1st Edition

The Balancing Act: An Evidence-Based Approach to Teaching Phonics, Reading and Writing

By Dominic Wyse, Charlotte Hacking Copyright 2024
    294 Pages 55 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    294 Pages 55 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Dominic Wyse and Charlotte Hacking present a ground-breaking account of teaching phonics, reading, and writing. Created from a landmark study, new research, new theory, and cutting-edge teacher professional development, this balanced approach to teaching seeks to improve all children’s learning, and therefore life chances.

    The book dismantles polarised debates about the teaching of phonics and analyses the latest scientific evidence of what really works. It shows, in vivid detail, how phonics, reading, and writing should be taught through the creativity of some of the best authors of books for children. By describing lessons inspired by ‘real books’, it showcases why the new approach is more effective than narrow phonics approaches.

    The authors call for a paradigm shift in literacy education. The chapters show how and why education policies should be improved on the basis of unique analyses of research evidence from experimental trials and the new theory and model the Double Helix of Reading and Writing. It is a book of hope for the future in the context of powerful elites influencing narrow curricula, narrow pedagogy, and high stakes assessments.

    The Balancing Act will be of interest to anyone who is invested in young children’s development. It is essential reading for teachers, trainee teachers, lecturers, researchers, and policy makers world-wide who want to improve the teaching of reading and writing in the English language.


    Chapter 1:
    The Reading Wars    

    Chapter 2:
    The Development of Reading and Writing     

    Chapter 3:
    How Texts Teach What Children Learn            

    Chapter 4:
    The Science of Teaching Reading and Writing


    Chapter 5:
    The Balanced Approach to Teaching Phonics, Reading and Writing            

    Chapter 6:
    Building the Foundations            

    Chapter 7:
    Cracking the Alphabetic Code    

    Chapter 8:
    Gaining Control

    Chapter 9:
    The Complexities of English

    Chapter 10:

    Chapter 11:
    Developing Fluency and Comprehension    

    Chapter 12:
    Meeting the Needs of All Pupils      

    Chapter 13:
    The Reader in the Writer    

    Chapter 14:
    A Better Future for Children’s Education      



    Dominic Wyse is Professor of Early Childhood and Primary Education at the Institute of Education, University College London, UK. Dominic is also the Founding Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Pedagogy (HHCP) at UCL

    Charlotte Hacking is Director of Learning and Programmes at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), UK.

    The Balancing Act is a masterful presentation of a timely resource, eloquently underscoring the importance of centring children's voices and experiences in literacy education. It advocates for a balanced approach that respects and responds to individual needs. The 'Double Helix of Teaching Reading and Writing' model presented in the book is particularly noteworthy. This sophisticated and innovative approach deserves empirical study to explore its full potential in teaching. The book brilliantly demystifies the often-misunderstood concept of the 'Balanced Approach,' distinguishing it from the 'Whole Language' method. Packed with evidence-based insights and actionable suggestions for educators, The Balancing Act stands as an essential read for anyone committed to truly understanding and implementing effective, child-centred education methods.”
    Hyejeong Ahn, Senior Lecturer in Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education, Australia

    “This is such an important book. It hacks through the thick undergrowth of research and angry contestation, carving out a clear and convincing path towards a balanced and well-evidenced approach to the teaching of reading. The newly minted metaphor of the double helix is ground-breaking but it’s not only the principles, ideas and research analysis that make this book so valuable. The practical exemplification, with chapters based on using specific picture books in the classroom, offers teachers a brilliantly thorough, detailed, carefully explained and convincing account of how to make the ‘balanced’ approach to reading work in practice. It also shows how to use the approach at different stages in the process, in a way that takes account of children’s differing ease and speed of development. The combination of illuminating use of research, principles based on experience, and intimate knowledge of classroom practices and texts for children, makes this is a key text in shaping our thinking about the teaching of reading, both now, and in the future.”
    Barbara Bleiman, English Consultant and former Co-Director at the English and Media Centre, UK

    “Wyse and Hacking's new book is a delight to read. They rightly stress the key importance of language skills, rhyming and singing for children's ability to build the foundation required to support phonics acquisition. Their selection of outstanding picture books for children along with insightful guidance about how to build different aspects of reading tuition around these books is probably unique and should ensure widespread impact.”
    Usha Goswami, Professor of Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience, University of Cambridge, UK.

    “Teachers in many classrooms today, and those who provide professional development for teachers, are faced with many challenges as they try to navigate top-down policies that define literacy narrowly and dictate what and how teachers should teach. This is particularly true for the teaching of phonics, and as a result other aspects of literacy, particularly writing, do not receive the attention they deserve. In The Balancing Act, Wyse and Hacking provide a resource that respects the professionalism of teachers by critically interrogating and discussing the interplay between reading policy, pedagogy and practice and promotes a sense of agency that is being lost in the midst of restrictive policy mandates. The focus on literacy as a complex process and the provision and use of authentic enjoyable materials and experiences as platforms to teach literacy is welcome.”
    Sinead Harmey, Associate Professor in Literacy Education, Institute of Education (IOE), University College London (UCL), UK.

    “This book brings a breath of fresh air to what have often become arid debates, where positions triumph over evidence, by providing an empirically informed theory of reading and writing.

    It is difficult to understand why something as crucial as teaching children to read and write has become linked in many countries in the English speaking world with almost Orwellian positions, e.g., phonics good or phonics bad. The opening chapter of this book provides a powerful analysis of where these countries are in reading development and the well-intentioned but commonly misinformed forces that influence how reading is taught.

    This book offers so much to the world of reading and writing.  It presents an innovative theory, the double helix of reading and writing. It provides an in-depth analysis of cutting edge thinking in and beyond education in the teaching of reading and writing. Crucially, it links theory and research to detailed examples of practice. The Balanced Approach to the teaching of reading and writing, advocated in this text, should be used to inform future policy and practice and this book should be a must for all teachers and policy makers who care about children’s success in reading and writing.”
    Louise Hayward, Professor of Educational Assessment and Innovation, University of Glasgow, Scotland.

    “This book introduces The Double Helix of Reading and Writing: an innovative, long-awaited antidote to the directive that prescriptive teaching of ‘systematic synthetic phonics’ must be the only way to teach reading. Through the connections with  robust research Wyse and Hacking call out the current system for the teaching of reading what it is: narrow. They then illustrate though planning and examples of practice how high-quality children’s literature can be used to teach and make links between reading and writing - at all times placing the child, their background, interests and prior knowledge at the centre of the approach. 

    This one is for all the teachers and teaching assistants who have had to sneak Real Books into reading lessons and children’s book bags, because they know that their children benefit so much more from a contextualized approach to the teaching of reading and writing - you were right all along! It is time to dust off your agency and professional judgement, to enable your children to immerse themselves in an engaging and infectious literacy-rich environment, where the teaching of reading and writing skills is interwoven in a meaningful way that makes sense to all concerned.”
    Gorana Henry, Primary PGCE Programme Leader & Primary and Early Years ITE Lead, Institute of Education (IOE), University College London (UCL), UK.

    “What is the best way to teach a child to read? Perhaps no other education-related question has generated so much attention, controversy, or divisiveness; and while some might see the question as simple, Dominic Wyse and Charlotte Hacking’s The Balancing Act: An Evidence-based Approach to Teaching Phonics, Reading and Writing, shows precisely why it is not. Firmly rooted in empirical research with a refreshingly deep appreciation for the art of teaching, the book demonstrates how the question is a nexus for social, political, linguistic, and cross-disciplinary concerns. The Balancing Act cuts through the crowded terrain of advice on the teaching of reading to clearly articulate and beautifully illustrate a model of pedagogy that promises to create the richest of opportunities for children’s reading and writing acquisition. The Double Helix of Reading and Writing model is imminently accessible to a range of audiences, including teachers, families, and policy-makers, yet it accounts for the myriad, complex factors that co-produce engaged and affirmed life-long readers. I cannot wait to share this achievement of literacy education scholarship with my own students and networks.”
    Rachel Heydon, Professor of Curriculum Studies and Studies in Applied Linguistics, Western University, Canada.

    The Balancing Act stands out as both thoughtful and insightful, offering an important contribution to the controversial field of literacy education. The authors consider the weight of evidence to explore the teaching and learning of literacy, mindful of the realities of children's lives, families, and interests. This book introduces an innovative approach, offering a valuable perspective for enhancing children's engagement as learners, readers, and writers. Its unique model successfully integrates the daily creativity, enthusiasm and joy of books and stories, the diverse identities of children, and a deep understanding of literacy learning from a range of viewpoints. Importantly, the authors undertake careful and transparent consideration of information, across debated topics, using multiple sources to dispel some well-rehearsed myths, appraise the empirical evidence and examine literacy learning from different angles.”
    Rebecca Jesson, Associate Professor in Literacy Education, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

    “This ground-breaking book is a must read for students, teachers and educators interested in a principled and evidence-based approach to the teaching and learning of reading and writing. The authors introduce an innovative new model for the effective teaching of reading and writing which puts the child, and their motivation and engagement, at the heart of their reading and writing development. This balanced approach to the teaching of reading and writing, underpinned by robust and principled research, breathes new life and creativity into what has been a pedagogy of conformity and compliance. The authors are experts in their field, and readers will be delighted with the extensive range of authentic children’s texts which are used to illustrate how the teaching of reading and writing can be achieved through a balanced approach where the professional autonomy of teachers is safeguarded, and the needs of children met. This book, its research and ideas should be welcomed wholeheartedly and give educators the confidence to readdress the teaching of phonics, reading and writing through a balanced approach with the child at the heart.”
    Roger McDonald, Associate Professor in Primary Education (Literacy), University of Greenwich, Past President of The United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA), UK.

    “Wyse and Hacking make a strong argument, notably grounded in longitudinal research, that a balanced approach to teaching reading is superior to heavy doses of synthetic phonics. Their focus on conventional experiments directly counters others who take a selectively narrow view of experimental evidence to support a claim that there is a “science of reading” leading inexorably to phonics as the essence of learning to read. Enhancing the authors’ case, and the scope of their argument, is an international perspective that is too often ignored or neglected. Their introduction of the Double Helix as a new model—actually, a new metaphor— for conceptualizing literacy development and how it can be achieved through balanced instruction is a substantive theoretical contribution to the field. More importantly, it is a useful framework to guide curriculum and instruction. Admirably, their book makes explicit the connections between the model, the research and theory supporting it, and instructional practice. Consequently, this book will be equally attractive to researchers and to teachers and others on the front line of teaching reading.  And, one can only hope, it may serve to disabuse many parents, journalists, and policy makers of the mistaken belief that phonics is the organic explanation for all success or failure in learning to read.”
    David Reinking, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Education, Clemson University, USA.

    The Balancing Act presents a refreshing perspective on an age-old debate. Wyse and Hacking skilfully dismantle the dichotomy of phonics versus whole language, advocating for a balanced approach that embraces the nuanced complexities of teaching reading and writing. The Double Helix of Reading and Writing model introduces a paradigm shift, prioritising children's diverse needs and experiences, empowering educators to create immersive and effective literacy-rich environments.

    This book doesn't just redefine teaching practices; it reignites the essence of literacy education by honouring the expertise of educators and fostering a genuine love for reading and writing among children.

    In a world polarised by educational ideologies, The Balancing Act stands as a beacon of evidence-based, inclusive pedagogy. Its emphasis on empirical research, coupled with practical examples, resonates profoundly, challenging conventional norms and offering a pathway towards a more holistic literacy education. This work inspires educators worldwide to embrace innovation while staying rooted in what truly matters: the joy of learning for every child.”
    Patrick Sullivan, Deputy Chief-Executive Officer, National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), Ireland.