New reading system wins backing BBC News  Friday, 26 August 2005

Teacher using synthetic phonics

Efforts are to be made to offer schools sound advice on the system

The first minister has outlined plans for an official to spread the word about the synthetic phonics system of teaching children to read.The method was pioneered in Clackmannanshire and is credited with improving reading and spelling.

Jack McConnell said: “We will make sure every local authority is able to learn the lessons of Clackmannanshire’s success.”

It has attracted keen interest from education experts around the world.

The Scottish Executive is to pay for a development officer to spread the word and the education organisation Learning and Teaching Scotland will also highlight the scheme.

Jack McConnell
 Where there is success, we must make sure it is spread quickly across the country 
Jack McConnell
First Minister

The pioneering system, which involves teaching youngsters how letter sounds blend together to make words, has resulted in children being three years ahead for their age by the time they finish primary school.

An executive spokesman said: “These results were striking in that many of the pupils were from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Boys in particular appeared to thrive and there was some evidence that synthetic phonics might have specific benefits for under-achieving pupils.”

Mr McConnell said: “Through dedication, hard work and no shortage of inspiration, teachers in Clackmannanshire are transforming children’s lives.

“But we must not allow these new practices and innovations to stand alone and be isolated.”

Cost question

He added: “Where there is success, we must make sure it is spread quickly across the country.”

But Sue Ellis, a senior lecturer in primary education at Strathclyde University, is not convinced by the system.

She said: “The issue is, does it deliver in the long-term what employers need and what children need to be able to do when they study for their exams? And that’s comprehension.

Synthetic phonics

Pupils were found to make more rapid progress under the system

“The evidence from the Clackmannan study is that it doesn’t deliver comprehension particularly cost effectively.”

Education Minister Peter Peacock said last year that he wanted schools across the country to consider adopting the system.

It was developed by Joyce Watson and Rhona Johnston while they were at St Andrews University.

Children learn the sounds that letters make and can make simple words very quickly, while also learning a strategy to read unknown words.

They use all of their senses to learn, by touching, singing and moving colourful magnetic letters around.

Using the system, they can very quickly make words and work out unknown words, without having to rely on memory and guesswork.

Read more about this method here:

The Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment – a Seven Year Longitudinal Study The Clackmannanshire study done in Scotland for Dr.Joyce Watson’ Doctorate was celebrated for being the most successful winning method, using phonics. It allegedly succeeded in breaking the barriers of socio-economic differences between students. And the boys did just as well as the girls.

Get Reading Right – Synthetic Phonics

Synthetic Phonics Explained | Synthetic Phonics Teaching Methods

Synthetic Phonics. Leading the way in Synthetic Phonics

BBC NEWS: Spelling out success in reading – what exactly is it?

Ready to Read? by Anastasia de Waal and Nicholas Cowen

Does Intensive Decoding Instruction Contribute to reading comprehension?

Wendy Berliner: War of words | Education | The Guardian A teaching method called synthetic phonics has had huge success with children’s literacy in Scotland: so much so that supporters believe they have found the holy grail of reading. So what explains the caution south of the border? Wendy Berliner reports…

Teaching Reading, Literature Review

Play-based learning” proven not effective – direct instruction method proven highly effective”  The “Follow Through project”

The “Follow Through project” was a huge US study of effectiveness of different approaches for dis-advantaged kids grades K-8.

In his article, “Project Follow Through: In-depth and Beyond,” Gary Adams writes,

“The Follow Through project was the largest, most expensive educational experiment ever conducted. This federal program was originally designed to be a service-oriented project similar to Head Start. However, because of funding cutbacks the emphasis was shifted from service to program evaluation. Over 75,000 low income children in 170 communities were involved in this massive project designed to evaluate different approaches to educating economically disadvantaged students from kindergarten through grade 3”

The project found that the “Direct Instruction” models far outperform others. So much for the “play based” approach.

Comment: This may be so because direct instruction requires much more relationship/interaction and conversation between the child and a specific adult and therefore builds the adult-attachment that Drs Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate say is required. Think of actually learning to tie shoes or sing a song or clean up or count or being read to…that’s not the ‘play based’ method. The activities and programs like swimming, dance, language, and music lessons that “educated” parents do or pay for use direct instruction. They are usually intense and very short – a half hour or so maximum at the preschool age – whereas all-day loosely supervised play among 15-30 same-age peers does not demand much interaction of a specific teacher/adult.

Note: “High/Scope,” mentioned below, was the program used in the Perry Preschool Project

Check out the charts in the Adams article—”Cognitive Curriculum (High Scope)” kids were worse off after program. Adams writes,

“In fact, the Direct Instruction Model was the only model of the nine that had a positive cognitive score (and the results were extremely positive—over 35%). In contrast, students in two of the three cognitively-oriented models [TEEM and Cognitive Curriculum (High Scope)] had the lowest cognitive scores…”

“In contrast, all Basic Skills models had positive affective scores with the Direct Instruction model achieving the highest scores . The theory that an emphasis on basic skills instruction would have a negative impact on affective behavior is not supported by the data. Instead, it appears that the models that focused on an affective education not only had a negative impact on their students’ basic skills and cognitive skills, but also on their affective skills.”

From “Conclusions”

“Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Follow Through results is the persistence of models that are based on what data confirms is whimsical theory …. The notion of the teacher being a facilitator and providing children with incidental teaching was used by the British infant school model (Open Education). It was a flagrant failure, …”

The retort to pro-DI instruction proponents:

Fear of phonics may put children off reading – News

“…speaking at the Educational and Child Psychology annual conference, Dr Jonathan Solity, of the University of Warwick, said that using traditional phonics with certain reading materials could risk returning schools to the 1960s method of restricting reading to simplistic, unimaginative books.”

at pps 17-18 of “Research with a focus on teaching and learning of reading in preschool and primary years“, Henrietta Dombey lays charge that the 2005 Clackmannanshire study does not meet up to standards…in that the research was flawed since the conclusions were hinged upon the children testing well on word recognition tests,  but they did not do so well on comprehension tests.

More links about Synthetic Phonics:

Synthetic Phonics – Systematic Phonics

Phonics Activities and Phonics Worksheets – Synthetic Phonics

Phonics International – Online Synthetic Phonics Programme

Synthetic Phonic Books | Decodable Books