Skip to main content

Explicit instruction provides dramatic benefits in learning to read

Explicit instruction provides dramatic benefits in learning to read

  • Date26 February 2021

Research led by academics at Royal Holloway and published in Psychological Science, contributes to an intense debate about how best to teach children to read.

Book, hand, sky, reading, pages - English Literature

Researchers from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, taught adults intensively over two weeks to read in a new language, printed in unfamiliar symbols, and then measured their learning with reading tests.

The results from the study showed that providing explicit instruction on how to interpret the symbols had a dramatic impact on learning, relative to a teaching method in which learners were allowed to discover this information through reading experience.

Explicit instruction is a core feature of the phonics method of teaching children to read. Phonics is part of the National Curriculum in England, but there is debate about whether explicit instruction is necessary in learning to read, and whether pupils are able to learn simply through their experiences with text.

Professor Kathleen Rastle, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, said: “Our results were really striking. By the end of the two weeks, virtually all learners who had received explicit instruction were able to read words printed in the unfamiliar symbols.

“In contrast, despite up to 18 hours of experience with the new languages, less than 25% of our discovery learners reached the same standard, and some showed very poor learning.”

These results are relevant to plans to help children catch up on their learning following recent school closures.

Professor Rastle continued: “Initial reports suggest that school closures during the pandemic have had a substantial negative impact on children’s reading attainment.

“Reading is the foundation for children’s learning throughout their schooling; for this reason, the learning loss that we are seeing is very concerning and has the potential for lifelong consequences.

“The provision of evidence-based instructional methods has never been more important.  Our research highlights the significance of explicit instruction in ensuring that all pupils have the opportunity to develop strong reading skills.”

Related topics

Explore Royal Holloway

Get help paying for your studies at Royal Holloway through a range of scholarships and bursaries.

There are lots of exciting ways to get involved at Royal Holloway. Discover new interests and enjoy existing ones

Heading to university is exciting. Finding the right place to live will get you off to a good start

Whether you need support with your health or practical advice on budgeting or finding part-time work, we can help

Discover more about our 21 departments and schools

Learn more about the School of Law and Social Sciences.

They say the two most important days of your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why

Discover world-class research at Royal Holloway

Discover more about who we are today, and our vision for the future

Royal Holloway began as two pioneering colleges for the education of women in the 19th century, and their spirit lives on today

We’ve played a role in thousands of careers, some of them particularly remarkable

Find about our decision-making processes and the people who lead and manage Royal Holloway today