Phonics is the best way to teach reading, research shows

Research by the Royal Holloway University of London shows that learning to read by sounding words improves the accuracy of reading aloud.

Researchers from Royal Holloway and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit tested whether learning to read by sounding out words is more effective than focusing on whole-word meanings.

In order to assess the effectiveness of using phonics, the researchers trained adults to read in a new language, printed in unfamiliar symbols, and then measured their learning with reading tests and brain scans.

In England, the provision of systematic phonics instruction is a legal requirement in state-funded primary schools.

The impact of phonics is measured through a screening check administered to children in Year 1. The results of this screening check have shown year-on-year gains in the percentage of children reaching an expected standard – from 58 per cent in 2012 to 81 per cent in 2016.

However there are objections to the use of systematic phonic as many practitioners argue in favour of a “less-prescriptive” approach, consisting of a variety of phonic- and meaning-based skills. One common objection is that while phonics may assist reading aloud, it may not promote reading comprehension.

Professor Kathy Rastle, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway said, "The results were striking; people who had focused on the meanings of the new words were much less accurate in reading aloud and comprehension than those who had used phonics, and our MRI scans revealed that their brains had to work harder to decipher what they were reading”.

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