Researchers Compare Literacy Instruction Methods

An alternative method of teaching children to read through intensive phonics may not be as effective as originally anticipated given the results of a new study which tested Edmonton children as they advanced through their first three years of primary school.

Principal researcher Dr. Linda Phillips, Director of the Canadian Centre for Research on Literacy at the University of Alberta, and two colleagues compared the progress of primary students in seven schools using the Meaningful Applied Phonics (MAP) Program to a similar population of students attending schools employing a more balanced reading program.

The researchers concluded that MAP students would have performed better in learning to read had they been taught in a more balanced approach. The findings led the authors to recommend that new teaching programs not be introduced without rigorous and timely scientific evaluation before and during trials.

“Support for research such as this that has been provided by EPSB (Edmonton Public School Board) is critically important for the very reason that it has the potential to uncover surprising and perhaps unwanted findings,” writes Dr. Phillips in the report. “Unwanted findings are just as important as desired ones in supporting educational policy. We commend EPSB for its openness to research scrutiny … and hope that their openness serves as a model to other school districts in the country.”

The research, reported in Meaningful Applied Phonics: A Longitudinal Early Literacy Study, was undertaken on behalf of the Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education (SAEE), a non-profit Canadian education research agency. Funding was provided by the Donner Canadian Foundation, Edmonton Public Schools, Royal Bank Foundation, HSBC Bank Canada, Teck-Cominco, Coca Cola Canada, Investors Group and an anonymous donor.

Copies of the report may be obtained from SAEE. The executive summary is available online here.