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The case of a low achiever

Pupil AF started school a year late, primarily due to difficulties in language development. He could not recognise that a word was made up of discrete sounds and was unable to give a single rhyme for a spoken word. His only indication of any literacy skills was being able to give the name of one letter of the alphabet.

For two terms, he and his classmates were taught using analytic phonics and phonemic awareness training (to recognise the different sounds in words). At the end, AF was still a non-reader, had no phonemic awareness or rhyme ability, could only give 3.8 per cent of letter names and knew no letter sounds.

His class then moved on to the synthetic phonics programme, completing it by the end of P1 but continuing to use the teaching and learning methods in subsequent years.

At the end of P2, the researchers Rhona Johnston and Joyce Watson found that AF had a reading age of 5.6 years but his spelling age was still 5.0 years, meaning he was not able to spell.

In P3, his reading age was 6.1 years. He did not sit the spelling test.

By January of P4, his reading age was 6.8 years, his spelling was 7.0 years and his phonemic awareness and non-word reading scores were 100 per cent correct. At this point, AF did the Phonics Revisited programme.

In the second term of P5, his receptive vocabulary knowledge was tested. He scored 75, whereas the average was 100.

By the end of P5 his word reading was 9.2 years, his spelling age 8.9 years and his reading comprehension was 8.0 years. This performance was considered quite creditable given that the average age of his class was 9.7 years, although as AF had started school late, he was almost a year older.

By the end of P6, his reading age was 10.2 years and his spelling age 10.1 years, but this meant he was still lagging behind his actual age (11.4 years).

Then AF started a programme of advanced blending skills which took a more visual approach to spelling.

At the end of P7, when he was 12.4 years old, his reading age was 13.1 years and his spelling 10.5 years. His reading comprehension, however, had fallen back to 7.1 years, perhaps because the effort involved in reading left little processing capacity for comprehension. AF is now going through progressive procedures to help with this.

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