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E801:Action 1.20: A tale of early phonics in early reading in England

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Action 1.20: A tale of early phonics in early reading in England

Hall, K. (2007) Literary policy and policy literacy. In Solar, J., Fletcher-Campbell, F. & Reid, G. (2009) Understanding Difficulties in Literacy Development: Issues and Concepts. London, Sage.

What lies at the heart of the analytic and synthetic phonics debate?

Synthetic phonics - sounding out and blending. Concentrates on phonemes

Analytic phonics/analogy phonics - perceiving patterns and drawing inferences. Taught key words with common spelling patterns (onsets and rimes)

Both statistically indistinguishable (Togerson et al., 2006)

What factors does Hall identify as being responsible for 'phonics winning out'?

Media coverage of Clackmannanshire

A seemingly simple solution was very attractive

Support by all parties

Where would you position yourself in relation to this debate?

I believe that phonics are important for all learners to decode words. I hated the real books approach but it was successful for many learners because they simply taught themselves to decode words using phonics. It was unsuccessful for those who had any problems with the process including visual, aural or social.

I do think that learners need to be motivated, enthusiastic and involved in the process of learning to read. Whole word methods can be preferable to synthetic phonics as they have more relevance for the learner and also encourage interest and comprehension.

However one approach does not suit all learners and a mixture of methods is preferable. How does this work in practice with 30+ students in a class with one TA? I have no idea. I think that if we are going to have large class sizes, then we have to use structured, whole class teaching. This means that there will have to be a focus on one method of teaching and, if this is the case, then phonics has to be the method. This will result in a high percentage of learners being functionally literate, although there is some evidence that they no longer enjoy reading. Functionally literate is what we need to look good in international comparisons and to produce a reasonably effective workforce. We do have to realise that one method does not fit all and there will be failures in this method. We can use schemes such as reading recovery to pick up the pieces of some of the learners when it fails them and thus force percentages even higher but we have to recognise that there will still be people who do not achieve functional literacy without individual help and still others who will never achieve it.


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