Recommendation of Report
It is recommended that the “Jolly Phonics” system is not purchased by the Local Education Authority because there is a plethora of similar, free resources available to teachers.
Summary of Supporting Evidence
Phonics work is an integral part of all primary teaching and development of a strong foundation in reading at the individual word level is vital if children are to perform well in more advance whole-text challenges (Ehri and Snowling, 2004). Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to manipulate phonemes, the basic units of sounds that make up a language.
This awareness has repeatedly been shown to play an important part in developing basic reading and spelling abilities (Bird, Bishop and Freeman, 1995; Ehri et al., 2001; Goswami and Bryant, 1990; Torgesen, Wagner and Rashotte, 1994, Cardoso-Martins, Mesquita and Ehri, 2011) and it is right to be included in the curriculum.
Jolly Phonics (http://jollylearning.co.uk) aims to teach children the basics of literacy through the use of synthetic phonics, which are allocated to one of seven groups. Children are taught in five stages that comprise learning the letter sound, learning letter formation, blending, identifying the sounds in words and learning irregularly spelt words. Use of Jolly Phonics with children lacking in basic reading ‘readiness’ has been found to increase reading age by up to 2 years and 7 months in comparison to a control group (Ekpo et al., 2007) and Stuart (1999) found that the Jolly Phonics system is successful with both English speaking children and children for whom English is a second language. Therefore, there is evidence to suggest that Jolly Phonics could be a worthwhile investment.
Theories of Reading and Spelling
Theories of reading are still under debate. However, the way in which children learn new words, and recognise words they have already read, can be separated into four main theories (Ehri, 2006):
Phonological recoding is where children sound out and blend either syllables or graphemes, which are the smallest, meaningful units in a language. This approach requires the aforementioned phonemic awareness.
Analogising (Goswami, 1986) involves the use of words a child is already familiar with to help them read new words. For example, a child who knows the word ‘fountain’ may use this to read the word ‘mountain.’
Prediction (Goodman, 1970; Tunmer and Chapman, 1998) is when the child uses context and letter clues to try and guess an unfamiliar word.
Memory or sight means that the child recognises a word through the visual memory of seeing it before.
Despite a wealth of evidence in favour of the phonemic recoding approach to reading and spelling, other theories exist and their supporters have argued that phonemic learning may not be the only basis on which children can build their literacy skills. For example, there is the theory of ‘Mental Orthographic Representation’ (MOR) (Apel and Masterson, 2001; Apel, 2009), which is the ability to store a mental representation of the written forms that spoken language take and recognise words by matching them to one’s stored representation (Mayall et al., 2001). This theory would come under the ‘memory and sight’ umbrella as opposed to the more audiological basis of phonological recoding. Recent evidence has suggested that MOR could develop independently of phonemic awareness, contrary to previous belief, and could also be used to predict literacy development (Apel, Wolter and Masterson, 2006; Treiman and Kessler, 2006, Nation, Angell and Castles, 2007). Therefore, too much focus on phonemic awareness through use of the Jolly Phonic system could be denying children of other vital skills they need to read and spell successfully.
However, it is believed that dyslexic children have trouble recognising new words because of poor phonemic awareness (Snowling, 1981; Bruck, 1992) and it is stipulated that they are relying on the aforementioned memory and sight of words when trying to decode a novel word. Dyslexic children struggle because they have no visual memory of the word and cannot rely on phonemic awareness to try and decode it. Therefore, they are unable to read the new word. This suggests that development of phonemic awareness should perhaps dominate the way in which children are taught to read and spell successfully.
Value for Money
In conclusion, although there is strong evidence that the ‘Jolly Phonics’ system and an emphasis on developing phonemic awareness could greatly improve children’ literacy skills, it is based on a materials that could be accessed and utilised by teachers in a more cost-effective way. There are numerous free resources available on the internet, for example, the Mr Thorne Does Phonics (www.mrthorne.com) website contains a collection of child friendly videos broken down into ‘phases’ and designed to teach children phonemic awareness in a fun and engaging manner.
Using such a structured programme could distract teachers from supplementing children’s reading with other sources such as story-books, which could help develop other aspects of reading such as semantics and use of imagination. For example, it has been claimed that a good grasp of phonemes can only account for up to 40% of a child’s reading ability (Manis, Doi and Bhadha, 2000; Cunningham, Perry and Stanovich, 2001) and Cunningham (1990) found that reading ability was significantly improved in a group of children who received phonemic awareness training that explicitly detailed the use, value and application of phonemic awareness in the act of reading as opposed to the procedural type of training provided by systems such as Jolly Phonics. Therefore, it is important that teachers don’t come to rely solely on the Jolly Phonics system, something that could be encouraged in light of its expense.
Sources of Further Information
http://www.jollylearning.co.uk – website for the Jolly Phonics program, which includes case studies.
http://www.tes.co.uk – a plethora of free teaching resources that could be used as an inexpensive alternative to the Jolly Phonics system.
http://www.mrthorne.com – a collection of child friendly videos designed to teach the phonics system.
‘Learning to Read Words: Theory, Findings, and Issues’ by Linnea C. Ehri – a comprehensive review on the different theories of reading, available at http://www.wce.wwu.edu/Depts/SPED/Forms/Kens%20Readings/reading/Readings/Ehri%20Word%20Learning.pdf.
Apel, K. and Masterson, J.J. (2001) Theory-guided spelling assessment and intervention: A case study. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 32, pp. 182-195.
Apel, K., Wolter, J.A. and Masterson, J.J. (2006) Effects of phonotactic and orthotactic probabilities during fast-mapping on five year olds’ learning to spell. Developmental Neuropsychology, 29(1), pp. 21-42.
Apel, K. (2009) The acquisition of mental orthographic representations for reading and spelling development. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 31(1), pp. 42-52.
Bird, J., Bishop, D.V.M. and Freeman, N.H. (1995) Phonological awareness and literacy development in children with expressive phonological impairments. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 38(2), pp. 446-462.
Bruck, M. (1992) Persistance of dyslexic’s phonological awareness deficits. Developmental Psychology, 28(5), pp. 874-886.
Cardoso-Martins, C., Mesquita, T.C.L. and Ehri, L. (2011) Letter names and phonological awareness help children to learn letter-sound relations. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 109(1), pp. 25-38.
Cunningham, A.E. (1990) Explicit versus implicit instruction in phonemic awareness. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 50, pp. 429-444.
Cunningham, A.E., Perry, K.E. and Stanovich, K.E. (2001) Converging evidence for the concept of orthographic processing. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 14(5-6), pp. 549-568.
Ehri, L.C., Nunes, S.R., Willows, D.M., Schuster, B.V., Yaghoub-Zadeh, Z. and Shanahan, T. (2001) Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to read: Evidence from Reading Panel’s meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 250-287.
Ehri, L.C. and Snowling, M. J. (2004) Developmental variation in word recognition. In: C.A. Stone, E.R. Silliman, B.J. Ehren and K. Apel eds. Handbook of language and literacy. New York: Guilford, pp. 433-461.
Ehri, L.C. (2006) Learning to read words: Theory, findings, and issues. Scientific Studies of Reading, 92(2), pp. 167-188.
Ekpo, C.M., Udosen, A.E., Afangideh, M.E., Ekukinam, T.U. and Ikorok, M.M. (2007) Jolly phonics strategy and the ESL pupils’ reading development: a preliminary study. Paper presented at 1st Mid Term Conference held at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State: Nigeria.
Goodman, K. (1970) Behind the eye: What happens in reading. In: K. Goodman and O. Niles eds. Reading: Process and Program. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, pp. 3-38.
Goswami, U. (1986) Children’s using of analogy in learning to read: A developmental study. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 42, pp. 73-83.
Goswami. U. and Bryant, P. (1990) Phonological skills and learning to read. Hove, UK: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Jolly Learning Ltd. [no date]. Teaching Literacy with Jolly Phonics [online]. Available from http://jollylearning.co.uk [Accessed 23 February 2013].
Manis, F.R., Doi, L.M. and Bhadha, B. (2000) Naming speed, phonological awareness, and orthographic knowledge in second graders. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33(4), pp. 325.
Mayall, K., Humphreys, G.W., Mechelli, A., Olson, A. and Price, C.J. (2001) The effects of case mixing on word recognition: Evidence from a PET study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 13(6), pp. 844-853.
Mr Thorne Productions (2013) Mr Thorne Does Phonics [online]. Available at: http://www.mrthorne.com [Accessed 23 February 2013].
Nation, K., Angell, P. and Castles, A. (2007) Orthographic learning via self-teaching in children learning to read English: Effects of exposure, durability, and context. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 96, pp. 71-84.
Torgesen, J.K., Wagner, R.K. and Rashotte, C.A. (1994) Longitudinal studies and phonological processing and reading. Journal of Learning Disabilities.
Treiman, R. and Kessler, B. (2006) Spelling as statistical learning: Using consonantal context to spell vowels. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(3), pp. 141-170.
Tumner, W. and Chapman, J. (1998) Language prediction skill, phonological recoding ability and beginning reading. In: C. Hulme and R. Joshi eds. Reading and Spelling: Development and Disorders. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc., pp. 33-67.
Snowling, M.J. (1981) Phonemic deficits in developmental dyslexia. Psychological Research, 43(2), pp. 219-234.
Stuart, M. (1999) Getting ready for reading: Early phoneme awareness and phonics teaching improves reading and spelling in inner-city second language learners. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 69, pp. 587-605.