Oh My Word! the Way We Were: Learning to Read Early

Daily Mail (London), December 18, 2007 | Go to article overview

Oh My Word! the Way We Were: Learning to Read Early


Byline: Graham Grant

WHEN it comes to the teaching of basic literacy skills in Scottishschools, it isn't hard to read the signs of a growing crisis.

Recent weeks have seen a steady flow of damning reports that shatter the mythof Scotland's educational prowess.

They included research suggesting pupils in Scotland have poorer reading skillsthan their counterparts in Russia, Latvia, Hungary, Lithuania and the SlovakRepublic.

But as Scottish schools tumble down international rankings, researchers saythere may be some hope for the future.

Experts at St Andrews University believe a return to a traditional technique,now known as 'synthetic phonics', can greatly improve reading and spellingskills among primary school children.

The findings back up another major study in West Dunbartonshire into the method- a style of teaching that involves helping pupils 'build' words from theirconstituent sounds - which found it had virtually wiped out child illiteracy inthe area.

The St Andrews research means two studies now provide powerful evidence thatthe approach can bring about radical change in the classroom. But ministers -though praising synthetic phonics - say it is up to word!( individual schoolswhich style of teaching they use, so they will not force headteachers to adoptthe method.

In the St Andrews study, Professor Rhona Johnston and Dr Joyce Watson comparedchildren in Clackmannanshire, taught via a synthetic phonics programme, toEnglish pupils taught with a different system.

The children following the synthetic phonics method learned very early on toblend letter sounds to make whole words.

By contrast, the English pupils were taught using the 'trendier' method ofanalytic phonics, in which they learn whole words first, then split them intosmaller parts.

This is the style of teaching that became popular in the 1960s - a developmentthat critics say accelerated the decline of reading skills.

Researchers found the Scottish ten-yearolds had better reading, spelling andcomprehension skills than their English peers.

Many of the Scots children came from poorer areas, so classes in England werematched on socio-economic background. …

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