An investigation of the effects of phonics teaching on children's progress in reading and spelling
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Progressive child-centred education has led to the ascendancy of look and say methods for children learning to read, perpetuating the use of a guessing strategy and promoting a dependency culture. Explicit synthetic phonics with direct teaching of the alphabetic principle has been replaced by gradual analytic phonics or no phonics, leaving children to discover spelling patterns for themselves. This investigation was directed towards identifying the relationship between different teaching methods and children's progress in word reading, spelling and reading comprehension. Initially, such progress was monitored from 1993-1995 in 12 Primary classes. Analyses of the data collected indicated that (a) accelerated letter-sound knowledge and the ability to blend letter sounds had a significant effect on children's progress in reading, spelling and comprehension and (b) the degree to which blending had been explicitly taught had a significant positive effect on the proportion of spelling errors produced which encode orthographic information. The effects of accelerating letter-sound knowledge and sounding and blending were then examined experimentally in Primary 1 children using two experimental groups and one control group. It was found that explicit synthetic phonics, which demonstrates how letters blend together to form words, (a) accelerated reading, spelling and phonemic awareness more rapidly than just learning the letter sounds at an accelerated pace and (b) produced a higher proportion of mature orthographic spelling errors than in the other conditions. It was found that the strategies children use for decoding and encoding mirror the teaching methods they have experienced. Gradual analytiC phonics teaching encourages phonetic cue reading, children only processing some of the letters and sounds in words. Explicit synthetic phonics teaching encourages early cipher reading, children processing all of the letters and sounds in words. This method teaches children how to use their knowledge of the alphabetic code to decode unknown words, thus establishing an orthographic memory for such words.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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