A systematic review of the research literature on the use of phonics in the teaching of reading and spelling.

Carole J Togerson, Greg Brooks and Jill Hall

Phonics is a much debated area of literacy teaching, with disagreement between the use of a mixed approach (which includes an element of phonics) or phonics as the predominant method of word identification. In addition, there is the question of which method of phonics teaching is the most effective: synthetic (based on sounding out and blending) or analytic (inferring sound symbol relationships from sets of words which share a letter and sound).

Next is the decision about whether or not phonics should be taught systematically. This recent research found that systematic phonics teaching is linked to better progress in reading accuracy, but found no evidence for either synthetic or analytic phonics instruction being superior to the other.

Based on a systematic review of 20 randomised-controlled trials, only one of which took place in the UK, a 12% improvement in reading accuracy was confi rmed for normally developing children and those at risk of failure. However, existing research does not offer enough evidence to show whether phonics teaching boosts comprehension, or that phonics should be
used to teach spelling.

The review says systematic phonics instruction should become a routine part of teaching reading and that a larger UK-based trial needs to be done to enable further research into the effectiveness of different types of phonic instruction.

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