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Reading Reform Foundation (RRF) - Promoting Synthetic Phonics : Page Title

RRF Newsletter 45 back to contents
Research Digestby Jennifer Chew

This selection reflects three important themes which are currently interesting researchers: the effects of teaching methods, the role of blending, and children's use of `large' units (whole words, onsets, rimes) or `small' units (phonemes) in reading.

Watson, J.E. and Johnston, R.S., 1998. Interchange 57: Accelerating reading attainment: The Effectiveness of synthetic phonics. Edinburgh: The Scottish Office. The study for which the most detailed results are given compared three groups of Scottish Primary 1 (i.e. Reception) children: the first group was taught by `a systematic but gradual analytic method' (one letter-sound per week in the initial position of words). The second group had this same teaching plus separate training in the `analysis and synthesis of sounds in spoken words without reference to print'. The third group (synthetic phonics) was taught at the rate of six letter-sounds in eight days and was taught to read simple words by producing sounds for all letters and blending the sounds. By March of Primary 1, the synthetic phonics group was reading and spelling about seven months ahead of the other groups.

Solity, J., Deavers, R., Kerfoot, S., Crane, G., and Cannon, K., 1999. ‘Raising literacy attainments in the early years: the impact of instructional psychology’. Educational Psychology Vol. 19 No. 4, 1999, pp. 373-397. The authors investigated `(i) whether overall reading standards can be improved and (ii) the extent to which reading difficulties can be prevented'. While many researchers focus on the natural development of phonological skills, Solity et al. focus on the role of teaching. In this study, children taught by their Early Reading Research (ERR) approach were taught small units (graphemes and phonemes), blending and segmenting. The results were compared with results in schools using a more eclectic approach. At the end of reception, when both groups had an average chronological age of 5 years 4 months, the ERR children had an average reading age of 5 years 9 months while the comparison group had an average reading age of 5 years 3 months. Of particular interest is the fact that the ERR schools had far fewer problem readers than the comparison schools.

Deavers, R., Solity, J. and Kerfoot, S, 2000. ‘The effect of instruction on early nonword reading’.  Journal of Research in Reading Vol. 23 No. 3, October 2000, pp. 267-286. [Note: nonword reading ensures that the skill being tested really is decoding rather than sight-word recognition.] The researchers compared three groups of six-year-olds. One group was following the ERR approach (see above). The second group was following the National Literacy Project Literacy Hour (the forerunner of the NLS Literacy Hour), which put more emphasis on `large units' (particularly onset and rime). The third group received a mixture of small- and large-unit instruction. The ERR group had the best nonword reading skills.

Landerl, K. 2000. ‘Influences of orthographic consistency and reading instruction on the development of nonword reading skills’. European Journal of Psychology of Education Vol. XV No.3, pp. 239-257. Landerl followed up an earlier experiment by Wimmer and Goswami. She found that English children taught synthetic phonics were much better at reading non-words than the eclectically-taught children in the original experiment. She notes that the English phonics school, like German schools but unlike many English schools, emphasised blending as well as letter-sound correspondences. She notes, too, that even with good phonics teaching, the complexity of English letter-sound correspondences makes decoding harder for English children than for German children, but suggests that systematic phonics teaching is all the more important in English, as children are less likely to crack the code by themselves.




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