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The most effective teachers of literacy teach phonics, spelling and grammar in context rather than as separate topics, a study for the Teacher Training Agency shows.

Such teachers made a point of using the structure of language so that it was meaningful to children.

But many of these teachers did not actually know the technical terms for what they were teaching: words such as phoneme (sound), onset (the sound before the vowel in a one-syllable word) and rime (the rest of the word) were often not recognised.

"It seems that the teachers knew the material I in a particular way. They appeared to know and understand it in the form in which they taught it to the children, rather than abstracted from the teaching context," says the research team from Exeter University This may raise questions about the literacy hour's extensive demands for pupils and staff to learn such terms. Otherwise, although the study was carried out before the National Literacy Strategy was introduced, researchers say effective teachers used approaches and techniques consistent with it. David Wray, Louise Poulson and Richard Fox of Exeter and Jane Medwell of Plymouth University, found that effective teachers were likely to be English co-ordinators; others were often relatively deprived of in-service opportunities.

Call David Wray, School of Education, Exeter University, 01392 263263

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