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The right way to learn to read and write

THE English spelling system doesn't seem to make sense. In fact, we have to wonder if there is a system at all when we look at the strange ways we spell words in English. Why is "rough" spelt the same way as "though," when their sounds are completely different? Why doesn't "through" rhyme with "though" or "rough," when the last four letters of each word are the same? Why can't we just start from the beginning and build a more simple spelling system?

The English language isn't easy to master, and its nuances are both an annoyance and an enjoyable challenge for the learner. For centuries, rules have been made and then broken with multiple exceptions. The common rule of "i before e, except after c" works often; but then we find: feisty, deity, science, conscience. This is all to do with the way in which the language developed and the influences from the Romans, the Normans and the other peoples that invaded a little island off the coast of mainland Europe.

As parents and teachers, it's our job to equip children with the necessary literacy skills to function effectively in school, college or at work. These skills need to allow them to gain access to information and new ideas; communicate their own ideas to others; and participate fully and safely in society. Of course, reading is one of these skills, and the variety of spelling rules makes our jobs much more difficult and, of course, much more interesting.

There are 44 sounds (phonemes) in the English language (depending on regional accents). This seems easy so far. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of ways of representing these sounds in different letter combinations (graphemes). So it's not so easy to read or write. In the past a "look and say" approach has been used to combat the problem, and this does work to a certain extent. Try this:

Atfer all, ecah of you is albe to raed this poorly splet setnecne becuase the huamn mind looks for patetrns when raeding.

You can interpret the misspellings because your brain already knows the words and can rearrange the letters. When children master phonics skills, they become independent readers, decoding unfamiliar words themselves.

In 2006, Jim Rose completed his independent review of the teaching of early reading in the UK. As a result of the Rose Report, the UK curriculum was revised for literacy to ensure that phonics became the key approach for teaching early reading. The report provided clear recommendations on what constitutes high-quality phonics work.

In order to meet our children's needs and to ensure we achieve the core criteria of quality phonics teaching, BISS Pudong campus has invested heavily in Read Write Inc. This is a fully integrated literacy program that teaches key phonics skills and incorporates key literacy objectives as part of the UK curriculum.

The structure of Read Write Inc is based on synthetic phonics; this comes from the concept of synthesizing, meaning putting together or blending. This involves putting the sounds of the letters/graphemes together to make a word. What is synthesized in reading are the sounds prompted by the letters on the page. With this approach, before children are asked to read books, they are taught letter sounds.

You can learn more about Read Write Inc at:

(Steve King is the Primary Literacy coordinator at The British International School Shanghai, Pudong campus.)


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