Time for a new chapter in teaching reading?

Little girl in a car seat reading a book - happy smile on face

Synthetic phonics isn’t working well and for children’s reading to improve they need to enjoy it, academic linguists at three universities have warned.

And, they advise, focusing on stories that children like to read would be a far better place to start.

The National Literacy Trust has found that well over half of children aged eight to 18 do not enjoy reading.

And, recently, the think tank Pro Bono Economics found their lack of early reading skills could result in a £830 million cost to the economy for each year group over their lifetimes.

“Part of learning to read should be learning to love books,” says Professor Willem Hollmann, of Lancaster University, working with literacy experts from MMU and UCL.

“If children don’t like reading, how we teach it to them isn’t working.”

“Our view, as academic linguists, is that part of the reason why so many children do not experience joy in reading is the excessive focus on synthetic phonics in early education.”

Synthetic phonics teaches reading by guiding children to decode words by linking letters (graphemes) to their corresponding sounds (phonemes). For instance, children are taught that the letter 'g' corresponds to the initial consonant in 'get'.

Phonics has always played a role in teaching children how to read, alongside other methods, but has come to dominate the teaching of reading in England since the late 2000s far more than in other Anglophone countries.

“We know from existing studies that a phonics-led approach is much less effective than one that focuses on comprehension more broadly, by getting children to engage with the text and images in different ways,” added Professor Hollmann, who has written for The Conversation on the subject and been interviewed by radio stations in Australia and South Africa.

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