Is 'phonics' the best way of teaching reading to children?
A recent study has shown that an insistence primary school pupils are taught to read using phonics may cause able readers to lose interest. However the Department for Education continue saying that synthetic phonics is the best way to ensure no child falls behind with their reading. What do you think? Should phonics be rigidly imposed on all? What is the best way to inspire children to become fluent readers?
3 experts have answered
It is a good, but not sufficient way of teaching children to read English. It's a fantastic way of teaching Italian as everything sounds as it's written and the coding is much simpler. However with the 26 letters making numerous sounds (it's not easy to say exactly how many due to regional accents) and the spellings of identical sounds varying too.
There are other strategies that can help children learn to read, including context analysis, and breaking down words to their component parts - chunking.
Modelling reading and reading with your child are the most beneficial ways of helping their brain learn the patterns of the written words.
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(borrowed expertise here from my sister, a primary age literacy specialist)
Phonics is a great way of teaching children to read, but should not be used in isolation and, as you note in the question, avoided with children who don't need it. Real fluency (as defined by me, reading speed pushing 1000 words/minute) only comes from reading a lot, way more than you get to in school, and of course way more than most "TV kids" do.
The rise of the web as a place young children frequent is pushing kids to read more, so we'll see how what the longer term impact of that is.
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The "best way" to teach kids will depend on the student, and ultimately it may not be an appropriate way to frame the question. What I found in researching the phonics vs. whole-word (or whole-language) approach, was that there is merit in both. Pushing a phonics-only regime turns reading into work (i.e. no fun). On the other hand, the whole-word approach may focus on the appreciation of the story and meaning while missing out on some learning opportunities.
The National Reading Panel (link below) found that there are certain specific areas of focus that help children learn to read. The idea that phonics or any approach is the "best way" suggests that all other ways are inadequate, which isn't the case. A strong dose of explicitly teaching the alphebetic principle****, along with a healthy amount of good quality books and stories will help you support your child's literacy development.
My three simple tips to encourage your child to read are: 1) Read with them. 2) Let them see you reading. 3) Let them read whatever they're interested in/provide a variety of books for them to read.