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Last Updated: Friday, 8 June 2007, 00:20 GMT 01:20 UK
New phonics method 'gets results'
children reading
Teachers said the method boosted children's self-esteem
A system of phonics which builds on a child's own language has been found to boost reading skills, academics say.

A study of more than 900 primary school children taught using a system known as linguistic phonics found they made more progress than those who were not.

Researchers at Stranmillis University College in Belfast said pupils advanced by several months more than expected.

They say the system could have benefits for children with a wide range of regional and other accents.

Linguistic phonics has been developed over several years by the Belfast Education and Library Board.

Lead researcher Dr Colette Gray said it had been rigorously tested in the study, which involved 22 schools in the Belfast area.

"The results were significant and children who were taught using the linguistic phonics approach did make more progress in reading than those who were not," she said.

"The system also appears to have had an impact on their spelling and writing performance."

Low achievers

A system known as synthetic phonics is endorsed by the Scottish Executive and is becoming the main way children are taught to read in England.

Under it, children learn the sounds of letters and groups of letters in a particular order before putting them together to work out words and start to read.

England's curriculum is being revised so that the system is used "fast and first" following a review of phonics by former Ofsted inspections director Jim Rose.

He looked at the success of the system used in a long-term study in Clackmannanshire.

Dr Gray argues that other phonics approaches are not always compatible with regional accents and colloquialisms.

Linguistic phonics draws on a child's existing language
Dr Colette Gray

"Some teachers had been using the synthetic phonics approach and the sounds of the letters were different because of the regional accent.

"Linguistic phonics is designed to build on the child's natural language and can take account of the Northern Irish accent, whilst other synthetic phonics approaches are not always compatible with regional accents and colloquialisms."

Dr Gray said the linguistic method would work with various regional accents.

The other distinctive aspect of the approach, she said, was that it involved games and made reading fun.

In the study, the researchers looked at the existing performance of children at similar schools, then checked again when some of the schools had been following the programme for nine months.

The greatest gains, they said, were among those who were the lowest achievers at the beginning.

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