Research questions phonics policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Feb 1 14:29:33 UTC 2006

Story from BBC NEWS:

Research questions phonics policy

Research has questioned the impact of synthetic phonics teaching, which
was backed by a government literacy review.  The government-commissioned
research said synthetic phonics improved reading accuracy, but its effects
on spelling and understanding were inconclusive. The systematic use of
phonics teaching should be in "a judicious balance"  with other elements,
the report said. The government said synthetic phonics would be taught in
England "within a broad and rich language curriculum".

'Fast and first'

The research, jointly carried out by the universities of York and
Sheffield for the Department for Education and Skills, said evidence to
support synthetic phonics over the analytic method was inconclusive. "The
review found no evidence for the superiority of either synthetic or
analytic phonics instruction over the other," the report said. One of the
authors of the report, Dr Carole Torgerson from the University of York,
said: "It could be the case that synthetic phonics is more effective, but
we would like to see a large trial undertaken in the UK because the
evidence base is very weak."

The researchers studied 12 randomised controlled trials to analyse reading
accuracy, four trials to consider the effects on comprehension, and three
to analyse spelling. In December, former Ofsted director Jim Rose's review
called for a greater use of synthetic phonics, saying it should be used
"fast and first" in primary schools. He said there was general agreement
that phonic work is "essential though not sufficient" in learning to read.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said she accepted his recommendations. Dr
Torgerson said: "I am not saying Jim Rose is wrong, but in terms of the
evidence base from randomised controlled trials we have concluded that we
can't say which method we would recommend."

'Positive impact'

Debate has continued about the best way to teach phonics - which involves
teaching the sounds of letters and their combinations rather than the
letters of the alphabet. Synthetic phonics teaches children to then blend
those individual sounds together to form words, whereas analytic phonics
teaches children how to work out the common sounds and letters in a group
of words, e.g. push, park, pet, pen. But the report acknowledged the
positive impact of phonics on literacy:  "Systematic phonics instruction
within a broad literacy curriculum appears to have a greater impact on
children's progress than whole language or whole word approaches."

Phonics should be a "routine part of every literacy teacher's repertoire
and a routine part of literacy teaching", the report said. A spokesperson
for the Department for Education and Skills said the government backed the
interim Rose report: "This individual research report echoes the findings
of Jim Rose's interim report, which makes clear that systematic teaching
of phonics, set within a broad and rich language curriculum, is key," the
spokesperson said. Mr Rose's final review on phonics is expected early
this year, and will inform the re-drafting of the government's literacy
strategy, planned for 2007.
Published: 2006/01/31 18:48:27 GMT

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