Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Can Anti-Dyslexia Game Boost Poor Pupils' Reading?

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Can Anti-Dyslexia Game Boost Poor Pupils' Reading?

Article excerpt

Professor says existing phonics programmes fail disadvantaged

Children from poor homes should learn to read using techniques developed to tackle dyslexia, rather than focusing exclusively on current programmes of synthetic phonics, according to a University of Cambridge professor.

Usha Goswami, director of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education, said that existing phonics programmes failed to take into account the difficulty that some children had distinguishing individual sounds.

Last week, she was awarded £365,000 to explore whether poor children could improve their reading skills more rapidly by using a computer game that tests awareness of longer sounds within words, which was originally developed to help dyslexic pupils.

The money from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Wellcome Trust will fund a randomised controlled trial with 400 six- and seven-year-olds, to see if playing the game for 10 minutes a day significantly improves their reading skills.

Current phonics programmes encourage children to identify phonemes, the smallest units of sound, which are put together to make up syllables. But a level of sound between phonemes and syllables - called onset and rime - is missed out. This is what the game encourages children to focus on.

"A syllable is a package of sounds," Professor Goswami said. "If you break the word into the smallest unit of sounds, cat becomes c-a-t. But [using onset and rime] it becomes c-at. Synthetic phonics, if you do it exactly by the book, doesn't teach this level."

She added: "The computer game was developed for dyslexic children but [its use] suggests it should also be helpful for disadvantaged children generally, who typically have impaired language and reading skills. And indeed, the game should be helpful for all children in terms of teaching English phonics."

The government has pushed the use of synthetic phonics in primary schools by introducing a phonics check at age 6 and funding resources and training. Ofsted has also sharpened its focus on phonics in routine inspections.

The use of onset and rime in teaching children to read has been controversial, with advocates of synthetic phonics saying onset and rime adds an unnecessary layer of complication. …

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