Phonics is an approach to teaching reading, and some aspects of writing and spelling, by developing learners’ phonemic awareness. In linguistics, a phoneme is the smallest unit of speech that can be used to make one word different from another word. Phonics approaches therefore involve the skills of hearing, identifying and using sound patterns or phonemes in English. The aim is to teach learners the relationship between these sounds and the written spelling patterns, or graphemes, which represent them. Phonics emphasises the skills of decoding new words by sounding them out and combining or ‘blending’ the sound-spelling patterns. There are two main approaches to teaching phonics: analytic and synthetic phonics. In both approaches the learner needs to have some phonological awareness (the ability to hear and discriminate sounds in spoken words). Synthetic phonics focuses on the development of phonemic awareness as a key skill. To learn to decode written text into sounds, a reader is taught up to 44 phonemes (the smallest units of sound) and their related graphemes (the written symbols for these phonemes). Analytic phonics, also sometimes known as the "whole word" approach, involves analysis of whole words to detect phonetic or orthographic (spelling) patterns, then splitting them into smaller parts and sounding these out to help with the decoding process.
Search terms: Phonics, analytic* phonics, synthetic phonics, phonemic awareness.
There are seven meta-analyses and one best-evidence synthesis with quantitative estimates of impact on achievement (effect sizes). Five of the meta-analyses have been conducted in the last ten years. There is high quality evidence in these syntheses where the majority of the included studies have ecological validity and where the outcome measures include curriculum measures or standardised tests in school subject areas. The pooled effect size estimates range from 0.24 to 0.62, with some of the variation explained by intensity (particularly one-to-one and small group) and outcome measures (higher effects for word level measures and lower for comprehension). Overall the evidence is rated as very extensive.