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Stop scaremongering about synthetic phonics

Kathy Hall (TES, March 10) worries teachers are going to be told to teach reading by synthetic phonics alone.

No one is suggesting that it isn't good to use a range of strategies to teach literacy. Children should have opportunities from the start to express themselves orally, listen attentively, enjoy hearing stories and poems, improve their comprehension of language, and so on. When we talk of synthetic phonics alone, we're talking about identifying written words.

That's all.

Ask unconfident five-year-olds to choose which strategy to use and what happens? Their eyes dart all over the page, backwards and forwards and to the picture. They guess and then look at the teacher to see if they've got it right -and it's likely they haven't. That's not good for independence, understanding or self-esteem.

Teach children from the start that letters represent sounds and we read them from left to right and they know what they're doing.

All children benefit from synthetic phonics, but that is most true for those who find phonics difficult. When these children are told to choose from a range of strategies, they naturally choose to guess from context, picture cues, memory, initial letters. The very children who need most help in decoding get the least practice. As they get older and face more complex text, the other strategies fail.

I hope doubting teachers will soon listen to the arguments for synthetic phonics alone, and find out about this method for themselves. Children's futures are at stake. See www.rrf.org.uk for more information.

Elizabeth Nonweiler 3 The Chase, Donnington Newbury, Berkshire

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