Phonic dilemma

Q I've heard about new ways of teaching phonics using synthetic methods.

Should I be using these techniques with children with special educational needs?

A Early systematic teaching of phonics is essential to all children's learning, and especially so for children at risk of long-term literacy difficulties - those with difficulties in phonological awareness. It is a myth, though, that synthetic methods represent a magic new way of teaching phonics: if your school is using the National Primary Strategy's playing with sounds guidance (DfES 0280-2004), or one of a number of other commercially available programmes, you will already be teaching children to identify the separate sounds that make up words and to synthesise (blend) sounds into whole words. Support and training on this approach is available from your local authority foundation stage and literacy consultants.

Some children may need extra help with phonological awareness and phonics - taking part in the same activities as the rest of the class but in a quiet setting away from distractions, with the activities happening on a table top right in front of the child in a "hands-on" way, using plastic letters, objects, pictures and writing materials. Children may also need multi-sensory approaches to help them remember sound-letter links, for example by linking each letter-sound link with an action or gesture.

Almost all children - even those with speech and language difficulties - respond well to this intensified approach if it is used early on. If you still have children needing help with phonics later on, there is a range of phonics-based Wave 3 approaches designed for children with significant literacy difficulties.

An independent research review, commissioned by the Primary National Strategy and carried out by Professor Greg Brooks, provides an overview of the evidence on the impact of Wave 3 interventions, entitled What works for children with literacy difficulties, available from the Department for Education and Skills:

* Please email questions to or write to TES Extra for Special Needs, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London ElW lBX.

Neither writer can enter into correspondence with readers.

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