A sound strategy for some pupils

17th January 1997 at 00:00
With regard to John Bausor's letter (TES, January 3) on the subject of his grand-daughter's difficulties with spelling, I feel he may be over-reacting to mistakes that are merely the efforts of a six-year-old to use an alternative strategy when she is unable to recall the look of the words she wishes to write, rather than the result of any misguided "over-emphasis on phonics".

The skills of reading and spelling are different, and good progress in reading is not always matched by a commensurate level of spelling, whatever teaching method is used. Reading involves recognition, either of whole words or phonic patterns, but in spelling it is necessary to recall the detail. There are many words that fluent readers would recognise without hesitation but might have recourse to the dictionary if they had to spell them. With a language that is as highly irregular as English, children will, of course, need more than phonics for both reading and spelling.

I agree with John Bausor that the exclusive emphasis given to phonics by both the Office for Standards in Education and government ministers (most of whom I suspect have never taught a child to read or spell) borders at times on the unbalanced. However, there may be a reason for this.

For the past two, or even three, decades the value of teaching children to make use of phonics has been questioned or even ridiculed by many teacher trainers and other influential educationists, and teachers had no choice but to listen if they were not to be considered outdated in their approach. In over 20 years of attending in-service training on matters pertaining to literacy, I have never heard the teaching of phonics mentioned except dismissively and I have yet to meet a newly qualified teacher who has had any instruction in this teaching technique.

Sadly, it is just those pupils who have most difficulty with reading and spelling, particularly dyslexics and those with language difficulty, who will most need this strategy.

SUZANNE TIBURTIUS 28 Callis Court Road Broadstairs Kent

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