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

RRF Newsletter 60 back to contents
A shining example of personal accountability

Read Kat’s great posting on the TES (Times Educational Supplement) blog on ‘Speakers’ Corner’, ‘Experts slam the phonics enforcers’ (13 Jan 2007). Kat is a teacher from the Republic of Ireland who has stumbled across the reading debate and made her own informed decisions regarding her provision of reading instruction in her classroom -


Extract from Kat’s contributions:


So many posts have left me frustrated e.g. the one about the lack of a longitudinal study as to the effects of Synthetic Phonics on literacy. I cannot see a need for this.

The following are 2 subsequent relevant quotes from andy_91 referring to my original post:

"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and many teachers are regrettably over-prone to fads and initiatives and the next new thing - it's the way we've been trained over the past 30 years. Longitudinal study allows us to separate the good from the less good. Anyone who denies this and approaches something without scepticism is dangerous."

"I am also [as you would know if you ever actually read] not 'against' synthetic phonics, merely against those exponents who approach it with a complete lack of academic detachment and without the usual nod towards peer review, falsification and review over time."

Systematic synthetic phonics provides children with the skills to read and write in the most effective evidence-based way. Robust and comprehensive research is available to back up this statement for those who wish to find it. I had no difficulty finding it myself when I first became aware of SP. I don't feel it is my job to present the facts and figures here.

I didn't turn my back on my old tried and tested methods in order to embrace a new fad with a complete lack of academic detachment and I resent any implication that I did. I spent long hours reading every possible article I could find regarding SP.

Initially I was totally aghast at claims that the mixed methods that I had been using for 16 ( spent in YR/Y1) of my 24 years as a teacher (in the same school) might have been flawed and that there may be a better way. The more I researched, the more I began to believe that this indeed was correct.

I initially approached each new article hoping to find something to allow me to dismiss SP as a fad - allowing me to continue in my cosy little routine whereby the children who were always going to learn to read eventually would do so, and those who would struggle would also do so, despite my best efforts.

Incidentally, my best efforts involved following an intensive one-to-one reading programme, which I devised based on the individual needs of each struggling reader, and which I implemented at any possible free time including before/after school and at breaktimes. Individual follow-up homework was carried out nightly by the parents. While some of those early struggling readers caught up, unfortunately a percentage continued to have difficulties and eventually arrived, disheartened and frustrated, at the door of the learning support teacher.

I had a lot to lose, potentially, if I were to make a major change in my methods (what if it failed?) and had very little to gain personally - but these weaker children were the ones who stood to benefit and I owed it to them to try.

Changing to SP also involved an enormous amount of extra work - planning, reorganizing, arranging parent information meetings, ongoing research, sourcing resources, seeking funding and convincing others. I do have a life outside school and this was going to affect my free time to enjoy that life. Again this was not a burden I took upon myself on a whim.
Firstly I had to convince my principal to allow me to trial this method. Obviously this is not something she could agree to without a convincing argument. Once she was on board I then had to meet the parents and explain to them that I was turning away from most of the instructions I had previously given them about how best to help their child to read and write. This was a difficult thing to do. What professionals would put themselves in such a situation without first fully equipping themselves with the necessary information to confidently answer the myriad of questions that would inevitably arise - especially considering that I had already taught many older siblings using mixed methods?

The parent body trusted my judgement that SP may be the better way.

Today, I can confidently say that SP is the better way and that all the parents/guardians involved will testify to its amazing success. Their children are well on the way to becoming independent, confident and competent readers and writers. The level of achievement in reading and writing skills in my class since changing to SP surpasses anything I've ever seen in a comparable mixed method taught age group and I consider myself highly qualified to testify to this. The children themselves are very aware of their achievements to date and are full of self-esteem and confidence. There is no hint of failure in the class and what a wonderful atmosphere has been created!

My reason for saying that I don't see a need for a longitudinal study on the effects of SP on literacy is this - once the children have the skills to competently read and write then, simply put, SP has worked. Surely a longitudinal study on its effects on literacy is unnecessary. The latest UK government guidance, based on the Rose Report, is that phonics teaching should be substantially finished within the first two or three years of school. Once the children can read and write independently we don't have to keep using SP just as in the same way as when a child can ride a bike we don't have to keep teaching them how to do so!

SP is the key to the door into the world of literacy. Once they have turned that key it has served its purpose and they can move into the wonderland where imagination and creativity are fired and inspired, vocabulary and comprehension develop accordingly, personal interests are researched and developed, writers write confidently for a variety of purposes and audiences.
Literacy teaching from here on involves, as I stated in my original post, providing a nurturing environment in which the children are given reasons, opportunities, challenges and encouragement to use their reading/writing skills to develop and to express their receptive, expressive, cognitive, emotional and imaginative skills, does it not?

Please don’t let another generation of children suffer awaiting the results of a longitudinal study which I firmly believe will vindicate both myself and the many thousands of others who have found "the way".


Editors’ comment:  We are thankful that there are individual ‘Kats’ around the world. Those in positions of authority need to give such people the support they deserve and actively worked towards the provision of evidence-based systematic phonics teaching for beginning instruction and intervention for all ages where required. We need action and not lip-service.




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