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 165.

    148.Anglerfish
    How does that work then?

    The same way teachers teach kids about any other exceptions to a rule. Am surprised you struggle to understand such a simple issue.

    Move on from the Ghoti thing please. It's a poor analogy and is getting boring. Naysayers will always try to create extra problems instead of solving existing ones...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 164.

    Remember when we talk about reading failure that in the end of KS2 tests around 85% of pupils attained the expected Level 4. Over 40% attained Level 5. The 15% who didn't includes all those in special and mainstream schools with learning difficulties which meant they didn't even take the test and anyone absent for the test.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 163.

    153.Killer Boots Man
    The evidence you give, and it is almost universal, would suggest the opposite course. Avoid schools, they are the problem in education. The idea you might hold back your next child to be in step with bad education is not really reasonable is it?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 162.

    I learned to read 60 years ago. There was only proper English spelling then, no fancy, incorrect spelling to make it "easier." The only difference was that multi-syllable words were hyphenated to make it easy for little minds to com-pre-hend and re-peat.

    I could read before starting school and still prefer books to electronic entertainment. Maybe we need to stop all the "simplification".

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 161.

    I love all the know all's telling people how we should and shouldn't speak and write.

    Language evolves. I'm sure Shakespeare is turning in his grave.

    In fact if you look into the evolution of language you'll see it has evolved to become more efficient.

    I wudnt B @ ll surprisd f acronyms n abbreviations r comN plce n literature n 200 yrs tym.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 160.

    Strangely enough, the often-hated Games consoles helped me improve my literacy - when i heard a word i did not recognise, i searched for it - using this method, i was far advanced than all others, winning spelling and writing awards for a few years.

    Still, nothing beats a good book.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 159.

    Ideally all schools should have a good library which is well used. Schools should also ideally encourage use of the local library. My childrens' primary school has a library but it is underused. Most of the teachers don't see it as part of their job to be a librarian, which is a great pity. All teachers should see encouraging and enabling children to use the school library as part of their job.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 158.

    154 Hedgehog

    Who claims phonetics=ghoti? You seem to have made that up.But Gove, who always confuses effective policy with his personal prejudices, is promoting it as the sure-fire solution to reading failure, and that will damage reading ... because he thinks reading is about pronouncing words. Remember this year's phonics test included plenty of nonsense words ... the ghoti test in reality.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 157.

    Ban mobiles in schools where much of their "ad hoc" language is formed. Have teachers who actually understand the 3 Rs and finally learn how to spell words correctly with no more of this phonetic garbage.
    Has anyone else noted how many people today can't even form "th" and just use "f" instead, or can't differentiate from "is and are"! English that has been allowed to drift into street speech.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 156.

    150.Little_Old_Me

    Are you not familiar with the plethora of regional accents in Britain then?

    Of course - but these are irrelevant to the pronounciation of correct English. In Scotland "Town" is often called "Toon". This is a colloquilism - it isn't correct English and I'd never use this word in a business communication. Important to understand the difference.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 155.

    My first language is Welsh which, luckily for me when I was learning to read, is a phonetic language. It didn't hinder my ability to read in English as well, but then I loved reading as a child.

    It has however helped me in later life to learn and appreciate other languages, especially their structures and sounds.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 154.

    The people on here claiming that phonetics = ghoti, for example, do not understand the phonetic method of teaching reading. It is a straw argument. I have my books from the 50's with excellent phonetics being taught. And not a ghoti in sight. The whole language or whole word method was invented in the US.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 153.

    My partner is a teacher so my oldest son could read quite a bit when he started nursery and it certainly helped him, he was by far the brightest in his class for a few years. Now he's 8 and it seems the schooling system has beaten that out of him. Rarely challenged he is now bored with school. Already.

    We also have a 1 year old, maybe we shouldn't teach him to read and leave it to the school!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 152.

    Some children find reading easy and learn quickly with some help from parents and teachers. The children who do not find reading easy, e.g dyslexic children , will generally benefit from schools using systematic synthetic phonics. Most primary schools, including my childrens', don't teach synthetic phonics systematically. Systematic synthetic phonics is a very effective method for most children

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 151.

    The only way to do it the smart way, you cannot force them to learn, unless you have at least one whole tech free week in schools each term, where I.T resources and the like will not be accessible, and they have to do hand written, book researched work; however I would also suggest that all kids TV carry compulsory subtitles during term time as well from 6am to 7pm to expose them to words.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 150.

    145.ConnorMacLeod - ".......Almost all words in the dictionary have only ONE correct pronounciation......"


    Are you not familiar with the plethora of regional accents in Britain then? Quite a number of different pronounciations to a whole slew of words......

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 149.

    What they are calling here "look and say" is actually called "Whole Word." It was not taught until the 70's -the time at which children began not learning to read in school. Up until then the basis of reading was phonetics. Of course words of one syllable are sight words-after that the brain has to break down a word in order to process it. If your kid cant read go to ldonline.org and get facts.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 148.

    145. ConnorMacLeod

    'Ghoti is a made up word. Your "point" is academic only and has little practical value.'

    Nonsense. Unfamiliar words to a beginner reader may as well be made up, so the problems with reading 'ghoti' (which says 'fish' just as well as 'goatee') are those faced by beginner readers. I love your casual 'Teachers should tell kids about the exceptions'. How does that work then?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 147.

    Reading is the first and most important thing to teach child after speech.
    A child who can't read cannot fully understand the world around them. This leads to frustration and to demotivation and displaced anger.
    A child who can read has more control over their world and a better chance of doing well at school.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 146.

    To read, first a child is best aided by speaking properly. If what you hear and say does not match what is written you start out disadvantaged. Their future is set on a course the moment you as parents speak to, or in proximity to your child. If you have to wait and rely on schools to teach reading, you child slips further behind.

 

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