Letters Extra: Phonics is important, but it's not everything

29th November 2002 at 00:00

Children certainly need to be taught phonics if they are to learn to read and write effectively ( TES November 15). Both analytic and synthetic phonics have parts to play.

But improving phonics teaching is not the golden key that will unlock the gate of the Level 4 English tests. Those who don't get through in reading are those who fail in such matters as grasping the main idea and thinking about the implications of what they read. In writing they are not yet proficient in such matters as sentence punctuation, use of connectives and paragraphs and, tellingly, their ability to write with a reader in mind.

Fundamentally the problems seem rooted in children's failure to engage imaginatively and critically
with the texts they read, and their failure to take on the patterns of written language. A stronger dose of phonics seems unlikely to help.

If we want to effect a substantial change in children's competence as readers and writers, we need to move away from activities directed at the mechanical bits and pieces of literate activity. Instead we should give more sustained attention to making sense of whole texts and to active engagement with texts of high quality including imaginative extension of these.

Focused classroom talk can make a significant contribution to both reading and writing of coherent connected text.

Henrietta Dombey
United Kingdom Reading Association

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