New benchmark for readers

1st December 1995 at 00:00
Sue Palmer's article on the "new phonickers" (TES, November 10) alludes to recent research which has proved beyond doubt that good readers have good phonological skills.

How they get them is still open to lively controversy, but in general most reading specialists are now striving for consensus.

"Phonickers" quite happily admit the truth of the "real books" concept that "children learn to read by reading" - but they politely point out that the process cannot even begin until a pupil has mastered basic phonological skills.

Given that pupils cannot acquire fluency if they read books containing less than 90 per cent "sight" words, they concede that reading schemes are an essential tool for reinforcing phonological knowledge.

The "new phonickers" believe that learning phonological skill is easier if pupils are taught to recognise onset (initial letter sound) and rhyme. The value of analytic phonics (identifying component sounds in words) is well established, and pupils cannot employ invented spellings effectively without them.

However, analytic activities on their own do not assure the development of synthetic skills - blending sounds into words. Unless these skills are taught at the very outset of a reading programme, poor readers generally reject them in favour of word-guessing strategies which can even be counter-productive.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Woods Loke primary school in Lowestoft uses a variety of approaches, but its pupils are not introduced to books at all until they can readily identify all letters and basic diagraphs, and blend their sounds into words. The results are most impressive.

Between 1991 and 1995, only 2.7 per cent of pupils attending this school for at least the past two years have scored below 90 on the Suffolk 8-plus Reading Test. County-wide averages for 1991 showed 31 per cent of all pupils scoring below 90 - a failure rate 1,148 per cent higher than at Woods Loke.

Woods Loke has a working-class catchment, average class size, and no additional funding. Until other approaches have proved more successful in the everyday, state-school classrooms, I think Woods Loke has set a standard by which all research must be judged.

TOM BURKARD The Promethean Trust Riverside Farm Ringland Lane Easton Norwich

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now