Strategy is analytic not synthetic;Letter

5th March 1999 at 00:00
A Department for Education and Employment spokesman is reported as saying that the literacy strategy has been synthetic all along - that it has been based on a synthetic phonics rather than an analytic phonics approach (TES, February 19).

I disagree. The strategy emphasis is much more analytic than synthetic. One tell-tale sign is its emphasis on rhyme. Theories about the importance of rhyme for beginning readers arose directly out of analytic phonics - the belief that beginners should start by breaking down (analysing) whole spoken words into the sub-units of sound, which turned out to be onsets and rimes, and then learn the printed forms of these units.

By contrast, synthetic phonics concentrates first on teaching children to build up (synthesise) pronunciations for spoken words. The letters and phonemes are explicitly taught, as is also, from the start, the blending process - the mortar which binds the phonemes into whole words.

The word "blend" does not occur in the strategy's Framework for Teaching until the second term of Year 1. This is far too late for a genuine synthetic phonics approach, and it is clear evidence that the earlier phase has far more to do with analysis than synthesis.

Analysis of words into smaller sound-units is certainly important, but for spelling rather than for reading. And, as even rhyming sounds, once heard in spoken words have to be written down letter by letter, one might as well teach children to work with phonemes from the start. These small units of sound are difficult only if one expects children to discover them for themselves: explicit teaching makes them easy.

Repeated attempts were made to explain all this to the literacy strategy team, but to no avail.

Jennifer Chew, The Mount, Malt Hill, Egham, Surrey

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