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 205.

    203. whambam

    ' ... as a general rule I find that those individuals taught during the "discredited" 50s and 60s have better literacy, grammar and numeracy.'

    Better than who? It could be a limited body of evidence couldn't it. I know two people in their late fifties who can hardly read at all. I know two people in their twenties who read fluently in two languages. What does that prove?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 204.

    My eldest son was taught using phonics in the early eighties. He spells words in the most peculiar manner. His younger siblings were not, and they spell normally. It is quite odd. This needs further investigation.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 203.

    Biased I probably am but as a general rule I find that those individuals taught during the "discredited" 50s and 60s have better literacy, grammar and numeracy. Just my experience, feel free to use the down arrow

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 202.

    Children who want to learn to read will choose the strategy that suits them - look and say, phonics or contextual clues.
    I use look and say, with a dash of context. Which I guess is where we all arrive in the end.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 201.

    195 Sarah

    The 1 in 5 figure needs one examining. Firstly it's a bit wrong ... last year it was 15%. We also need to remember that it includes all those pupils who have severe learning difficulties which will prevent them progressing well, or at all, with reading. When the tests were introduced I think under 50% 'passed'. Now it's 85% and you say the methods of recent years have failed.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 200.

    Teaching children to read is one problem. Getting them to want to read is another. In my tutor group (15 year olds) reading day is gruesome.

    80% of them just don't want to do it. Xbox, phones, facebook are all more immediate and interactive recreations. Few of them see the merit in a book.

    Kindles/Kobos etc help to some extent.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 199.

    Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty. Dyslexic people can have a high IQ but greatly struggle with reading and writing. Unfortunately, dyslexia is often overlooked and not recognized at school. Dyslexics are seen as "not very clever" because they can't read and write well, when actually their IQ might be high but they have dyslexia. Dyslexic people, like all people, have a range of IQs .

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 198.

    Teachers should ideally be very knowledgable about books for children and encourage all the children in the class to read, use the school library and local library. Ideally , all schools should have a good library which is used often by all of the children. Teachers ideally should actively encourage and enable children to use the school library. Community libraries should not be closed .

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 197.

    My mate Rupert went to a top Public school, when he left he couldnt read properly due to dyslexia he was lost in the volume of students at the school and he comes across verbally as someone who is bright. The sad thing is he's now 30+ and still struggles to read out loud or concentrate enough to read a book. He is a strong character but would hate for his employer to know he has these problems!

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 196.

    Ideally there needs to be more motivation and aspiration coming from teachers . I would like to see a more positive attitude from some teachers towards children struggling with reading. Sometimes expectations are far too low. I would like all primary teachers to be determined and to believe that most children can learn to read well if given the best teaching , encouragement and help.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 195.

    Primary schools up until recently were generally "employing a range of strategies depending on each individual's need" (as suggested by threerivers). However, this range of strategies has not been working as 1 in 5 children have been leaving primary school with inadequate reading skills. Schools need to use a strategy that works and leaves fewer children behind.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 194.

    There is no one way to teach children to read. You need to employ a range of strategies depending on each individual's needs. Phonics have a valuable part to play but the most important thing is to get children excited about books and reading. Rigid adherence to one method is a sure fire way to put them off. Learning to read fluently determines every other learning outcome.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 193.

    Learning to read is essential for learning just about everything else.

    However, it's too simplistic to say "if you read to your child and they see people reading they'll find it easy"; I have a son who is now a voracious reader, but it has been a huge struggle to get him there despite living in a home with plenty of books and parents who encouraged and read to him.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 192.

    The whole point of the year 1 phonics test, as far as I can see, is to encourage schools to use phonics more. Phonics and especially systematic synthetic phonics, is an effective way of teaching children to read. Fewer children fall behind if taught to read with systematic synthetic phonics. Primary schools which get good results in deprived areas all seem to use systematic synthetic phonics.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 191.

    It's like anything you do, the more you practice the better you get. Too many parents think that the schooling and teaching of their child is something that happens only during the day whilst they are working...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 190.

    106.Helen
    @44. probritish

    That's complete madness...to re-write the English language and some of it's wonderful nuances would be a complete disaster

    It's not mad at all. Language is a constantly evolving thing. Look at English several hundred years ago - completely different and yet no less beautiful. A more phonetic language system would solve many problems.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 189.

    Totally agree with David about schools investing significantly in books and adult time to support reading...sadly, however, in many schools this just isn't the case. Me and my children have just started a blog to celebrate the awful early reader books they bring home to learn to read...they're enough to turn off the most motivated child in the world. Go to
    [Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 188.

    Literacy experts can read, children find it difficult.
    Neer the twain shall meet, it seems.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 187.

    'For every complex problem there is an answer which is clear, simple and wrong'

    H.L.Mencken

    Helping children who are struggling to read is complex. Politicians like simple solutions. We'll get nowhere with 'just use phonics', 'don't use any phonics', 'don't use look and say', 'always use look and say'. Polarised opinions help no-one but unfortunately they are the politicians stock in trade.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 186.

    I had difficulty reading and failed first grade (in Burbank, CA. 1954).
    I made real progress in fourth grade (11yo) by finding a book I wanted to read. Reading became much easier after I enjoyed what I was reading :-)
    I still read slow and need a spell checker.

 

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