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Phonics Works: Sounding Out Words Best Way to Teach Reading

Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General has shown that learning to read by sounding out words (a teaching method known as phonics) has a dramatic impact on the accuracy of reading aloud and comprehension.

There has been intense debate concerning how children should be taught to read. Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London 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.

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.”

“There is a long history of debate over which method, or mix of methods, should be used to teach reading,” continued Professor Rastle. “Some people continue to advocate using a variety of meaning-based cues, such as pictures and sentence context, to guess the meanings of words. However, our research is clear that reading instruction that focuses on teaching the relationship between spelling and sound is most effective. Phonics works.”

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