Systematic phonics

Phonics as part of a wider literacy programme

Some research suggests that systematic phonics instruction within a broad literacy curriculum will have a statistically significant positive effect on reading accuracy. The Australian Reading Review and the National Reading Panel in America, referred to earlier, came to the same conclusion. These findings illuminate another area of debate – whether phonics should be a ‘fast and first and only’ strategy or part of a broader programme.

Some advocates of synthetic phonics programmes believe that beginning readers should only encounter phonemically decidable text in order to practice their reading skills and that there should be no ‘guessing’ words from picture, context or initial letter cues. They argue that using a range of cues has the potential to confuse children and that encouraging children to use information from a picture may lead to them not understanding that they must focus on the printed word. Such a view sees reading as being a stepped process of acquiring separate reading skills.

Advocates of a mixed strategy approach argue that using pictures, context and syntax cues is not encouraging children to ‘guess’ but rather to use language knowledge, logical deduction and prior/world knowledge to make sense of a word/sentence. They would also argue that a broad literacy curriculum includes reading and being read to from a wide range of books, not just decidable texts.