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Why Johnny Can't Read--And What You Can Do About It
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Why Johnny Can't Read--And What You Can Do About It

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  268 ratings  ·  34 reviews
The classic book on phonics--the method of teaching recommended by the U.S. Department of Education. Contains complete materials and instructions on teaching children to read at home.
Paperback, 240 pages
Published January 7th 1986 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published October 28th 1966)
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This is a highly opinionated book. It is inflammatory. Mr Flesch believes the educational system is completely misguided in their approach to reading. Although schools now say they use a 'balanced literacy' approach, locally our schools still follow the same outdated sight-words methods.. and Mr Flesch hit the nail on the head.

I loved it.

As a parent to a sight-words failure, this information is exactly what I needed. And it explains a number of issues my 'good' reader had as well (couldn't spell
Anna Mussmann
Jun 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is on the syllabus for a class I wish I could take but can’t, so I read it as a sort of consolation prize.

It’s the classic text on why it’s (much, much) better to teach children phonics than to use the whole-language approach that dominated American public schools for a number of decades and still persists, to varying degrees, today. Until recently I had assumed that all modern schools have reinstated phonics, but my observation of local instruction (based on non-scientific evidence l
Sep 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education, classics
I am a strong advocate for teaching kids how to read using the phonics "method." I put method in quotes, because, until I came to live in the States (I grew up and went to school in France), I didn't know that there was any other method for teaching alphabet-based languages. But apparently there is.

When I went to school to get my grades 1-8 teaching certification, we were given an overview of the various ways of teaching reading. When I got my first job as a 3rd grade teacher, I found out that t
Feb 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: moms and people who want to teach reading.
Shelves: nonfiction
Reading fascinates me. I went to college to prepare to teach young children to learn to read. In the end the math won out because it is so much more fun to teach all the way through school, and I really belong with older students.

This book is really important because it tries to show through the author's own experiments how much more effective phonics is than sight reading. This book was written in 1955 and newer experiments should be conducted to verify Flesch's results.

This book also includes
Jeff Ford
Great book! I found chapter two most enlightening. It is interesting that we tend to view knowledge as something that can be constantly improved upon. Education is constantly reinventing itself but not always for the better. I think the phonics approach as explained by Flesch makes perfect sense.
Jul 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
I am reading this now, even though C is 2, so that i can be "in the know" when she's ready to learn to read. While it is outdated by many years, its message is a good one...that teaching phonics thoroughly first is the easiest and most successful route to a good reader (and speller!!!!) and not just a good guesser of words. He includes a helpful section in the back of his book for use at home. Thanks for the recommendation, Gina! I can clearly see why you emphasized its importance. :) ...more
Kristen Rudd
Apr 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This might have just become my top recommendation for parents who are interested in homeschooling their kids. I don't know where the whole language vs. phonics debate stands now, decades after this was written, but I am one hundred percent sold on phonics. If you have kids or are interested in education, read this book. I'm buying this one as soon as I can get to a bookstore. ...more
May 25, 2012 rated it liked it
I've been wanting to read this for awhile. Basically it's going to be a book about why teaching kids phonics is better than teaching them the look-and-say method when teaching beginning reading. I'm already a firm believer in phonics, but I'm reading this book to find out more about why phonics works so well and the look-and-say method doesn't. ...more
Nov 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Classic on reading, & best book for teaching reading to one's children, family & friends. Builds on phonetic approach to learning. Very hands on, good explanatory exercises. Used this to teach my own children to read as toddlers; all were reading before 4 years old, consistently read above grade level in school, and are adults who share a love of reading. ...more
Jia Jung
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The only reason I read this book is because my father was taught how to read from it (why this came about is a whole 'mother story)….and I'm so glad I did.

Flesch's impassioned writing had so much more verve and currency to modern language than one could ever expect out of a manual of English language and instruction, much less one written in the 1955. Also, everything he said was very true in a dire time; the dark ages between the 1920s and sometime around the 60s when the entire American educat
Zalee Harris
Jun 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Regardless to age, Johnny and Twanna need to be taught life skills and be re-taught how to read using the purest form of phonics. Yes, whether Johnny or Twanna is 3 or 30, they need to be taught how to sound out the alphabet. They need to learn and understand the vowels. They need to learn to read properly formed sentences. They need to learn how to use the dictionary and thesaurus. When Johnny and Twanna can start learning on their own, they will want to learn more. Once they are able to self-l ...more
Jessica Bingham
May 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult
I must remember to buy this book when I have children. The reading exercises listed are so easy to follow. This book was written over 60 years ago and the information is still relevant. I also liked that Durham and Wake county school test results were listed from the 1930's. Interesting read!! ...more
Oct 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Awww, lol! ;P I randomly thought about this book; it must have been good because it taught me how to read. So many nostalgic memories. I do recall though that I did not enjoy learning from that book one bit, and I even hid it from my mom sometimes; *sigh* the struggles of childhood- I wish my biggest problems were still easy things like having to learn to read :P
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fascinating read about American methods to teach reading. Amazingly, the whole word method is still widely used in public schools across the country despite the research and evidence against it. I'm glad to see that the teaching methods Flesch suggest are utilized by our homeschool curriculum, A Beka. ...more
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A badly-needed book to combat the idiotic methods teachers use to teach reading in American schools. A section at the back allows the concerned parents to take matters into their own hands and teach the kids themselves, if they have to. And these days, they do have to.
Aaron Slack
Nov 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education
An absolutely fantastic introduction to and summary of phonics, as well as a critique of look-say and whole language.
Aug 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Goodbye Dick and Jane!!! Thank goodness someone out there is reasonable when it comes to proper reading education. :)
Jun 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very dated, but fascinating. Especailly interesting to note that remedial reading classes aren't necessary in Western Europe because the children are taught phonics from the get-go. ...more
Random Scholar
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I heard of this book when I was researching conservative theorists for an education class. I finally got around to reading it and I can say that every educator needs to read this book. In "Why Johnny Can't Read" Flesch talks about the common movement that was hurting reading instruction in elementary schools all across North America; that was the word method. In the word method, students learn to read purely from memorizing what individual words say upon sight. This seems fine but once students ...more
Shannon Marshall
Jun 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
I thought this was a very intriguing and compelling case for why schools should teach phonics.

At times, I think the writer included his own opinions too factually (ex: saying that girls can read better than boys cause they're "a little less revolted" by the word guessing method and that if we just taught phonics everyone would be on the same page. He did say "I think" at the start of the sentence by still...)

Overall, I found this really useful and illuminating.
Nikki Baker
Jul 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Great read if you are interested in the Whole-Language vs. Phonics debate (or the Reading Wars). This books holds a place in that conversation and brought critical pieces to light in the 1950s. However, if you are interested in current Phonics research and instruction there are things more relevant.
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was the first book I ever read. Well, I didn't read the whole book until I was an adult, but I read the word lists in the back. That is how I could read before starting first grade and why I felt such utter anger/bitterness/contempt/disgust/exasperation toward the idiotic Dick, Jane and Sally books they used at my school. ...more
Tabitha C
Nov 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent explanation! I wish I had read this book several years ago. Great for parents of public schoolers or homeschoolers. Recommend by Don Potter, who has many free resources available for this method.
Shaun Keating
Mar 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A well researched and comprehensive study of the mechanics behind reading and writing.

Phonics is the answer.
Sight word reading is not.

I will be teaching my students, and children this method to equip them with the skills and love of reading and writing that ever person should possess.
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
the method of teaching kids to read with phonics in 6 week is very helpful starting point.
Rebeca Cruz
May 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Informative. Pretty good.
Kathleen Maliksi
Required reading for work book 6
Samantha Penrose
Dec 29, 2008 rated it did not like it
I completely disagreed with everything that this man had to say aside from the fact that phonics kids grow up to be better spellers! He is merely a lawyer arguing his point as if it is fact. That is his job after all. He fully admits that kids who learn using the immersion technique are more fond of reading for enjoyment and have better comprehension. I see no point in rushing the process of learning to read if you cant understand and don't enjoy what you read. He brags about kids that can read ...more
Roseanne Wilkins
May 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Hebrew is read right to left and then left to right, following the natural movement of the eye. It makes sense to read that way, but English isn't read the same way. According to Rudolf Flesch, teaching our children to read starts out with training their brains to work from left to right. At the back of the book are reading and writing exercises so you can teach your kids to read yourself. Although I sent most of my kids to public school and didn't teach them to read myself, the book was a great ...more
I agree with the overall argument that phonics is the best way to teach children how to read. However, the tone of this book is often condescending, superior, and self-righteous. It is clear this book was written in the 1950s and is full of unsubstantiated claims and propaganda. A quick read, but dull and repetitive when he is preaching to the choir. Read it for my diss on child rearing in the 1950s or I would have put it down after the first chapter.
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From Wikipedia,

Rudolf Flesch (8 May 1911 – 5 October 1986) was an author, readability expert, and writing consultant who was an early and vigorous proponent of plain English in the United States. He created the Flesch Reading Ease test and was co-creator of the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test. He was raised in Austria and finished university there, studying law. He then moved to the United States

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