Two of the synthetic phonics programs, Letters and Sounds (L&S) and Early Reading Research (ERR), used by English primary schools to teach young children to read are equally effective overall. Although the programs were effective for most children the results indicated potential benefits of ERR for children with poor phonological awareness (understanding the sound structure of words).
These are findings of a study by Dr Laura Shapiro from Aston University and Dr Jonathan Solity, of Optima and University College London that are published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology.
Dr Shapiro said: "Synthetic phonics is the widely accepted approach for teaching reading in English: children are taught to sound out the letters in a word then blend these sounds together. In this study we compared the impact of two synthetic phonics programs on early reading in children over their first three years of school."
The study involved 17 schools in England who used either L&S (seven schools) which teaches multiple letter-sound mappings or ERR (10 schools) which teaches only the most consistent mappings plus frequent words by sight. Researchers measured children's phonological awareness and reading from school entry to the end of the second or third school year.
Although the two programs differ in the number of phonic skills that are taught, the simpler program (ERR) was just as effective for children who start school with a good understanding of the sound structure of words and to some extent more effective for children with a poor understanding.
Dr Shapiro said: "It will be heartening for many parents and teachers to know that these programs are equally effective overall. However, their impact on reading skills was linked to a child's phonological awareness when starting school. Although further research is needed our findings suggest that including a narrow range of phonic skills is sufficient and explicitly teaching children to use two strategies for reading (sounding out, or recognising by sight) may benefit children with poor phonological awareness."
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