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the phonics intervention. As I wrote in my journal, 'I'm teaching a foundation skill but I'm going to be guided by the learners' voices as to their experience of it'. While the phonics work followed a skills-based direction I tried to use learners' own interests and needs in the choice of reading and spelling material, mixing authentic texts with more class-based resources. For example, a conversation in class around healthy eating led to learners bringing in healthy recipes and these were used as reading and spelling resources for the next few classes. Massengill (2006) recommends using the Word Study approach (which incorporates phonics) but suggests that learners search for words with similar patterns in their own lives to reinforce learning and to provide a connection to their own daily literacy tasks. It may be argued that a certain amount of foundation work is necessary in any ABE classroom as how can learners be encouraged to critically engage with texts if they have not mastered the basic skills?

In the last phonics class I noted in my journal that one of the learners expressed frustration with the nonsense words decoding saying, 'we are never going to use them', a valid comment which seems to put the use of nonsense words in phonics instruction in direct opposition to a social practice approach. Massengill (2004) suggests that even though nonsense words are not authentic they have a purpose in challenging learners to analyse sounds rather than guess at the word, offering a strategy for solving the 'problem of an unknown word in a real-life task' (p.591). That is, the 'practice run' mentioned earlier.

The process of undertaking a piece of research is as important, in some ways, as the outcomes obtained. During this action research study I had the opportunity to be informed from literature, to observe, to plan, to re-plan, to listen, to reflect, to reaffirm beliefs and to think. It gave me a rare opportunity to step back from practice, to look at what I was doing with fresh eyes and to justify and modify my teaching approach. By listening to the learners' experience of the phonics teaching, a deliberate attempt was made to better understand practice.

The following recommendations are aimed at literacy tutors who may be interested in adding phonics to their reading and spelling methodologies repertoire.

• Phonics teaching may be enhanced by using multi-sensory methodologies. In this study I used mini- whiteboards, word boxes and laminated letters for nonsense word exercises.

• Phonics work needs time for practise and repetition. In this study it took ten sessions to get though 24 of the sounds. Burton et al (2008) specifically advises against moving on too quickly in phonics work.

• Use the meta-language of phonics when teaching. In this study I explained my reasoning behind the methods I was using to the learners, at all times using words such as blending, segmenting and phonemic awareness when explaining and teaching.

• The importance of a relaxed atmosphere and humour in the phonics classroom was suggested by Burton et al (2008) as being important and after conducting this study I would agree. Phonics has the potential to be a very dry and monotonous venture, therefore it is essential to vary delivery and to encourage laughter as some of the sounding out does 'sound funny'. I always acknowledge when teaching phonics that I feel 'silly' at times over-pronouncing words but I am willing to risk it if the learners will also 'give it a go'. Trust has to exist within the group so that learners will take that step and give phonics a chance.

• Being both teacher and researcher for this study afforded me an appreciation of how best to approach the learners in the group and gave me an understanding of their underlying difficulties. Likewise the learners knew my ways of working and that my intentions were rooted in their best interests. Bell (2010) suggests that being a practitioner-researcher allows for an intimate knowledge of the context of the study.

In conclusion, this research project answered the guiding questions posed at its beginning. The assessment of skills showed that learners improved in their reading and spelling performance after the phonics


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