control trials. Moreover, all of these studies were on grades kindergarten to one, which is when phonics interventions have been shown to have the highest impact. 

 

Results: 

The results of this meta-analysis found the Reading Simplified program outperformed the average effect of a phonics intervention, by a statistically insignificant amount. That being said, the studies included in this analysis were above average quality, which might have deflated the effect found, in comparison to other phonics studies. Moreover, because these studies were of such high quality, we can be more certain in the validity of these outcomes. 

 

One issue with this research is the lack of consensus on what constitutes linguistic phonics. While Dr. Truch identified the Lovett approach, Jolly Phonics approach, and the Orton Gillingham approach as linguistic phonics; not everyone in the linguistic phonics space appears to agree with his assessment, as not all proponents of these programs use an exclusively speech to text approach. The new Phono-Graphix approach might be a more purist version of the concept; however, there have been no high quality studies on Phono-Graphix yet to evaluate its efficacy. 

 

Ultimately, I think we can see a continuum of difficulty and conceptual accuracy with the different types of phonological instruction. Analytic phonics requires the least direct instruction and expertise, whereas phonological instruction that includes morphological instruction likely requires the most expertise and direct instruction. Additionally, I think it is fair to say that the types of instruction that require more expertise, are also more conceptually accurate. This inevitably creates a trade-off between ease of implementation and conceptual accuracy. I think linguistic phonics appears to offer a good trade-off between these two factors and therefore, could prove to be pedagogically valuable. That said, one criticism of the linguistic model is that the model requires teaching a far more complex version of the phonetic code than a standard synthetic program. Some morphology experts like Lyn Stone have suggested to me that this too might be problematic, because it requires students to learn a large number of grapheme phoneme correspondences, without connecting them to meaning. 

Phonological Continuum.png

References:

-NRP. (2001). Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence Based Assessment of the Scientific Literature on Reading Instruction. United States Government. Retrieved from <https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf>.

 

-Hurford, D. P., Lasater, K. A., McMahon, A. B., Kiesling, N. E., Carter, M. L., & Hurford, T. E. (2013). The Results of a Scripted Linguistic Phonics Reading Curriculum Implemented by Kindergarten Teachers. Journal of Educational Research & Policy Studies, 13(3), 33–50.