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Send poor down Alphabet Street

A heavy dose of phonics teaching is often right for children from poor homes. But it can hinder the literacy development of the more affluent, a US study suggests.

These findings which will fuel the debate over literacy teaching methods, are based on a study of 9,817 kindergarten children.

Researchers from the University of Michigan compared the literacy achievement at the end of kindergarten for different types of instruction. They grouped nine classroom practices under the heading "phonics": learning the names of letters; writing the alphabet; work on phonics; discussion of new or difficult voabulary; matching letters to sounds; alphabet and letter recognition; writing own name; convention of print; and rhyming words and word families.

They conclude that although, on average, phonics instruction has no significant effect on literacy development its impact varies according to socio-economic background. "There is no one best way to help all children to read," the researchers say.

"Differential effects of phonics instruction on children's literacy learning in kindergarten", by Yange Xue, Samuel Meisels, Valerie E Lee, David T Burkham and Aviva Dorfman, University of Michigan

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