Phonics #2: Phonics is not a science.

Phonics is not a science. Fact. There are many grey areas.

The alphabetic code is something that we try to teach coherently to increase children’s chances of success in learning how to read and spell. We all agree that there are 26 letters of the alphabet and we agree that there are simple and complex sounds represented by letters or combinations of letters. Research indicates that if the letters and sounds are taught daily and  in a consistent sequence that allows for cumulative practice then children are more likely to be successful. We also know that it’s helpful to demonstrate early on in children’s learning that reading and spelling are but two sides of the same coin; we blend the sounds to read and we segment them to spell. We also know that phonics has to be but a small part of a rich language curriculum as a means to an end so that children can read to learn and enjoy once the learning to read has been achieved. So far so good.

Phonics has become the new buzz word; teachers, parents and children alike use the word with an informed confidence. But rarely in history has a government dictated pedagogy ( typically they tell us ‘what’ but not ‘how’) or engaged in BOGOF  sales campaigns to promote a particular approach  and kite-marked resources. Rarely has a government declared that the solution to understanding and teaching  a complex behaviour has been solved and that the answer is after all so very simple. After centuries of academic research and pontification it seems that we have cracked the code.  Should we be uncomfortable  about the tenor of this certainty?

I don’t believe in easy answers and I don’t think that false confidence is good for our nation of teachers and children. Posing questions, further scrutiny and longitudinal and classroom based research is crucial. So let’s keep open minds, keep asking the hard questions and let’s celebrate the grey areas of uncertainty because phonics is not a science and neither is learning.




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