The Reading Wars For the past couple of decades, phonics has become an increasingly popular method of teaching a child how to read. We have often been asked why we don't use phonics as a form of teaching more or from as young as possible or drawn into the discussion whether sounding a word is more important than spelling it. The English language has an opaque orthography. It is an alphabetic system with inconsistency of grapheme-phoneme connections of the language. Way before the existence of our humble little school, healthy debates are sparked and acrimonious reading wars have broken out. Even the 'science' and 'research' can be conflicting. Which is better - analytical or synthetic phonics? Is it more important to 'sound out' a word or 'decode' a word? Is reading by phonics superior to reading by whole word method? A study in 2006 found that teaching reading by phonics showed 'significant advantage in reading by as much as 28 months head start between the age of 5 and 7 years old'. Yay for Phonics! In 2011, studies by the researchers at University of Otago found that 'found that six-year-old Scottish children taught through phonics read at a much slower speed than comparable children taught through New Zealand’s more book-centered approach. If taught properly and given enough practice, a child can learn to read very quickly with this system without having to memorize the spelling of every word. Explicit phonics instruction leaves a ‘cognitive footprint’, resulting in a long-term disadvantage when the reader attempts new words.' A landmark study conducted by the LSE Centre for Economic Performance(CEP), tracking the progress of over 270,000 pupils, 'find that those taught to read using other methods lagged behind at age 7 but caught up later. They find large average effects at the age of 5 and 7, but these had disappeared by age 11. This is probably because "most children learned to read eventually, regardless of teaching method", the researchers said.' I can go on to raise more questions and cite more studies. This will no doubt eliminate any residual interest you may have in reading this post or at all. Similarly, the reading wars show no sign of stopping. New research continues to emerge, finding favour among factions and casting doubt over the last one. It seems wise that we do not place over reliance over one method. When a war breaks out, there is always casualty. Let's not forget the very person we are trying to help. Could a pupil, who has been labelled with a 'reading problem', not be dyslexic but simply not responding to one particular reading method? If one technique doesn't work, should we not keep trying and trying different forms until said child read better? Focusing on achieving a standard of reading and writing competency may better serve our cause of nurturing readers out of our children. Let's champion the cause of getting children to read, not lose ourselves in a righteous search of a superior reading method and potentially letting our children down in the process. Keep calm and read.
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