One frustrating feature of the ongoing phonics debate is how occluded it has become. Everyone seems to have their own definition of what ‘phonics’ means. For instance, to some, there is a key difference between systematic synthetic phonics and systematic phonics, as if we could systematically teach all of the grapheme-phoneme correspondences without ever making words out of them. These arguments make the debate almost impenetrable to the uninitiated and, knowingly or not, that seems to serve a purpose.
For instance, a smearing-out of the meaning of ‘phonics’ enables people to claim that all teachers are doing phonics already, even if what they are actually doing is an occasional bit of onset and rime while still focusing on discredited multi-cuing or ‘searchlight‘ strategies. “Teachers are already doing phonics,” is a familiar refrain in Australia whenever a new newspaper article or report appears:
And did you notice something odd…
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