Phonics teaching in UK primary schools is rightly recognised as giving children the essential building blocks needed to become successful readers. Indeed, we are so pro-phonics that little is done to raise awareness about other methods, even those which might be seen as an accompaniment to phonics, not a replacement for it.
Schools tend to stick to what they know and, with more and more demand being put on teachers to raise standards and achieve excellent Ofsted reports, there is little in the way of “free time” to be allocated to testing out new methods, even those aimed at children who have had phonics training but who still have reading difficulties.
Phonics is based on training children’s “segmental phonological awareness” (that is, raising their awareness of letters and sounds and teaching them segmenting and blending skills). But there is a second part to phonological awareness known as “suprasegmental phonology”. It refers to the rhythmic components of spoken language that accompany the segmental elements, such as stress placement, intonation or pitch, and timing.
There is a growing body of evidence which supports the idea that awareness of, or sensitivity to, these rhythmic components is related to reading at various levels, including reading acquisition, comprehension and, more interestingly, reading difficulties. What this means is that children who have reading difficulties also tend to have poor speech rhythm sensitivity – and the better a child’s speech rhythm sensitivity is, the better their reading skills tend to be.