Monday, June 25, 2007

Lucia Children need synthetic phonics to read well

When children are taught to read via a synthetic phonics system, they read better than their peers who are generally taught either using an analytic phonics or whole language approach. What's more, boys really excel with their reading as they get older, while as the normal reading methods in use in countries such as NZ favour girls. So overall, all children read better, but boys better still with the synthetic phonics approach.
Phonics, a teaching method replaced decades ago by whole language teaching, reversed the gender divide in a seven-year British study to be published in a book in August.

The study found boys outperformed girls in reading and spelling when they were systematically taught synthetic phonics, an accelerated phonics programme. All students taught the programme read well above the average reading age - but at 11, boys were about 9.5 months ahead of girls.
I don't know about everyone else, but this has got me wondering. Given that boys do really well in reading when taught using synthetic phonics, will that fact alone count against it being pushed in New Zealand? I hope I'm not being overly paranoid.

So, what is synthetic phonics? From the Scottish report:
Synthetic phonics is used in Germany and Austria and is generally taught before children are introduced to books or reading. It involves teaching small groups of letters very rapidly, and children are shown how letter sounds can be co-articulated to pronounce unfamiliar words. In a UK version of synthetic phonics, i.e. Hickey's Multi-Sensory Language Course (Augur and Briggs,1992), the first block of letter sounds is 's', 'a', 't', 'i', 'p', 'n', which make up more three-letter words than any other six letters. Children are shown many of the words that these letters generate (e.g. 'sat', 'tin', 'pin').

In our version of synthetic phonics children use magnetic letters to build up words and to help them understand how letter sounds can be blended together to pronounce the words. In order to read a word, the appropriate magnetic letters are set out; the children then blend the letter sounds together, smoothly co-articulating them, whilst pushing the letters together. The approach is also used for learning to spell (and to reinforce blending for reading). The children listen to a spoken word, select the letters for the sounds, and then push the letters together, sounding and blending them to pronounce the word. Consonant blends are not explicitly taught at all as they can be read by blending, although digraphs (i.e. a phoneme represented by two letters e.g. 'sh', 'th', 'ai', 'oa') are taught.

A typical lesson using our scheme would be as follows. Soon after starting school, the children are taught the sounds for the letters 't', 'a', and 'p'. Then a child at the front of the class is asked to select these letters from the teacher's large magnetic board, and to place them in a row below the other letters of the alphabet. The class then give the sounds of the letters, 't', 'a', 'p' and then blend the sounds together to pronounce the word 'tap', whilst the letters are pushed together. Spelling is taught in the same session, the teacher either saying or showing a picture of a word using the letters that have been taught. The children pick out the letters for the sounds that they hear in the word, and place them together on their own magnetic boards. They will then sound and blend, pushing the letters together.
Cool, huh?

Related Links:
Bridging the reading gap - Sunday Star Times

A Seven Year Study of the Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment - The Scottish Study

6 comment(s):

Unknown said...

Are you being paranoid? Unfortunately no.

In the mid 80's boys occupied the top 60% of maths and science positions in school. Girls tended to dominate the expressive studies such as art and languages.

So in the 80's the ed system was fundamentally changed to make it more suited to girls in the following manner:
First competition was removed. They learned girls do better in non competitive environments.
Second, maths and science were redesigned to make them "more interesting for girls".
Finally, the look and guess, or whole word reading system was introduced. (Don't believe the nonsense that whole word has been taught since the sixties. It was brought in about 1986).

They have been successful. Girls now dominate all school subjects. It is no surprise that Wellington is doing nothing about it. The very distorted society these foolish policies are creating is for some reason very attractive to certain members of the beehive.

Mike Graham said...

The phonics teaching system described sounds very much like the system that is being used at a state primary school up here in Auckland. I just assumed it was the current way of teaching reading in NZ. Both my kids (a boy and a girl) have done well with it.

In response to Ted - what is better - a system that favours boys (what we used to have)or one that favours girls (what we seem to have now)? Was a distorted society being created under the previous system that favoured boys?

Lucia Maria said...

Mike, if you read my link to the Scottish report, you'll see that there is another type of phonics more widely in use in schools called the analytic phonics where words are taught first and then analysed once the children know a number of words. This method is better than whole language, but still not as good as synthetic phonics.

Also, in the system that favours boys, note that both girls and boys do better than in a system that favours girls. So the boy favoured system gives girls scope for improvement and also gives boys even bigger scope for improvement. While as the girl favoured system depresses the abilities of both girls and boys - but depresses the boys abilities more.

Lucia Maria said...

Here's the section describing analytic phonics:

Analytic phonics

Analytic phonics is well known in Scotland, where it has formed part of the early years reading programme for many years. Teaching starts at the whole word level, and then involves showing children patterns in the English spelling system. It is generally taught in parallel with, or some time after, graded reading books, which are introduced using a look and say approach. Children are typically taught one letter sound per week and are shown a series of alliterative pictures and words which start with that sound, e.g. car, cat, candle, cake, castle, caterpillar. When the 26 initial letter sounds have been taught in this way, children are introduced to final sounds, e.g. na p, cu p, pi p, and to middle sounds e.g. c at, b ag, r ag etc. This stage is usually reached at the end of Primary 1. At this point some teachers may show children how to sound and blend the consecutive letters in unfamiliar words to be able to pronounce them e.g. 'cuh-ah-tuh' for 'cat'. Starting in Primary 2, initial consonant blends are taught, e.g. ' bl', ' cr', ' sp', followed by final consonant blends, e.g. ' nt', ' ng', ' st'; vowel and consonant digraphs, e.g. ' ee', ' oo', ' ch', ' sh'; and silent 'e', e.g. 'sl at e', 'bl ue'. This programme is often completed at the end of Primary 3.

Unknown said...

I agree with Lucyna Mike.

We now have the second highest rate of teenage suicide amongst our young men in the developed world. It's easy to understand why. When you have an ed system so tailored for girls, and boys are discouraged from being boys (such as some schools banning them from being superheros, only peaceful charactors like Nemo are allowed) then they have to feel completely out of place. Combine that with the usual growing up issues and the general family breakdown and it's not hard to see why we have a crisis coming.

I don't seem to remember girls committing suicide to such horrific levels when we had the old school system.

You are correct that some schools are now going back to phonics. Huge pressure was brought to bear on them once it became apparent that more than 30% of kids were leaving school unable to read or write.

Oswald Bastable said...

The answer is obvious.

Boys & girls seperate classes, with the sysstem that works best for either!

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