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Does anyone think phonics teaching has any harmful effects?

(728 Posts)
housework Wed 19-Jun-13 10:22:16

I am happy to be persuaded either way but would be and would be interested to hear all views. Am thinking about dd and whether phonics has worked for her.
DD is 7, reads very well and comprehends what she is reading on the whole. She passed the Y1 phonics test getting the magic 32 so many children got. However, she's a poor speller to the extent that an Ed Psych has suggested testing for dyslexia. I'd like to do some more spelling work with her over the summer holidays. Today I did a bit of the Alpha to Omega placement test with her. She spelt crash as 'Krash' and chip as 'thip.' I let her do the next words 'splash' and 'thrush'. She spelt these correctly. With chip, I think she knew there were 'th', 'sh' and 'ch' to choose from and just picked one of them.
The above and other incidences make me wonder. Does phonics stop a child trusting their instincts? In her case, I think she is not considering how a word looks to help her spell it. She will always fall back on a phonetic spelling unless she already knows the spelling. If school had focussed more on rote learning, regular and rigorous spelling tests, would she spell better. At the moment they're all still ploughing through phonics because the failures have to re-take this year. But there are no expectations re spelling, barely any spelling tests, no words given to learn. And dd is the type that will only do the work if school have set it.
I'm just wondering where to go from here. Thanks for reading.

mrz Thu 20-Jun-13 20:48:24

aitch eye pea pea oh pea oh tea oh em oh en es tea ar oh es que you eye pea ee dee ay el eye oh pea aitch oh bee eye ay yes really helpful for reading

Hulababy Thu 20-Jun-13 20:53:11

Our infant school does Debbie Hepplewhite's Floppy Phonics program from Foundation to Y2. The program teaches both phonics for reading and phonics for spelling. Both skills are practised regularly, and tie in with handwriting too.

We use the phrase "In this word .... is the code for ...."
Children even from Foundation see the full alphabetic code and it is displayed in all rooms in and around school. They get used to referring to it.

The program does uses letter names as well though, along side letter sounds.

BTW - most educational research shows that traditional spelling tests have no academic benefit once a child is doing independent writing.

justsstartingtothink Thu 20-Jun-13 21:14:59

I'm not a teacher by training so have to defer to you and others on what is considered to be "best practice" teaching methods.

In reply to OPs question about whether phonics teaching can have harmful effects, I would still maintain that it can (and no doubt Mrz would continue to maintain the opposite, assuming proper methods are used).
Everyone I know of my (admittedly rather ancient) generation and of my parents' (even more ancient) generation, learned the names of letters and learned how letters are combined to make words and could read comfortably by the age of 6. I know many children in London who do not read as fluently as my generation did at similar age and, worse, can't spell aloud using letter names.

A(ay) m(am) y(why) is not a "meaningless" way to spell a name. It is the correct way to spell a name. I would agree the correct way to pronounce the name is /ay/ /m/ /ee/. Put another way, if a child asks how to spell "police" and is told /p/ /o/ /l/ /ee/ /s/ (or whatever the phonetic representation is) she could write the word in several different ways; if she's told p-o-l-i-c-e she will know how to spell it correctly. And.... having been taught the different sounds letters can make, she'll understand why the letter "c" sounds like /s/ in this word.

I was delighted my son learned to read fluently before he started reception as he would undoubtedly have been befuddled by the methods used here, at least in his school.

Hulababy Thu 20-Jun-13 21:18:19

There were a great many children who did not learn to read or write properly in the past. many children were failed in that respect, right up until leaving school.

I taught in an adult male prison and the literacy rates of those adult males were generally very very low. The percentage was astonishing really. They were having to start literacy at Pre Entry levels. In other words, they couldn't really read at all.

mrz Thu 20-Jun-13 21:26:52

Obviously my parents would be even more ancient as they were taught to read using phonics as were children for hundreds of years before them.

Letter names are a convention we use but not at all useful for working out what an unknown word is. If you had never heard the name Amy and someone said the letter names you would be no wise how to pronounce it but ay-m ee leaves no doubt.

ClayDavis Thu 20-Jun-13 21:35:33

I know many children in London who do not read as fluently as my generation did at similar age and, worse, can't spell aloud using letter names.

Can I ask why not being able to spell aloud using letter names is worse than not being able to read fluently? You seem to have got this arse about tit somehow.

AbbyR1973 Thu 20-Jun-13 21:44:51

Why is spelling using letter names "correct" and spelling using letter sounds not. There may well be a convention that spellings are given using letter names but using letter sounds is not wrong.
Actually attempting to teach a child to spell outloud using letter names I imagine is likely to be confusing since letter names often don't correspond to the sound a letter makes within a word.
As I mentioned DS2 age 4 spelt chip correctly earlier, he clearly didn't say cee-ach-eye-pee, he broke it down to the sounds ch-i-p and knew that he needed c and h to make a ch sound. Actually the ONLY use of learning the alphabet song is to help with learning alphabetical order.
DS1 actually knew letter names and sounds when he started school but our primary aim was to learn sounds, he just happened to pick up the names, nevertheless in his reading and spelling he will automatically use sounds rather than names.

prettydaisies Thu 20-Jun-13 21:57:20

DD who is 12, will still often spell using sounds and not names. Her spelling is good so it hasn't made any difference. She is still not that confident with the alphabet, often has to go back to the beginning to remember which letter comes after 'g' etc, but again it has done her no harm.
I was at a first school in the 70s and was taught reading by learning whole words (I remember the flash cards). I really struggled and could not read by the time I was 8 and had gone to middle school. So not everyone could do it back in the dark ages!

justsstartingtothink Thu 20-Jun-13 22:08:44

Hulababy -- if you went into a juvenile correction center (or whatever they're called in the UK), what sort of literacy rates would you find? Children are still being failed -- and I would guess at similar rates to years gone by -- despite phonics.

mrz -- clearly different teaching methods are used in different parts of the country. neither my British husband nor his British parents were taught to read phonetically. I grew up in another country, as did my parents and none of us learned to read by the method you describe. I don't question the fact it seems to work for some children; I just think a modified approach would work better.

ClayDavis and Abby -- I just booked a plane ticket over the phone (because the website was not working). I had to spell many words, including my name and my son's name and my street address, etc. If I had used anything other than letter names, the airline agent would not have been able to make the booking. Clearly, 6 year olds will not be in that situation. But they could feasibly be in a situation -- possibly even an emergency -- where they have to spell their names over the phone or spell their address over the phone. If they don't know how to do so with letter names, they won't be able to give the correct information.
Clay -- I don't know what "arse about tit" means; but I do not think it's worse not to be able to spell with letter names than not to be able to read. I think learning to read can be accomplished more effectively by combining knowledge of letter names with knowledge of sounds the letters make. I'm just adding one additional dimension to what mrz advocates.

Children understand some dogs say "wow" and some dogs say "woof" but they're all dogs and they're called dogs not "wows" or "woofs". Similarly, they can understand "c" can sound like /kh/ or like /s/ -- or even, /ch/ but it's still a "c". Give children credit for being more intelligent and more discerning than you seem to think they are!

maizieD Thu 20-Jun-13 22:23:29

^ Children are still being failed -- and I would guess at similar rates to years gone by -- despite phonics.^

That statement would only be anywhere near true if phonics had been the main method of teaching reading for the past decade or so. In fact, it hasn't. Even though many schools are now paying lip service to phonics teaching, since it became official 'guidance' in 2007, the studies of schools and teachers undertaking the Phonics Check last year and the year before quite clearly show that teachers are still using 'other strategies' alongside the phonics teaching. Before 2007 most schools taught predominately 'look & say' with a smattering of phonics thrown in.

I work with KS3 (11y+) children who 'struggle' with reading, using only phonic principles to support and improve their reading. It is very clear from their reading strategies that they have not had good phonics teaching. On the other hand, it is also clear from the way they respond very positively to 'phonics only' instruction that had they experienced it from the start they would have become much better readers by the time they left Primary school.

AbbyR1973 Thu 20-Jun-13 22:27:50

Actually the "correct" way to spell over the telephone/ emergency services is the phonetic alphabet- alpha, bravo etc.
I am quite certain that DS1 could make himself understood spelling with letter sounds if he had to. Actually as he gets older he is likely to increasingly get into the habit of spelling outloud using letter names rather than sounds, but at the early stages it helps most children to spell out using letter sounds.

learnandsay Thu 20-Jun-13 22:37:41

It's not a question of noticing. There is no reason why not.

HorryIsUpduffed Thu 20-Jun-13 22:43:07

Not phonetic alphabet, "callsign alphabet".

<linguistics pedant> grin

learnandsay Thu 20-Jun-13 22:48:20

It's quick and efficient (if you know it.) The slower was is to spell your name a for apple, l for leg, i for igloo ...

justsstartingtothink Thu 20-Jun-13 23:05:50

maizie -- I stand by my point that many children are still being failed -- regardless of education policy. I'm confused about education policy, though, as mrz says she learned through phonics but you say most schools taught predominantly "look and say" until 2007. No adult I know in England was taught by the method mrz describes. All of my husband's octogenarian relatives -- despite growing up in poverty and in deprived parts of the country -- learned to read as I did -- by learning letters and learning how letters form sounds and form words. These examples do not mean the way they learned was "right" and the way mrz teaches is "wrong". It does mean, though, that different methods of teaching -- if implemented effectively -- can have positive results. And different methods of teaching -- if implemented ineffectively -- can have negative results, as OP has noticed.

OP -- I think many teachers accept phonetic spelling. If your daughter is "falling back" on phonetic spelling (and applying phonetic spelling correctly) perhaps she is progressing "normally". What do her teachers say? If she is reading well and is able to express ideas in writing (whether spelled "correctly" or "phonetically"), I think you don't need to worry. It's better to develop fluency in writing, I think, even if spelling is erratic. If you correct her spelling too much, you might inhibit the fluency and encourage her to use only simply words she "knows" rather than attempt more creative use of words.

BabiesAreLikeBuses Thu 20-Jun-13 23:07:38

Where i work children tend to spell out words using sounds until about 8/9 then switch to letter names. Not to do with teachers or teaching methods but the think it sounds more grown up and that's important to a 9 year old. It's very easy to do both at 9 when you can already read and write but we simplify most things for younger kids and using phonics is more logical. They do learn letter names too but they're nowhere near as useful.
Fwiw when i did my teacher training mixed methods were advocated and i felt that was best but having seen quality phonics teaching in action i'm converted.

rabbitstew Thu 20-Jun-13 23:20:49

So, what do teachers call individual letters when they are being talked about as individual letters in front of very young children? Are you allowed to call them by their names, then?... It's not as if the letter C really says anything other than "see" when it's on its own, is it? And surely you sometimes want to talk about individual letters, when you are learning to write them???? Some people on here are giving the impression that knowing the "real names" of letters is somehow banned knowledge until children have learned to read using phonics. Which does sound somewhat bizarre. Real letter names are really not that confusing.

justsstartingtothink Thu 20-Jun-13 23:26:48

rabbitstew -- that's precisely my point. Perhaps I have only seen bad examples of phonics/literacy teaching. My observations over the last 6 years and of a handful of supposedly "outstanding" or at least "excellent" schools, is that children are not taught the letter names and teachers do not refer to letters by letter names. a "C" put on the wall is not called "see" but "kh". Hence my doubts about the system of teaching. Clearly mrz and others use different methods that are very effective with their classes. In answer to OPs questions, though, I thought it might be helpful for her to know that phonics teaching -- perhaps only bad phonics teaching -- sometimes has odd consequences (as do other methods, of course!)

mrz Fri 21-Jun-13 06:29:05

No justsstartingtothink mrz didn't say she learnt by phonics she said her parents and grandparents and their grandparents were taught phonics in school. I was one of those annoying kids who learnt without being taught and struggled with spelling for years until I learnt phonics at university.

Phonics was the main method of reading instruction in England for centuries until "look & say" was introduced from America (gradually from the 1920s but at it's height in the 1960s).

Of course letter names aren't confusing but they don't help a beginner reader to work out what a word is because the spoken word cat does not sound anything like see ay tea and of course they don't help a beginner speller to write the word. Even as adults if we don't know how to spell a word we think about how it sounds, perhaps break it down into syllables or sounds ...because it works. If we were spelling something out to others we would probably use the convention of letter names and so do children once they are secure with spelling.

mrz Fri 21-Jun-13 06:33:53

rabbitstew the letter c doesn't say anything whether is on it's own or in a word. It represents different sounds in different words cat, circle, cello.
Children are taught to write the spelling for a sound so would be taught "this is how we write /c/ in the word cat. Phonics is taught in context not in isolation as some people seem to think.

Mashabell Fri 21-Jun-13 07:12:10

"For spelling, it's a matter of memorising words by word" all 250000 of them masha?

That figure of 250,000 includes derivatives, such as 'works, workings, worker' from 'work' and thousands of foreign words which are listed in dictionaries but most people either don't know or never use (posada, Leitmotif, raconteur, racemose).

I have established that the core English vocabulary, i.e. the main words which most pupils can be expected to become familiar with by age 16, consists of no more than 7,000 words. Even that alredy includes some relatively little used ones like 'heifer, sleuce' and 'pommel'.

Of those, 3,695 contain one or more unpredictable letters, such as 'frIend, bUild, imaginE'.

English spelling is not completely chaotic, and children grasp the basic rules easily enough, as their sensible early spellings invariably show (frend, bild, imajin/imagin). But learing to spell such simple, common words in the unpredictable, unphonemic ways which have become enshrined in dictionaries takes many years, because there is no ways of learning to spell them 'correctly', except memorise their little quirks word by word.

Mashabell Fri 21-Jun-13 07:14:43

...there is no way ....

mrz Fri 21-Jun-13 07:17:19

No masha if you include derivatives the number is closer to half a million words you would need to memorise.

So are you are saying a child only needs to memorise between 3,695 - 7,000 words? ...easy peasy then hmm

mrz Fri 21-Jun-13 07:19:17

"and thousands of foreign words which are listed in dictionaries but most people either don't know or never use (posada, Leitmotif, raconteur, racemose)."
Interesting that you want to limit people's vocabularies to support your spelling reform

Feenie Fri 21-Jun-13 07:53:05

Ah Masha, there you are. Could you remind us please how many children you have successfully taught to read?

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