As much as I loved my graduate level professors, I have found their approach to teaching reading…problematic. I remember beginning my year teaching third grade bilingual, working with children who needed to learn to read in English. At the time, as I was prepping my classroom in the portable building, one of the paraeducators was shocked at my actions. “You aren’t going to teach phonics?”

I remember chuckling, and saying, “No, that’s not the way it’s done anymore.” But, now, I know better. Fortunately, all but one of my students knew how to read. My Writing/Reading Workshop approach worked and they learned to read and write in spite of my ignorance.

Phonics Works

Now, I know that I should have learned how to teach phonics. This was driven home when I read Nate Joseph’s piece, A Meta-Analysis and Literature Review of Language Programs.


  1. Despite the fact that this meta-analysis was conducted 20 years after the National Reading Panel meta-analysis, with studies included up to 2022, I found the identical mean effect size for phonics, of .45. I also conducted a secondary meta-analysis of 13 phonics meta-analyses conducted over the last 25 years, which found a mean effect size of phonics, of .43.
  2. Phonics interventions showed efficacious results, both for early primary instruction, and for older students with reading deficits. This suggests that students should receive phonics instruction during their foundational education years and that if they miss this instruction that they benefit from getting it later on.
  3. Phonics heavy programs outperformed Balanced Literacy programs across all grades, and sample types. Indeed phonics programs showed roughly double the impact for grades 1-2, at risk learners, and class based instruction. This research does not show support for the use of Balanced Literacy programs, over phonics focused programs, in any context.
  4. The data showed higher outcomes for shorter phonics studies, and for longer balanced literacy studies.
  5. one logical explanation might be that phonics programs might work more efficiently. As teaching students to memorize large amounts of words takes more instruction, it makes sense that Balanced Literacy programs might take longer to show a positive effect for students, as it is an in-efficient method for instruction. Whereas, some students might learn how to decode from phonics quite quickly and the phonics programs might show diminishing returns over time.

Nate writes a bit more, but these are the parts that jumped out at me as most profound. And, that I had to spend some time worrying at, a dog with a bone.