Viewpoints: Teaching children to read

 
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Finding the best way to inspire children to become fluent readers has long been debated. The "look and say" approach, where children learnt to memorise words, dominated in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. But now the pendulum has swung towards phonics-based teaching, where children decode words by sounds.

The Department for Education says international evidence demonstrates that phonics is the most effective way of teaching early reading, and this year introduced a phonics reading test for six-year-olds. So what is the best way to teach children how to read?

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David Reedy

Not all words in English are phonically regular”

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David Reedy, UK Literacy Association

The teaching of reading should encompass a balance of teaching strategies including a systematic approach to phonics and other word reading strategies, and a significant emphasis on children experiencing a wide range of texts, including moving image and digital - all available to read from the very beginning.

Phonics teaching is an important component of the teaching of reading, but not all words in English are phonically regular (the linguist David Crystal estimates 80% are, but the other 20% contains many of the most common words in English).

Young children need more than phonics to read words accurately. For many very common words in English such as "come", "once", "was", "the", the best method for accuracy is to read them as "sight" words - that is, using the strategy of look and say. In addition, in order to be fully accurate in word reading, we have to use meaning gleaned from the context in many cases, for example "read", "lead", "sow", "close".

David Reedy

  • Secretary of UK Literacy Association
  • Says a wide range of techniques should be used

Attention should be given to reading for purpose and pleasure, and to introduce children to more challenging texts as well as focus on word reading skills. A school should invest significantly in books and adult time to support reading. Teachers should be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about literature suitable for children so they can recommend and inspire their classes as well as individuals.

Motivation to read is a crucial component of a teacher's job. This approach results in deep engagement as well as accuracy in reading, both of which are crucial and lead to high standards. We need to develop both the skill and the will.

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Shelagh Harvey and pupils

The reading test is fundamentally flawed”

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Shelagh Harvey, head teacher

There is no simple way to teach all children to read. Phonics, contextual clues, sounding out, going back to words - all of these are important skills. Phonics is important, but I do think it has been over-exaggerated of late.

We run a very successful phonics reading project for the majority of our children, but we need to find different strategies for a small group of children who struggle with it.

I think the government's reading test is fundamentally flawed. It didn't give us any clues for helping us move forward with our children.

I had two very able readers at the end of Year 1 who failed the test, but who could read a Level 2 book and read fluently. One failed because she refused to read the non-word and the other little girl rushed because she's used to reading, not sounding out words.

Shelagh Harvey

  • Head teacher at Ingatestone Infants School in Essex
  • Supports use of phonics, but wants phonics reading test scrapped

The over-emphasis on phonics and the test may put pressure on some teachers to "teach to the test" at the expense of a wide richer reading experience. A minority of children, for whom phonics is not successful, could be deprived of other reading strategies and have their difficulties exacerbated. It is also known that some children who are good with phonics and able to decode successfully do so at the cost of understanding what they read, known as "barking at text".

The only way we can really measure progress is to let our children read. Here we sit them down with appropriate texts and judge them at the level they are reading at. You have to give children skills and a range of materials. We do a lot of work with parents too, encouraging them to read to and with their children.

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Maureen  McLaughlin

Our goal is to teach students to become engaged readers”

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Prof Maureen McLaughlin, International Reading Association

Reading is a complex process that involves multiple factors including decoding, integrating background experiences, having purposes for reading, and using skills and strategies to construct meaning. For very young readers, the process begins with issues such as the alphabetic principle and concepts of print. The goal of successful reading is comprehension.

There are five pillars of literacy - phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. All contribute to reading comprehension. Students need ample opportunity to learn, practise, and use these skills. Researchers report that students' construction of meaning is enhanced when they use a repertoire of reading comprehension strategies, including predicting, self-questioning, visualising, monitoring, summarising, and evaluating.

Students have diverse strengths, needs, opportunities and cultural backgrounds.

Maureen McLaughlin

  • President-elect of International Reading Association

To ensure access and opportunities for all students to become readers and achieve their greatest potential, reading instruction should be differentiated. Differentiated instruction enables us to accommodate the diversity of students' needs. Struggling readers, students with disabilities and dual language learners are examples of students for whom instruction should be differentiated.

Reading is essential in the complex, global society in which we live. It is important for personal, social and economic well-being. As literacy professionals, our goal is to teach students to become active, engaged readers, who succeed to their greatest potential.

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Lisa Morgan

Reading relies on strong speech and language skills”

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Lisa Morgan, speech and language therapist

Reading effectively for meaning and pleasure involves a complex range of skills, most of which rely on strong speech and language skills - using sounds to decode, knowing how words work together and understanding the vocabulary to gain meaning, for example. We know that children with good oral language skills are likely to become good readers.

In the UK, more than one million children have long-term and persistent speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). We know that these children are at greater risk of literacy difficulties.

Add to this the evidence that highlights that in areas of social disadvantage upwards of 50% of children are starting school with delayed language, then this raises key questions about ways to support children with SLCN to learn to read.

Lisa Morgan

  • Registered speech and language therapist
  • Professional director at Communication Trust, a coalition of voluntary organisations

For some children with SLCN, a phonic approach, within a context of focused language enrichment and opportunities, will work well to support their reading development. For others, it absolutely won't. For some, assessing their phonic skills in Year 1 through the phonics screen has been OK. For others, it absolutely hasn't.

Each child and young person with SLCN is different - their needs are different, their strengths are different and the ways in which they best learn are different too.

It is therefore essential that firstly teachers understand a child's SLCN and any implications for developing their literacy, and secondly that they are skilled and confident in choosing and using whatever works for that child in developing their reading skills.

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Siobhan Freegard

It's good to let children see adults reading too”

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Siobhan Freegard, parenting website Netmums

Reading regularly to children from an early age is important as they will learn to love stories and books.

Making reading part of the everyday routine, so children quickly pick up subtle skills such as which way to follow the print of a book, how to use pictures to help decode the words, and how to recognise initial letters and the most commonly used words.

It's good to let them see adults reading too, surrounding the home with books, magazines and newspapers, as children learn by copying adults. Parents can share the stories they are reading and any funny parts or interesting nuggets to spark their interest.

Siobhan Freegard

  • Founder of Netmums parenting website
  • Says parents can do a lot to encourage children to read - and to enjoy it

The other key building block to learning to read is rhymes and sounds. Singing or chanting poems and rhymes to children will help them to learn their favourites and decipher rhyming words and different sounds, all of which will help them with their phonics skills later on.

But apart from school books that need to be read, parents should not force books on their children and should let them read what they like - whether that is comics or football magazines - so they realise reading is fun.

 

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 85.

    If all else fails there is always rote learning. We became a literate society by reading/memorising the only book available in most communities - the bible. There's motivation for you. The congregation determined to take power from the clergy or to become better Christians depending on your point of view.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 84.

    79.Little_Old_Me
    74.ConnorMacLeod - "......but phonics should be the main method."

    ---I'd agree if there was any logic to English spellings....but there aren't....just a few rules that usually, but often don't, hold true...English is a stupid language at the end of the day, it has no logic---

    Spoken English maybe. But in my head I think in phonics. That way I remember the spelling too.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 83.

    @ 54. yellowsandydog

    "I've never come across this but I have come across adults who struggle with unfamiliar words with simple spelling."

    I have. I remember teaching abroad in a country that used phonics extensively. The children could 'read' well, but their comprehension was mind-bogglingly poor. They simply weren't understanding what they were reading.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 82.

    Who are these so-called "experts"? I taught my son to read in the look and learn way and he's done extremely well (31 and at uni). Over the last 30 years a lot of theories have been espoused and tested, many of them leading to poor literacy and numeracy skills in school leavers. These "experts" don't take responsibility for their failed theories and are still given air time.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 81.

    I taught for 40 years and for the past 9 I've watched my grandsons grow up and become literate.
    By far the best way to 'inspire children to become fluent readers' is by parental and peer example. If parents value reading (if they read and if books are part of the furniture), if brothers and sisters read, if a bed-time story is habitual - children will read. They won't want to be left out.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 80.

    73.Opondo
    ...maths and science are more important to future development...than literature.

    You're only talking about scientific development ! What about cultural development ? As a scientist too, I can also see that good systems of Government, Law, Communication, etc are essential for a nation to develop scientifically. You need to understand literature to set up these systems...

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 79.

    74.ConnorMacLeod - "......but phonics should be the main method."


    I'd agree if there was any logic to English spellings......but there aren't....just a few rules that usually, but often don't, hold true.....English is a stupid language at the end of the day, it has no logic.....

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 78.

    I can never understand the fuss about this. You teach children to read by reading to them and following the words with your finger as you do it. Most words they learn whole; hard ones you can break down into phonic sounds, but English contain so many exceptions to rules that's not always useful. But it takes time and effort, which is what the argument is really about.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 77.

    Learning to listen and speak are prerequisites of any method of teaching reading. Whose words is the young child motivated to listen to? Whose actions are most likely to prompt a What or Why question?
    Where are mum or dad?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 76.

    Re: 54. Shouldn't adults actually struggle with unfamiliar words? By that stage you should be alert to the possibility of irregularities, and know that grapheme-phoneme conversion might not be the way to go. Otherwise you end up sounding as though you don't know your arete from your hautboy.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 75.

    @73 Not to mention, how much science fact has begun as Science Fiction?

  • rate this
    -10

    Comment number 74.

    Reading is a system with rules and you need to learn these rules in order to read well. Phonics teaches the rules to pronounce most common sounds and allows you to "build up" unfamiliar words. Once the basic sounds are mastered, you can teach the exceptions later. Whole word recognition has its uses but phonics should be the main method.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 73.

    As a scientist, I'm inclined to agree that maths and science are more important to future development of our species than literature.

    BUT

    If one can't read well, how does one learn to understand the complexities of high level maths and science? Children should be encouraged to read as much as possible, as early as possible. Language is the foundation on which every other skill is based.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 72.

    Books cannot be forced on children - when they are ready, they are ready. In early learning the children should choose the books that they are interested in, AND PARENTS OR OTHER ADULT should be part of the initial project. Watch how your child reads - does s/he sound out, or take the words in one swallow. Watch for dyslexia. No 2 kids are the same, nor are any two adults. Watch your patience.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 71.

    I've always read to my children since they were very young.

    Now aged 8 and 11, they both love reading and it's extremely difficult to get them out of a bookshop.

    Teaching a child the power of your imagination is key to their pleasure in reading later on in life.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 70.

    Why is it always EITHER /OR with these things? My older sister taught me to look at whole words and memorize them like ideograms, then a phonic approach to new words after a good reading vocabulary was established. I could read at third grade level when I started kindergarten. I taught my kids the same way, with the same stellar result.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 69.

    I don't remember either learning to read or being read to and the only books in the house were a set of encyclopaedias. I do remember receiving my first book in a christmas stocking at age 9. Enid Blyton and Santa between them opened up an ever expanding universe for me.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 68.

    Did someone really say reading wasn't important anymore because we now have TV.

    Oh Dear God.

    I suppose healthy eating isn't important anymore either because we have McDonalds.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 67.

    One simple thing we can all do now. Set the subtitles to "ON" the telly so they will pick up the spelling of the words as they watch... At worst it can't do any harm.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 66.

    Plenty of reading is a big help. I read a lot of novels as a child, and I find I can look at a word and know whether or not it looks right. The trouble with reading internet forums is that you see so many misspelt words that it becomes harder remember how the word should look.

 

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