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Teaching Children To Read Through Phonics May Be Disadvantageous In The Long Term

Researchers have found that children learn to read primarily by storing words in the brain and suggest that teaching children to read through phonics may be disadvantageous to them later in life.

| July 5, 2011 | Academia

AsianScientist (Jul. 5, 2011) - New Zealand researchers have found that children learn to read primarily by storing words in the brain and suggest that learning to read through phonics, a widely-used method for teaching speakers to read words by sounding them out, may be disadvantageous to them in the long term.

The findings from the two studies, conducted jointly by Dr. Brian Thompson, of Victoria University, and Dr. Claire Fletcher-Flinn, an associate professor at the University of Otago College of Education, will be presented at the Australasian Human Development Association (AHDA) Conference this week.

In the first study, the researchers found that six-year-old Scottish children taught through phonics read at a much slower speed than comparable children taught through New Zealand’s more book-centered approach.

They also performed more poorly in deciding whether words were real or not at ages eight and 11, with non-words such as ‘blud’ being picked more often as real words, for example.

In phonics, children learn the sounds of the 26 letters and the technique of blending them together to make sounds. If taught properly and given enough practice, a child can learn to read very quickly with this system without having to memorize the spelling of every word.

The researchers also found that Scottish university students who had been taught through phonics as children were worse at reading new or unfamiliar words that do not follow regular taught letter-sounds than their New Zealand counterparts.

It is becoming clear that explicit phonics instruction leaves a ‘cognitive footprint’, resulting in a long-term disadvantage when the reader attempts new words.

“These findings suggest that educators and policymakers need to look beyond any claimed short-term advantages of particular teaching methods, and take into account longer-term effects when considering the merits of different approaches to teaching reading,” says Fletcher-Flinn.

In a second project, the researchers studied Grade 1 Japanese Kindergarten children, Japanese adults learning to read, and New Zealand students taking Japanese in high school as a second language.

They found that the same cognitive processes involved in learning to read occurs in both children learning English and those learning Japanese, despite these languages having two different writing systems: English has a writing system based on the alphabet (letters), while Japanese has a writing system based on characters for syllables (called Hiragana).

“This is a very important finding which suggests a general learning process for learning to read, regardless of the way the language is written,” says Fletcher-Flinn.

Teachers in New Zealand should strongly support the building up of the child’s vocabulary of print words, which have been connected to words in their spoken vocabulary, the researchers say.


Source: University of Otago.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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