For many teachers and their pupils, phonics is associated with dull exercises and unimaginative reading material. Some educationists even believed phonics could damage a child's reading development. However, phonics has now been firmly placed in the national curriculum for English, and accepted by most educationists working in the field.
New Key Phonics and Phonic Links (first published by Holmes McDougall as Letter-Links) are two very different sets of materials. New Key Phonics comprises a book of teacher's notes and eight children's workbooks. The teacher's book starts with a useful account of the place of phonics in learning to read. Instructions for using each workbook explain the purpose and give some preliminary activities to be carried out by the teacher. Photocopiable material for making games and activities is available for the first four workbooks. Assessment activities are suggested for each workbook. Material for this purpose and related record sheets are also provided.
Workbooks A and B concentrate on visual discrimination and rhyming. Books 1 and 2 introduce the letters of the alphabet and give practice in isolating the initial sounds of words and matching them to letters. Books 3 and 4 introduce reading and writing of three-letter words and books 5 and 6, blends, digraphs and the modifying "e". The first two workbooks consist of 14 pages; each pair of books increases in length by eight pages. The pictures are generally recognisable and the pages clear. These workbooks are similar in appearance and standard to other such programmes.
New Key Phonics incorporates the element of rhyming, but doesn't encourage children to isolate sounds at any point other than at the beginning of a word and assumes that spelling phonemically is a later acquisition than reading phonemically. Because the programme is self-contained, there is no indication of integration with children's other reading experiences. This puts it at a disadvantage when compared with some of the new language programmes in which such integration is built in. This programme resembles in format, content and approach the phonic materials of a number of older reading schemes.
Phonic-Links is a quite different approach to phonics teaching. The emphasis is on the graphemic property of words and the phonics is then derived from this. The programme comprises three spiral bound books which contain detailed instructions for teaching and photocopiable worksheets and materials for children.
Book 1 concentrates on developing a basic concept of print. It includes, for instance, games to help children recognise that speech contains words and that text carries meaning. The latter part of the book introduces children to letter-formation and word recognition. The other two books are based on the authors' philosophy that phonics for reading starts from the written code and that the notion of varying sound values of letters should be introduced to children from the start, that letters function in groups and context should not be excluded from phonics teaching.
There are 94 worksheets in the two books, each with accompanying instructions and extension activities. These worksheets are designed to be worked through consecutively, thereby increasing the children's sight vocabulary.
This programme is based on research into the visual properties of language rather than its phonemic properties. The authors don't make any connection between the phonemic strategies of spelling and reading or between rhyming and reading. Recent research confirms that the process of reading is an interaction between a range of strategies. However, there are few programmes which deal as comprehensively with the early concept of print as Phonic-Links (Book 1). Teachers could adapt these activities for use within the context of some of the excellent large format picture books now available.
The emphasis in both programmes is that the teacher should teach and not merely hand out worksheets, so the authors have given systematic instructions for this teaching and the work sheets are intended as reinforcement. But in the absence of lively teaching these worksheets might once again be regarded as dull and unimaginative.
Laura Huxford is a senior lecturer at Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education
New Key Phonics: Introductory Mixed Pack pound;5.20. - 0 00 312310 3. Workbook 3. - 0 00 312304 9. Workbook 4. - 0 00 312305 7. Workbook 5. - 0 00 312306 5. Workbook 6. - 0 00 312307 3. pound;1.60 and pound;1.80 each. Teacher's Guide pound;14.95. - 0 00 312308 1. Phonic Links 1. - 0 00 3142353. Phonic Links 2. - 0 00 3142361. Phonic Links 3. - 0 00 314237X. Collins pound;30 each