Beyond Phonics: The Case for Teaching Children the Logic of the English Spelling System

Jeffrey Bowers, Peter Bowers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)
1019 Downloads (Pure)


A large body of research supports the conclusion that early reading instruction in English should emphasize phonics, that is, the teaching of grapheme-phoneme correspondences. By contrast, we argue that instruction should be designed to make sense of spellings by teaching children that spellings are organized around the interrelation of morphology, etymology and phonology. In this way, literacy can be taught as a scientific subject, where children form and test hypotheses about how their spelling system works. First, we review arguments put forward in support of phonics and then highlight significant problems with both theory and data. Second, we review the linguistics of English spellings and show that spellings are highly logical once all the relevant sub-lexical constraints are considered. Third, we provide theoretical and empirical arguments in support of the hypothesis that instruction should target all the cognitive skills necessary to understand the logic of the English spelling system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-141
Number of pages18
JournalEducational Psychologist
Issue number2
Early online date7 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2017

Structured keywords

  • Language
  • Cognitive Science


  • Morphology
  • Phonics
  • Reading
  • Dyslexia
  • Literacy instruction


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