(Taken from the Times Educational Supplement article):
Dr Usha Goswami's research has revolutionised reading schemes.
Our 17th-century ancestors, it seems, taught children to read in a way that we have just caught up with. Books then grouped words by rhyme, according to Dr Usha Goswami, lecturer in experimental psychology at Cambridge University.
Our forebears lacked the benefits of a scheme like the Reading Tree, of research-based theories to back up their methods, banks of illustrators and full-colour mass publishing for child-friendly books, but the importance of rhyme as an aid to reading and writing was not lost on them.
In more recent times the work of Dr Peter Bryant, Watts professor of psychology at Oxford University, has established that children raised on nursery rhymes and other rhyme-rich prose and poetry develop phonological awareness (awareness of sound in spoken words) and are therefore more likely to become better readers and spellers. More recently still, Usha Goswami has played a large part in establishing why this is so.
In some respects her work cuts through the long-standing, political and often venomous reading debate which has divided teachers into two camps: those who take a holistic view that words are recognised as visual "wholes" or patterns; and those who go for the alphabetic or phonics approach in which a word like "rat" is read by sounding out its constituent letters and then blending them into pronunciation.
As a psychology undergraduate at Oxford University, Goswami, now 37, was fascinated by Bryant's work and also by new research which showed that skilled readers learned to read unfamiliar words through analogy to familiar words, so that a word like "pink" could be read by analogy to "wink". Analogy at that time was regarded as a sophisticated reading skill, only used to any great extent in the teenage years.
However, on her return to Oxford as a doctoral student, Goswami was to develop the theory that analogy, linked to rhyme, could become a simple and effective strategy for young readers.
As an undergraduate she wanted to become an educational psychologist. This required teaching experience, so she left Oxford for postgraduate teacher training at London's Institute of Education. She enjoyed the teaching practice, but was unimpressed by the lecturers' advice on early reading: "I had just come from a place where all this research into phonological awareness and reading was going on and here we were being told just to go into schools and see what schemes were on offer. I began to think it would be worthwhile to go back and carry on with the research in order to improve things in the classroom. "
She started with a very simple question: could children at the earliest stages of learning to read use analogies between spelling patterns to help them to read new words? She developed a "clue" word technique, which she applied through most of her subsequent research, by which a child is taught to read a word like "beak" by analogy with words in the same family such as "peak" or "weak". Indeed, she found that analogy was a strategy that children at all stages of learning to read would use. In particular, she found that analogy between spelling patterns at the ends of words was the first to emerge developmentally, and that this could be linked effectively with rhyme. Through rhyme and analogy children could predict the unknown word "peak" from the known word "beak" - and those with rhyming ability were more likely to make these analogies.
Goswami found that children who were good at rhyming were likely to realise that the spoken word could be broken down into smaller units of sound: the onset and rime. The onset is the consonant or consonants at the beginning of each syllable, while the rime is the vowel and following consonants of each syllable, for example, c-at or sw-ill. These children also realised that shared sounds often meant shared spelling patterns.
"If you focus on the rime unit then spelling patterns are consistent in about 80 to 90 per cent of words. If you look at the vowel in isolation then you only get about a 50 per cent consistency. It is vowels in English that cause problems, but in a lot of words once you know what the following consonant is, then you know how to pronounce the vowel."
Well to follow up this TES article, I cannot help but recommend the rhyming and rhythmic poems which you will find all over this website, and as they are available on this website for everyone, please do tell your children to write Google JOSIE'S POEMS on the corner of their book so that they can come back to the poems they know and love and read them with their parents and siblings at home. I made this website at the request of local children who wanted to do just that. Parents will be glad to be able to access these poems easily from home also without even having to buy books or visit the library. Let them know also. Thank you.