Mentioning the phonics after all…

When I recently wrote about phonics, I got an interesting response from a guy who said:

Recent research in the United Kingdom showed that tests of the ability to distinguish isolated phonemes and syllables did not relate to tests of the ability to discriminate normal, everyday speech in any meaningful way. So why consider phonics for deaf children? I think if you are careful in the way you apply phonics, it can be helpful.

To those that don’t know, phonics is basically a way of learning literacy through listening to sounds (it’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the general gist of it). And just to prove that we do read our comments and take then on board, I thought I would respond to this and set out my own thoughts on the prickly issue of phonics.

First of all, intuitively, it is difficult to see how can a child who is profoundly deaf, who has little or no useful hearing, can learn literacy through a method that involves listening. Even if it was possible, it must be incredibly tiring and difficult to do so. I am most happy to be contradicted by research out there and would definitely like to take a closer look at the research mentioned so that we can use it to develop our thinking.

This is not to say that it can never be useful for deaf children. Many deaf children have some useful hearing and so it can useful for those. But it is difficult to see how it can be useful for all. And for those for might be useful, as the above comment says, it still needs to be applied in a careful way.

Which is why I objected to phonics being presented as the end-all solution to fix the problem entirely in the answers coming out from Government. In the context of parliamentary questions about deaf children, it is slightly baffling that phonics continues to be mentioned as the ‘solution’ without a recognition or fuller acknowledgement of the subtleties behind it. We’re also concerned that teachers are not always aware of these subtleties.

My esteemed colleagues are currently developing some thoughts on this which will aim to look at 3 questions:

1) Is phonics appropriate to all deaf children?

2) If is not appropriate for some deaf children, how can these children be taught literacy?

3) For deaf children for which phonics is appropriate, does it need to be taught in a slightly different way to ensure it is accessible?

This may seem like a slightly airy-fairy debate. But I think it’s definitely one worth having – especially when you look at figures given to us by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (which are set out in the annex of our Must do better! campaign report), deaf children are 300% more likely to leave primary school without a basic understanding of literacy.

300%!! Something is going very wrong when it comes to deaf children’s literacy and so we really need to get to the bottom of how deaf children can learn literacy and the different approaches that should be used.

So, as before, please feed in your comments and enter the debate if you’ve got any thoughts on this issue. We definitely read them and we definitely appreciate them.


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