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LRDG: C-a-t makes cat: teaching literacy with phonics. What is an NLS researcher to make of this?

Date: 20 May 2014 Time: 1.00-2.00 pm

Venue: C89, County South, Lancaster University

At the next Literacy Research Discussion Group session (Tuesday 20 May) we will be pleased to welcome Uta Papen (Lancaster University) who will be speaking on:

C-a-t makes cat: teaching literacy with phonics. What is an NLS researcher to make of this?

Since October 2013 I have spent one morning per week in a local primary school researching how literacy is taught to five and six year olds. The main approach used by the teachers is what is called 'synthetic phonics', a way of teaching reading and writing that is strongly supported by the government. I did not come to this study with a completely open mind. My views on synthetic phonics are complex and at times not clear at all. When I first began to read about phonics, for me as an NLS researcher, this method seemed to tick all the boxes in terms of being heavily skills focussed, treating literacy as context free, forgetting about meaning and forcing children to undergo countless hours of boring drills in sounds and letters. Since then I have read a lot more about the approach, I have studied the politics surrounding it and the concepts of reading it is based on. Most importantly, thanks to my time with the 30 children in the classroom, I have seen how it works in practice and what it can (and cannot) achieve. So the question in my title is genuine and I haven't got an answer yet. There is one thing though I am more and more certain about: if phonics works, it does so, only in part because of what it is. What works, I will suggest in my talk, is the combination of phonics with all the other things the teachers do throughout the school day, from songs, to prayers, play and paint. So the magic ingredient for literacy teaching politicians are searching for might be something like 'phonics plus'.


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Associated staff: Uta Papen

Organising departments and research centres: Lancaster Literacy Research Centre, Linguistics and English Language

Keywords: Children, Ethnography of literacy, Learning, Literacies, Reading


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
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