The Phono-Graphix is a simple phonics program originating from the 90’s and created by Carmen and Geoffrey McGuinness. Unlike other language programs, it only covers phonics, and does not teach other areas of language. Interestingly, unlike most phonics programs, Phono-Graphix uses inquiry based learning rather than direct instruction. Instructors are told to explain to students that a phonetic code exists, but rather than explain that phonetic code, instructors are given games and activities that are supposed to help students learn the phonetic rules.
I searched for studies on the topic, on Google, the company website, Education Source, and Scholar's Porta. To the best of my knowledge, there are 4 quantitative studies done on Phono-Graphix and no meta-analyses. However, none of these studies have control groups and two of these studies have inappropriately small sample sizes. I conducted my own meta-analysis of the topic. However, the results of this meta-analysis can not be directly compared to the results of my previous language program meta-analyses, as the inclusion criteria had to be substantially weaker. Because the study quality was so poor for this meta-analysis, any interpretations made need to be done with deep skepticism.
Carmen, 1996: This study had a sample size of 87 students, aged 6-16. Students in the study received on average 9 hours of one on one instruction. All students were selected, because they had a reading disability, or were at-risk readers. The results for some of the outcomes in this study were suspiciously large, with multiple outcomes showing effect sizes above 2. While effect sizes this large are sometimes found, it's rare to find multiple examples within a single study.
Endress 2007: This study has a sample size of 193 students, aged 6-17. Students received 80 hours of instruction. Students were chosen because they were low level readers or Dyslexic. Interestingly, while Endress did not have a control group, they used average test scores as a hypothetical control group. While the Endress results showed a large effect size for just comparing pre and post results, compared to the hypothetical control group, their effect size was negative. For my effect size, I took a mean of their results without a control group and with a hypothetical control group.
Duncan 2002: This study had a sample of 10 grade 5 students. Students received 24 hours total of instruction. I had to exclude the decoding results from this study, as the small sample size led to the absurdly high effect size of 6.32. For the record, effect sizes of higher than 1.99 are referred to as “super effect sizes” and are generally viewed as suspiciously large, especially if those results are from individual studies.
Duncan 1998: This study was the pilot study for Phono-Graphix. It had a sample size of 14 grade 5 students. The students included in the study were extremely low level readers. Students in this study received 10 hours of small group instruction.
Normally, I would exclude any study from my analysis that does not have a control group. However, to the best of my knowledge there are no Phono-Graphix studies with a control group. This means that the effect sizes found for Phono-Graphix are very likely inflated. That being said, Most of the research conducted was on older students, and phonics programs typically show low results for older students. Moreover, all of the students were low level readers. To put this in comparison, the NRP found a mean ES for phonics interventions with low level readers in grades 2-6, of .15, which is not statistically significant. Whereas this meta-analysis found an ES of 1.27 for the same outcome. While not having a control group likely explains some of this discrepancy, I doubt it can explain all of it. There does seem to be some evidence here, that Phono-Graphix produces above average results for low level readers in junior grades.
That being said, I would not be comfortable recommending Phono-Graphix to anyone for several reasons. Firstly, there are no high quality studies on its efficacy. Secondly, the program does not include any instruction outside of phonics. Thirdly, the program is an inquiry based program, which goes against what we know about the science of reading in general.
Final Grade: B-
-The program principles are evidence-based, but there were no direct studies with control groups found
Qualitative Grade: 1/5
The program includes 1 evidence based strategy: phonics.
Disclaimer: Please note that this review is not peer reviewed content. These reviews are independently conducted. Pedagogy Non Grata, does not take profit from conducting any program review found on this website.
Written by Nathaniel Hansford: teacher and lead writer for Pedagogy Non Grata
Last Edited 2023-04-04 *standard deviations weighted by sample size.
Duncan, E. (1998) Brook Knoll School Pilot Study. Retrieved from <https://www.phono-graphix.com/pdfs/research/brookknollpilot.pdf>.
Carmen, Et al. (1996). A New Method for Remediating Reading Difficulties. Annals of Dyslexia, Vol. 46,1996. Retrieved from <https://www.phono-graphix.com/pdfs/research/OrtonAnnals.pdf>.
Endress, S. A. (2007). Examining the effects of Phono-Graphix on the remediation of reading skills of students with disabilities: a program evaluation. Education & Treatment of Children, 30, 2.
Duncan, Erin (2002): Meta Summary of International Phono-Graphix Research, paper presented to the HAAN Foundation
McLernon, H., Ferguson, J., & Gardner, J. (2005). Phono-Graphix: Rethinking the reading curriculum. In Learning to Read and Reading to Learn. E. Kennedy & T. M. Hickey (Eds.). Dublin, Ireland; Reading Association of Ireland.
Dias, K. & Juniper, L. (2002). Phono-Graphix - who needs additional literacy support? An outline of research in Bristol schools. Support for Learning 17, 1, 34-38
Wright, M. & Mullan, F. (2006). Dyslexia and the Phono-Graphix reading programme. Support for Learning, Volume 21, 77-84
Palmer, S. (2000). Assessing the benefits of phonics intervention on hearing impaired children's word reading. Deafness & Education International, 2, 3, 165-178.
Simos, P., et al (2007). Intensive instruction affects brain magnetic activity associated with oral word reading in children with persistent reading disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 40, 1, 37-48.
-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>.