Teaching relationships between sounds and the ways they are represented as letters and letter clusters – phonics – is foundational pedagogical work in the first years of school. It
sits alongside teaching comprehension, phonemic and morphemic awareness, vocabulary development, fluency, and critical thinking to name a few. While there is agreement that the purpose of teaching reading and writing is to develop the ability to make meaning, it seems there is always debate about how this is achieved. A current focus is the so-called “phonics debate”, a response to the Australian Governments proposed “phonics screener”. This standardised assessment draws on the UK model where children are scored while reading “real” and “pseudo” words in a list. Children who fail are the target of an intervention using synthetic phonics, an approach that addresses letter sound relationships in isolation from the act of reading and writing continuous text.
This article shares accounts of explicit and systematic teaching of phonics in early years classrooms. It explores implications of these practices within current debates in an effort to reiterate the expertise of teachers and acknowledge their ability to identify and respond to their students’ learning progress without taking on another standardised test.