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source of guidance on reading development' (p.340). The interview suggested that spelling was the biggest issue for this group of learners and that they were aware of several spelling strategies of which phonics was one mentioned. When asked if they thought phonics could help them with spelling or with the reading of an unknown word they were quite pessimistic. Comments included 'sounding out – I hate it! I can't sound out a word'; 'not for me because I can't break up words' and 'it's working well for kids….I think it will help me'.

In the action research project described here, I used a primarily qualitative approach and asked for the learners' experience of using phonics as a reading and spelling strategy. The phonics intervention used in this research was based on 'Jolly Phonics', a systematic, synthetic phonics programme (Lloyd, 1998). Only the sound groupings and example words from the programme were used as much of the other material involves rhymes, songs and stories aimed at young children. I found the Jolly Phonics programme easy to use even though I am not a phonics expert, have no linguistics background and only 'on the job' training. Group 1 contains the sounds to match the following graphemes;

s a t i p n

Using these sounds the learner is able to blend sounds to make a number of words from the very first lesson (e.g. pan/snap/insist/pasta). This is especially important when working with adults as they may feel that 'sounding out' words is childish and thus need to see the point of the phonics work, i.e. the production of words, quickly.

Nonsense words are phonetic words with no meaning in English. The role of nonsense words in this study fulfilled two purposes. Firstly, to aid in distinguishing between learners who have mastered the sounds of the language and were using phonic decoding skills and learners who were relying on visual memory to read or spell words. Greenberg et al (2002) describes the decoding of nonsense words as a highly phonological task because of the need to assemble and hold in memory phonemes derived from graphemes and then to blend these to form pronunciations. Secondly, to provide learners with a 'practice run' for decoding real but unfamiliar words encountered in their own lives and contexts. There is no peer-reviewed literature published on the use of nonsense words with adult basic learners, however two practitioner reports detail nonsense words being used as part of phonics instruction in the classroom rather than just in the assessment of skills (Geertz, 2001; Hager, 2001). There were no indications that any of the four learners in this study had dyslexic tendencies. It is worth noting that phonics and in particular nonsense word decoding might prove very difficult for learners with auditory processing difficulties.

The phonics intervention in this study occurred over 10 sessions lasting approximately for one hour of a three hour class. Development of phonemic awareness skills was practised before focussed work on decoding. Working in pairs, I gave one person a nonsense word and asked them to blend the sounds together so that the other person (who could not see the word) could write it down on a mini-whiteboard. After a few rounds of nonsense words, the pair would swap roles. I asked the group to spell longer words from the particular Jolly Phonics group they were working on, again using the mini-whiteboards. I used individual laminated letters from the particular group to give learners a multi-sensory approach to practise making real or nonsense words. Over the 10 sessions, sounds from the first four Jolly Phonics groups were introduced.

The quantitative skills assessments in this study showed that all participants made gains in their reading and spelling after the phonics intervention. There was also an improvement in the 'quality' of mistakes made in the spelling assessment. For example, the word transport was spelt talaspote by one learner, bearing little resemblance to the target word, before the phonics intervention but became the more phonetic trantport after the phonics work. A dictionary or spellcheck facility might then be of more use than if a spelling error bears no resemblance to the actual word.


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