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Phonics-based education 'is the best way to teach reading'

24/04/2017 Joanna

Training students to sound out words remains the most effective way of teaching them to read, according to a new UK study.

Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London and the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit has indicated that this method - known as phonics - can have a significant impact on the accuracy of pupils' ability to read aloud, as well as their linguistic comprehension.

The research aimed to shed light on the ongoing debate over whether learning to read by sounding out words is more effective than focusing on whole-word meanings. Adult study participants were trained to read in a new language printed in unfamiliar symbols, with their learning retention measured using reading tests and brain scans.

It was shown that those who focused on the meanings of the new words were much less accurate in comprehending and reading the words aloud than those who had used phonics, while MRI scans indicated that their brains had to work harder to decipher what they were looking at.

Professor Kathy Rastle from the department of psychology at Royal Holloway said: "Some people continue to advocate using a variety of meaning-based cues, such as pictures and sentence context, to guess the meanings of words.

"However, our research is clear that reading instruction that focuses on teaching the relationship between spelling and sound is most effective. Phonics works."

Currently, the provision of systematic phonics instruction is a legal requirement in state-funded primary schools in England, with the impact of this teaching measured through a screening check administered to children in Year 1.

Since introducing this test, year-on-year gains in the percentage of children reaching an expected standard have been consistently recorded, rising from 58 per cent in 2012 to 81 per cent in 2016.

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