Common way

12th July 1996 at 01:00
John Ashbrook (TES, June 21) does not contest the main point of my letter (TES, June 7) - that phonics is the key to comprehension. Instead he asserts that my statement that being able to sound letters out facilitates pronunciation of regular words is not true and requests evidence for my claims.

Children who are "phonologically aware" before they learn to read will already have acquired the knowledge that words like "man", "mop" and "met" have an initial sound in common.

Categorical perception allows the child to recognise that the "m" is the same in each of those three words. The first step in teaching the child to read is to impart the knowledge that words that have sounds in common also have letters in common. (Of course there are exceptions, but these need not be taught to the beginner.) Mr Ashbrook asks for evidence: I refer him to the many published papers of Bryant, Stuart, and Goswami inter alia, to mention only a few leading researchers in this field in this country.

I can imagine that if Mr Ashbrook has been following what he describes as the "common" way of sounding out letters - and teaching children to read by pronouncing a schwa with every consonant ("duh", "kuh" etc) - that it could, as he writes, take years of teaching to establish correspondences between letters and sounds. One of the advantages of "new phonics" is that it takes cognisance of the latest research findings, such as the research on phonological awareness, and how they can help us facilitate the development of the reading process in the pupils we are teaching.

The "common" way is not always the best way.

ESTELLE A LEWIN DOCTOR

Director

Literacy Research and Assessment Centre

Institute of Education

University of London

10 Woburn Square

London WC1

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