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
    +1

    Comment number 105.

    Ministers said the check had identified pupils who needed further help in learning to read.

    But teaching unions say it risks doing long-term damage to children's reading.


    Says it All

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 104.

    Of course all children should be encouraged to develop a love of books and ideally have access to a wide range of books at home and at school. Libraries should not be closed down and their funding should be ringfenced. It's a sad fact that a significant proportion of children (about 30% I think) have no books atall at home. Schools should encourage use of the local library and school library.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 103.

    omg dis iz well dull lol

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 102.

    Ask yourself this - if you come across an unfamiliar word, how do you figure out how to pronounce it ?
    You'll generally use the sounds that the letters most commonly represent, unless you recognise a part of it that sounds like another word you know, in which case you will use that word as a guide. If you use phonics, there's a fair chance you will be close. What other system can help ?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 101.

    99.ConnorMacLeod
    Maybe should should have said so in your original post.
    Since you are clearly not teaching your child in the way that post suggested. Noted your use of flash cards and other materials and not simply phonics. Clarity is always important.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 100.

    Too much politics in education.Too little education in politics
    Classes filled with children who don't have English as a first language or more likely don't have English as a language atall for some period of time and who are entitled by law to access to the curriculum.
    Politicians are responsible for a society that places too many unnecessary barriers against children's progressive learning.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 99.

    96.Anita

    And Anita clearly hasn't got a clue about Connor MacLeod's personal circumstances. He is currently teaching little toddler MacLeod (aged 3) to read. He reads to him every night (along with Mrs MacLeod) and is using flashcards, books & phonics with great success.
    Connor is also friends with several teachers who like phonics. His mum also taught him using phonics. It works.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 98.

    I am a parent of 2 primary school children who are both dyslexic. I have tried to research what is the most effective method of teaching children, including dyslexic children, to read. I have come to the conclusion that systematic synthetic phonics is the most effective way of teaching most children to read. Fewer children fall behind or "fall through the net " if this method is used .

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 97.

    Regardless of the methods employed in schools, it is the parents and carers who have the most important job in encouraging their children to want to read.

    I despair every time I hear about families who have no books in their home - except maybe an Argos catalogue...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 96.

    74. ConnorMacLeod clearly has little or no experience of teaching a child to read. To teach only phonics and the exceptions later (how much later?) would leave the child with a very limited reading ability. I agree with other posts - make books and reading part of life from an early age, the same goes for numbers & basic maths - it worked for me, my sister and my daughter.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 95.

    When we teach maths, we use a system that applies logic and rules to show kids how to do sums etc.
    There are grammar & pronounciation rules to every language - you have to teach those using the best system you can. Whole word recognition can work for a few hundred words but is an inefficient way to learn 1000's. Your brain starts applying rules (i.e. phonics) unconsciously after a while anyway

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 94.

    Individually,it's about people practising with you until you are able to practise alone. At the level of society, it's about having time in schools and in homes to practise.Schools with overstuffed curricula and overfilled classes are counterproductive.Parents and or guardians who use the TV and video games etc as modern technological dummies are also counterproductive to their children's needs.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 93.

    I have to qualify my opinion here by saying that I was a very fast reader, and had a reading age far higher than my actual age. For me I was tempted to start reading fast by being presented with interesting books that I wanted to read, which were a little beyond my reading ability, but not to far, so that with a little effort and help I could enjoy them. Books that interest the kids surely!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 92.

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


    One or other of us has a fundamental misunderstanding of what phonetics actually is - I understand it to be seeing a set of letters in a particular order & assuming they are all pronounced the same or hearing the prnounciation & knowing from that how it is spelt?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 91.

    At 80 years of age I find it difficult to understand the problem and what all the fuss is about.
    Reading was one of the three 'R's and I don't recollect any undue emphasis being placed on it as a subject, we just learnt to read. At 5 I went the 2miles to school on my own. on the route was a county library and more often than not I stopped off on the way home, books fascinated me. No T.V. then!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 90.

    first and foremost you need subject the child can enjoy, thus comic books are a good point in many respects.
    most modern children wouldnt jump in to reading the classics becouse of there outlook, some works need modern aproach to gain entry into the younger minds.
    but the childs mind must be engaged first

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 89.

    80.ConnorMacLeod

    I totally agree; thats why I think kids reading as early and as much as possible is vital. I still read plenty of fiction now, and I'm not young (so I'm told).

    My point was more aimed at the suggestion that somehow one could exist without the other.

    The lines between science and philosophy, and philosophy and literature blur so none can exist in isolation.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 88.

    An important point it is children understand how important is learning to read. When you see poor children in Africa how avid are for learning while some children in UK with computers and all comodities cannot be bothered, well there is a wide difference, isnt it?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 87.

    If I wanted to learn to play soccer I would play it as often as possible.If I wanted to learn to play a guitar, I would pick one up as often as possible and try to play it.If I wanted to learn to read, I would pick up a book as often as possible and try to read it.The common element is PRACTICE. It isn't rocket science. The more you do it the better you'll be at it.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 86.

    79.Little_Old_Me

    ...if there was any logic to English spellings

    This is the mistake most people make. Phonics is used for teaching READING - not spelling. When you learn to spell, you use the sounds of the capital letters. But these are taught later. You need to learn to read before you can learn spelling.
    Phonics covers most of these rules and is the system that works best.

 

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