Letters Extra: Phonics aren't everything

13th December 2002 at 00:00

Does this government really want Year 3 pupils to be able to read, or just to decode ("Phonics at hub of literacy drive", TES, December 6)?

If so why do they insist on phonics teaching as the be-all and end-all of reading? Reading with phonics is a minor part of the reading process.

First of all, pupils need to understand that words are more than letters (which up to a
point represent sounds).

Words stand for meanings, they represent meanings, have a role to play in a sentence and in a stretch of text. Reading involves more processes than decoding letters.

As readers we construct meaning, through decoding a system of signs which represent the writer's meaning and intentions.

This deconstruction activity involves interpreting familiar words, letters and letter blends, shapes and punctuation signs, predicting, locating the sense of the print into our understanding of the world.

Effective readers are able to engage with the texts they read, make critical judgements and reflect on what it is they have read.

Reading is also a cultural activity. The signs, which are used to represent the writer's intentions, are cultural conventions. The language represented by the signs is culturally constructed, and the ideas are the consequence of cultural thought and activity.

As readers we make our own individual meanings from what we read due to our varying cultural and social experiences. Up to a point, to be able to fully interact with what is read, some shared cultural experiences is required.

So yes, let's be aware of the role of phonics. But we need to think about what it is that makes our young readers engage with what they are reading, to make their own sense.

Shirley Franklin
Senior Lecturer
School of Lifelong Learning and Education
Middlesex University
Trent Park
London

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