Systematic phonics

Pace and when to start

If one accepts that systematic phonics teaching is necessary to the beginning reader, there are strong arguments for a quick-paced programme which ensures that children have the knowledge they need to decode texts as rapidly as possible. The caricature of the young child plodding through an initial sound a week so that it takes almost a school year to learn 26 letter sounds is now seen as unnecessarily slow, and it is recognized that phonic programmes can be undertaken in weeks rather than months by many children. Such slowly paced practices also make the assumption that children enter school with little in the way of phonemic awareness and letter knowledge.

Skilled infant teachers build on and extend children’s pre-school language and speaking and listening experiences. They do not confuse a systematic approach with a formal approach. In the best early years setting, phonics is taught through active, multi-sensory strategies (language games, music and so on) embedded in a rich literacy curriculum. Such phonics teaching may often be in small group contexts to allow for different developmental needs.