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The Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment





2.1 It was outwith our resources to carry out IQ tests on these children, but it was important to gain some measure of ability, as reading has been found to correlate with IQ. One common test of verbal ability in IQ tests is vocabulary knowledge. In this study, therefore, receptive vocabulary knowledge was tested with the British Picture Vocabulary Scale (Dunn and Dunn, 1982) in Primary 1. This yields scores standardised for age, with a mean of 100. In this test, children are read out a word and shown four pictures. Their task is to point to the picture that represents the spoken word. Vocabulary knowledge has been found to be the best single predictor of school success (Dale and Reichert, 1957).


Letter Knowledge

2.2 This was pre and post tested in Primary 1. Pupils were shown a sheet with all 26 letters of the alphabet (not in alphabetical order) in lower case print. Each child was asked to give the name and the sound for each letter. Percentage correct performance in producing (i) names and (ii) sounds was calculated for each child.

Emergent Reading

2.3 The Clay 'Ready to Read' Word Test (Clay, 1979) was used in Primary 1 pre and post test. Each child was asked to read a practice word (not scored) followed by 15 very high frequency single words. This test was devised by Clay to include words known by children at the very earliest stage of learning to read. Percentage correct performance was calculated for each child.

Word Reading

2.4 The British Ability Scales Word Reading Test (Elliott, Murray and Pearson, 1977) was used from Primary 1 to Primary 5. In Primary 1, it was used in September and March. Thereafter it was used in May/June, near the end of each Session, until the end of Primary 5. It is a standardised individually administered single word reading test, containing regular and irregular words. It contains relatively few words at the level of initial readers, yielding reading ages up to 14.5 years, so the Clay Test was additionally used in order not to underestimate reading ability in the early stages. For May/June in Primary 6 and 7 the word reading section of the Wide Range Achievement (Wilkinson, 1993) test was used because a high proportion of children were at ceiling on the BAS Word Reading Test by Primary 5.

Reading comprehension

2.5 The Primary Reading Test (France, 1981) was administered in May/June of Primary 2 and Primary 3. This is a group measure of reading comprehension using cloze procedure; sentences with missing words are presented and the child has to select the appropriate word from a list of alternatives. Thereafter the Group Reading test (Macmillan Unit, 2000) was used in May/June from Primary 4 to Primary 7.


2.6 The Schonell Spelling Test (Schonell and Schonell, 1952) was used in May/June from Primary 1 to Primary 6. A list of words is dictated to the class. Each word is read out singly and then again in a sentence. In May/June Primary 7 the spelling section of the Wide Range Achievement test was used, as too many children were at ceiling on the Schonell Test. Unlike the Schonell, the WRAT spelling test was administered individually.

Nonword reading

2.7 Nonword reading tests measure phonic reading skill. The children were asked to read simple CVC nonwords pre and post test i.e. hig, nal, kug, bis, gok, dep, foy, kun, ged, lar, jek, lan, mip, pos, ruk, dal, ped, fik, lom, sul. For a correct score, all three sounds had to be correct in context free English pronunciation. That is, a sound was correct if it had that pronunciation in any English word.

2.8 Underachieving children were asked to read both CVC nonwords and five different types of one syllable nonwords, 12 of each type, namely, words with initial consonant blends, final consonant blends, vowel digraphs, vowel lengthening silent 'e' and initial consonant blends with vowel digraphs. Children are told that the nonwords are made up and do not make sense as they are not real words. Children are asked to say each nonword and they are categorised as accurate if an acceptable pronunciation is produced.

Irregular words

2.9 In March of Primary 1 an analysis was made of the children's ability to read 7 irregular words from the BAS Word Reading Test. These were selected as being difficult to read on the basis of sounding and blending the letters. The percentage of correct items for each child was calculated. The items were 'the, one, you, said, money, light, glove'.

Reading by analogy

2.10 In March of Primary 1, at the end of the 16 week programme, the children were asked to read a list of 40 words. They were then asked to read 5 clue words that would assist them in reading the 40 words by analogy on second showing, i.e. prior exposure to 'ring' should facilitate the pronunciation of 'sing'. In order to ensure that all of the children knew how these words were pronounced, if the child could not read the word, it was pronounced for them. These clue words were then removed, and the 40 words shown again. The gain in reading skill after exposure to the clue words was assessed. The items were taken from Muter, Snowling, and Taylor (1994).


Phoneme Segmentation.

2.11 To test the children's ability to segment words into phonemes, the Yopp-Singer Test (Yopp, 1988) was used pre and post test in Primary 1. There were 3 practice items, the first item being demonstrated by the researcher and the child attempting the other two items. The test stimuli consisted of 2 and 3 phoneme words. Each child was asked to say the word spoken by the researcher and then say all the sounds in the word. An item was scored correct if all phonemes had been correctly segmented.

Generating rhyme.

2.12 The children were asked to generate rhyming words pre and post test in Primary 1. Both the tester and the child had a hand puppet. Nursery rhymes were discussed to make the task clear to the children. For practice the researcher's puppet 'said' a word and each child was asked to produce a rhyming word through his/her puppet. Twelve words were read out one at a time, using the experimenter's puppet (" hop, tall, hen, dog, man, coat, tail, door, tree, jump, tin, next") and for each word pupils were asked to give rhymes. The mean percentage number of rhymes given by each child was calculated; nonwords were accepted as rhymes.


2.13 We developed a questionnaire to ask parents about their educational levels, attitudes to literacy learning, and their and their children's usage of books and libraries. See Appendix 1. This was sent out in January when the children were in Primary 6.


2.14 The ATR2 questionnaire (Ewing and Johnstone, 1981) was developed at the former Dundee College of Education, one of the purposes of the design being to elicit information about how positive children were about reading. We administered it to the children in Primary 7. See Appendix 2.


2.15 Each school was assigned a score on the Deprivation Index devised by Clackmannanshire Council. This index is based on the percentage of unemployed, of households without a car, of the number of children and no earners, of the number of young lone parents, of school clothing grants, of free school meals, and of parents of social class 1 or 2. The schools in the sample considered disadvantaged had scores from 0.10 to 2.12, and those considered advantaged ranged from -0.59 to -0.93. The index we used was devised for the years 1997- 1998, which was when the study started.