Phonics make poor better off

25th May 2001 at 01:00
Children in poor communities benefit from intensive phonics instruction in their first year of school. However, new research claims that phonics teaching can have a negative effect on pupils from better-off families.

A University of Michigan study on the impact of phonics teaching on the literacy achievement of nearly 10,000 five-year-olds in kindergartens highlights how variable the effects are across schools with different socio-economic intakes.

While across the board there is no significant effect on children's reading from learning phonics (which in this study is taken as a composite of methodologies including learning the names of the letters, matching letters to sounds and rhyming words and word families), the difference in its impact on different socialgroups is remarkable.

In comparison with children in poorer schools, who made a slow but steady increase in their scores over the school year, those in high-income communities plummeted dramatically in their reading scores after phonics instruction.

While the researchers make no attempt to suggest why this should be so, they do warn against phonics instruction being perceived as a "one size fits all" strategy, pointing out that there is no single way that is best when it comes to teaching children to read.

Differential Effects of Phonics Instruction on Children's Literacy Learning in Kindergarten by Yange Xue, Samuel Meisels, Valerie E Lee, David T. Burkham and Aviva Dorfman, University of Michigan School of Education. E-mail:

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