Synthetic phonics

My alarm bells was ringing after watching ‘Dispatches’ on Channel 4 last nite. The documentary is entitled “Why our children can’t read“.

The background reading leading to this documentary:

“According to Government statistics, a fifth of youngsters leaving primary school can’t read and write properly. That means they have not reached the benchmark reading age of an 11-year-old and are unlikely to be able to follow lessons when they go to secondary school.”

Dispatches investigate into the impact of poor reading skills acquired at primary schools’ level, which takes away the foundations that pupils require to access the National Curriculum when they enter secondary education. The consequence of this failure had lead to behavioural problems and truancy among pupils in the secondary schools and it emerged that lack of ability to read is the major underlying cause.

In the light of this national problem, the government have created a set of new guidelines, based on an “educational” review by Sir Graham Rose – the Rose Report. The new guideline is advocating the use synthetic phonics to teach pupils to reach.

A working definition of “Synthetic phonics”:

Synthetic Phonics is a method of teaching reading which first teaches the letter sounds and then builds up to blending these sounds together to achieve full pronunciation of whole words. “

My concern is what impact does this new guideline will have on mainstreamed deaf children? I am struggling to see how this new teaching pedagogy – based entirely on the use of your auditory senses – that can cross the communications/language divide (via CSW/terp) and provide an effective learning route for reading, for deaf children.

Supporter of Synthetic phonics are almost evangelical about this method and insists it should be reinforced at all times. Does that means they will (deaf children) become even more excluded in mainstream setting, if their school decide to follow government guidelines with zeal?

9 thoughts on “Synthetic phonics”

  1. Holy cow!!! I can’t read anything except some of the white and red text… Please fix the colors so there is contrast between the text and background…

  2. Phonics works well for most kids for about a year, but as the Rose review said, it is ‘a time-limited activity’ and of limited use. This is inevitable because of the Sight Words at http://www.englishspellingproblems.co.uk and all the alternative spellings listed there.

    Children can cope with all those only with lots of one to one help, which the majority get at home. Their parents hear them read daily until they can and constantly help them with ‘How do u spell x, y, z?’ or ‘How do u say machine, define, palindrome, epitome…? when they are doing their homework. They keep learning to spell and to read that way right up to the end of secondary school. Some parents even pay for additional one to one help.

    The kids who don’t get such help (because their parents can’t read or can’t pay), fall by the wayside, unless they get it at school. They will cope with reading and writing a few funny spellings like ‘donkey, monkey, money, honey’ at a time, but as they learn more and more of them and start doing less controlled reading and writing, they get confused: runny – honey – bony – apply, lost – most – toast. So they need propping up and jollying along year after year, or they give up in despair.

    Synthetic phonics, or any other phonics, works beautifully for as long as u expose kids mainly just to phonically simple words. But there is a nationwide, well-documented drop in progress at around age 7 when children meet more and more words like above, and when they are also expected to spell increasingly ‘correctly’ too (to, two, blue, shoe).

    For as long as we do nothing about the spelling, we will continue to have this problem, as all other English-speaking countries do too.

  3. @ Masha Bell: This doesn’t address the issue that I’ve brought up. Your comment is wholly about children with full use of their hearing. I am talking about DEAF children here. Can they access synthetic phonics, which rely wholly on the ability of the recipients to hear fully? I will be very surprised if they can. From looking at this concept, I wouldn’t be able to comprehend it due to my level of hearing. I am concerned that deaf children will be further marginalised with this new drive to improve literacy. They may see their peers improve their literacy and access the curriculum but will they be able to keep up? It is my view that synthetic phonics is another barrier towards literacy.

  4. Actually…all this bollocks about some fancy new teaching methods on better reading…wtf for all of that? I see less and less children actually sitting down and…*reading a book*!

    The MTV generation – raised on YouTube and all that, and textphone language and so on – they don’t really read a book that much nowadays. And people wonder why they don’t have a good reading skill.

    It’s a fact – the more you practise at something, the better you get…thus the more books you read, the better you can read and you pick up the language that way too.

    I honestly believe they just need to learn to turn off their TV, their XBox, their Wii, their Playstation 1,2,3, their GBA, their PSP, their DS, their computer, switch off YouTube and all other social website such as Facebook and so on…and pick up a book.

    There are so many great books out there – Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials – it might be a book for kids, but I have it and it’s one of my favourite…excellent book. There’s many other easy reading books that are just fun to read.

    I lead by example with my kids – they see me reading a lot instead of watching the TV.

  5. They teach my son via phonetics at special school, now, he refuses to correct his spelling, and says books are wrong I’m rather concerned they are not making clear the spelling is different, they should stick to the original and stop messing about. They are creating kids who still can’t read properly as a result. I’m having hard job teaching my son to spell correctly because he tries to correct me by writing phonetically. It’s made worse by the teacher insisting he’s right. I say she isn’t…

  6. I find that phonetics can be really helpful in learning… esp with Arabic [my original native tonigue that lost out to English].. I have retained the grammar know how, it’s just the vocab…. and phonetics using the Latin characters is especially helpful. Same with using a foreign language dictionary in Spanish or German.. but the thing is, with me, I am familiar with English, so I can make use of phonetics in a way that some one who doesn’t know English can’t… personally, I think it’s a useful tool. Much the same way I would use Sign [Supported English] when teaching Deafies English…

  7. @everybody: Sorry to neglect my online affairs of late. Been busy with Derby Deaf Drama and tiling my kitchen et al….

    @TonyN: I would find phonetics useful to me as I have residual hearing to serve me. My point being is not all Deaf children (inc the CI implanted one) have their brains mapped out and geared to take phonetics’s teachings. There are bound to be a good number who would find this the worst possible pedagogy they can encounter, leading to further isolation whilst hearing class mates’s confidence makes leaps and bounds in their English literacy.

    @Joe: I’m never a bookish person. I find it easier to read stuff off the screen than printed words. Whereas my wife would agree to differ on this point. Each to its own.

    @MM: Introduce a reward chart? 🙂

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