Phonics debate continues to split opinion

1st April 2011 at 01:00

Several critical letters appeared in The TES on 25 March in response to an article on synthetic phonics the week before, of which I was a co-author.

Professor Norman Thomas used the sentence "I want you to come to me" to show that common words can contain letter-sound correspondences that are not usually the first to be taught to beginners. True, but although good phonics teaching starts with the simplest correspondences, it does not stop there. Professor Thomas also writes: "The phonics experiment in Scotland did not get good results." In fact, the Clackmannanshire experiment got above-average results in comprehension.

Dr Richard House writes that "there is predictably nothing whatsoever about age appropriateness in the article". As we said in the article, however, learning phonics "can be both effective and fun" for young children, and we provided a link to a video illustrating this. We also mentioned our concern about the argument that children should use context as well as phonics to identify words (as distinct from understanding them). Is it really child-friendly to expect six-year-olds to know when to use one strategy for word-identification and when to use another?

Professor Colin Richards writes that my co-authors and I "should have at least declared a personal financial interest in phonics-based schemes". I have no regular income from such work and do more on a voluntary basis. I support phonics because of the effectiveness I see during the nine hours of voluntary work I do in schools each week.

Jennifer Chew, Egham, Surrey.

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