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 185.

    183 ConnorMacLeod

    Resorting to insults really doesn't make the points you make seem credible. I think you'll find that you've taken far more time telling me you can't be bothered to substantiate your point than you would have done providing just the one example I asked for.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 184.

    Re: 182 Alison

    The reading of non-words in the phonics test was crazy, my six-year-old competent reader came home wanting to know what they meant. Ummm...well nothing, then why did I ready them? She has a point. Poil - is this an alternative spelling of pole was her question.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 183.

    177.Anglerfish

    Ah, I see. you can't do it.


    No - I said I couldn't be BOTHERED to do it. There's a difference.

    On my part, I've made no assumptions. I just have higher priorities than attending to dimly flickering lightbulbs...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 182.

    The idea of testing children by reading phonetic non-words is ridiculous.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 181.

    180 ConnorMacLeod

    Difficult to communicate if we don't adhere to the dictionary guide to pronunciations?

    Let's conduct a HYS poll? Let's see how many people feel they (a) have difficulty communicating because of pronunciation difficulties (b) regularly refer to a dictionary pronunciation guide. This must be a real revelation to the scots, Irish, Geordie, Liverpool, Norfolk etc readers.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 180.

    166.Little_Old_Me

    So basically you are saying that everyone who speaks with a regional accent that doesn't exactly fit the various dictionary's pronounciation guides speaks incorrectly?

    Exactly - but most people are aware of the difference. It would be difficult for us all to communicate unless there was some common standard (i.e. the dictionary guide to pronnounciation) to adhere to.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 179.

    177.Anglerfish - "......Most sensible post of the day ...175. allimo. There's someone who is doing the job and knows the issues."


    Seconded - every Brit seems to have an opinion on everything, rarely one based on evidence, but rather just on gut instinct - it's no wonder we get the politicians we do, when so many vote on thier gut instinct....

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 178.

    Kids need highly motivated,innovative teachers to inspire our children.Unfortunately this Government wants to keep us commoner 'plebs' down with their attacks on the teaching profession.My job doesn't require anywhere near the level of qualities for teaching,yet I am paid considerably more.If the electorate wants the best for it's children,it needs to accept that education doesn't come cheap.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 177.

    174. ConnorMacLeod

    '... quite honestly, I have better things to do...'

    Ah, I see. you can't do it.

    'My friend is a teacher with a degree in linguistics - find someone with a similar background and ask them.'

    I'll ask myself then. Don't make assumptions.

    Most sensible post of the day ...175. allimo. There's someone who is doing the job and knows the issues.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 176.

    What do children react best too, I would humbly suggest fun.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 175.

    I am have been a Reading Recovery teacher four years.There are a range of reading strategies needed. Knowing phonemes and associated actions does not always lead to fluent reading.Sight word recognition and context are important.So many English words are not phonetically regular and are high frequency words needed for reading texts. Purely phonic texts are contrived and not very exciting to read.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 174.

    168.Anglerfish

    If we were sitting down in the pub with a beer, I'd quite happily do just that . But this is a HYS with a character limit and quite honestly, I have better things to do...
    My friend is a teacher with a degree in linguistics - I suggest finding someone with a similar background and asking them. You could even buy them a pint too !

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 173.

    Some people on here are bashing the young people...well, don't generalise.

    i don't abbreviate. i dont use txt spk, and use full english grammar at all times.

    yet you revile me just because i am the same age as them, therefore i MUST speak txt spk.

    I may also be the same age as tutunkhamun, but that doesn't mean i speak in heiroglyphs.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 172.

    I still remember as a 1960s reception class child being gobsmacked when the teacher summoned my mother and told her off for having the temerity to have taught me to read before I started school and so spoiled her careful plans! But not quite as gobsmacked as my mother who stuttered something along the lines of "She just picked it up on her own!" My parents were readers & the house full of books!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 171.

    re 144 presterjohn Knew my comment would get a minus rating. But that is the system that worked well, without fuss since Roman times until the 1960s when the Great Dumbdown March began. Modern reading 'theories' are like recent banking 'theories' were, where everyone echoed each other. But we need to ask how come Arabs, Russians, Greeks are literate in 2 alphabets when the BBC struggles with 1.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 170.

    "44.
    probritish
    Everyone commenting ignores the real problem, our ridiculous spelling. "

    But it is not ridiculous, it is often derived from other languages in which the word originated. English incorporates vocabulary from a number of other languages with differing spellings and simplifying our sapelling as you suggest would not help.

    I always wonder why the Americans farm with a ploh.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 169.

    Though I agree we should learn to read through phonics, we should not get into a slough of despond about it, especially in my borough near Lough Neagh. Those with their snouts in the trough ought to realise how tough it will be to make any dough from these proposals.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 168.

    165. ConnorMacLeod

    'Am surprised you struggle to understand such a simple issue.'

    Take pity on me then and, in simple terms that even one of my low intelligence can cope with, tell me what a teacher will say to children which will help them identify which words are phonically regular and which aren't.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 167.

    I learnt to read in the late 60s and early 70s and was taught using phonics and the Ladybird books about Peter and Jane. This proved very effective for me. One of my brothers , who is dyslexic, had the misfortune to be taught reading with the new trendy "look and say " method which was introduced into primary schools in the 1970s. This method was a complete disaster for my brother.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 166.

    156.ConnorMacLeod


    So basically you are saying that everyone who speaks with a regional accent that doesn't exactly fit the various dictionary's pronounciation guides speaks incorrectly?

    REALLY? Who gets to say which accent within the many to be heard in the UK is the correct one over & above everyone else...???

    (PS I don't have an accent by the way, I'm too much of a mongrol)

 

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