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It was announced on the 3rd June 2005, that Jim Rose, former Deputy Chief Inspector of Schools, was to lead an independent review to examine best practice in teaching reading, including the place of synthetic phonics.

Forming part of the National Literacy Strategy Teaching Framework that is expected to be published in April 2006 and to be implemented in September 2006, the Rose Review is strongly expected to coincide with the findings of the interim report published on 1st December 2005. In the reports summary it said, "It is widely agreed that phonic work is an essential part, though not the whole picture, of what it takes to become a fluent reader and skilled writer, well capable of comprehending and composing text.

"Core phonic work," it continued, "that is to say, teaching children the alphabetic principles to read and spell words in and out of text, should be taught regularly, discretely, at a brisk pace, and set within a broad and rich language curriculum that takes full account of developing all four inter-dependent strands of language: speaking, listening, reading and writing."

Phonics "en vogue"

There are two main approaches to phonics, analytical and synthetic, both of which require the learner to have some phonological awareness (ability to hear and to discriminate sounds in spoken words). Both approaches contribute to the furthering of a learners phonological ability, which is vital for the development of reading, writing, listening and talking skills. The argument against phonics is that while it speeds up the rate that children can read words, it does not aid their comprehension of what the word means.

The call for the application of phonics to education is not a new one. In fact it was a very fashionable approach during the 1950's and early 1960's until it was replaced by a system that relied on children learning whole words, and their meaning, in one go. Fifty years on, the stance on phonic applications within educational arenas has gone full circle. This is primarily a reaction to a seven- year longitudinal study of the teaching of phonics to 300 children in Clackmannanshire in Scotland. The research put the children up to three years ahead in reading, but did not show a significant improvement in comprehension of words. However it was concluded, "a synthetic phonics programme, as part of the reading curriculum, has a major and long lasting effect on children's reading and spelling attainment."

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Back to Basics with Bretford UK

Industry experts agree that synthetics phonics should become a routine part of literacy teaching. With that in mind Bretford UK are going "back to basics", supporting the drive for improved literacy with the launch of the CardMaster Card Reader from Caliphone, a leading technology company that specialises in audiovisual equipment for educational purposes. Designed for application in speech therapy, special education and parent literacy groups, the CardMaster Card Reader enables students of all ages and abilities to link visible letters with the sounds they hear, addressing and improving the five basic reading skills, those being phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

"The Card Reader is tried and tested technology, with a proven ability to develop basic skills" says Colin Craythorne, Managing Director of Bretford UK Ltd. "It was designed with early teaching in mind and has been used effectively in schools for many years. We feel it is important to remind schools and teachers that there are effective, reliable and easy to use devices like the Card Reader proven to improve mental connections between the written and spoken word out there that don"t cost the earth."

The Card Reader is supplied with blank cards that can be recorded with sounds that associate with written words. Students select a card, listen to a pre-recorded sound and mimic that sound which can be recorded and played back for comparison, a repeated visual and auditory reinforcement that should help solidify the mental connection between sound and visuals. The magnetic cards are also re-recordable, allowing teachers to reuse cards for more advanced learning as student's progress, and also eliminating the need for costly upgrades.

Michael de la Fuente

Phonic the way forward? Can it be adapted for adult learners? Tell us in the FE Blog

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