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
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    Comment number 225.

    224 Zorba

    'Teachers take note, children are individuals.'

    Zorba take note. My daughter has 33 children in her class.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 224.

    We've home educated our children since birth. My youngest reads better than the majority of my FE college students. Why?
    We used a mixture of techniques. Most importantly, we did not have the expectation that an "8 year should be able to..." . We talked to them as adults, using a wide variety vocabulary and did not patronise their intelligence!
    Teachers take note, children are individuals.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 223.

    74.ConnorMacLeod: "Phonics teaches the rules to pronounce most common sounds and allows you to "build up" unfamiliar words. ... you can teach the exceptions later. Whole word recognition has its uses but phonics should be the main method."

    You should try READING the article: "For many very common words in English ... the best method ... is to read them as "sight" words - that is ...look and say

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 222.

    'A more phonetic language system would solve many problems.'

    And introduce many more. There is a huge range of regional accents among English speakers, which leads to most words having different pronunciations depending on who's speaking them.

    Whose accent were you going to go with to create 'phonetic' spellings? And how much easier does that make it for the others?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 221.

    To read children have to listen, and parents can encourage this by reading to them or let them listen to stories on CD etc. It is no coincidence that when the BBC cut childrens' radio stories, literacy started its decline. Also parents for God's sake give your kids breakfast BEFORE they go to school!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 220.

    I can, just, remember being taught to read at school. I remember most, the rare, "one on one" sessions with a teacher.

    The answer to successful reading being taught is the funding to reduce class sizes and employ higher level teaching assistants to aid, directed, one on one support with a holistic approach. The politicians would rather serve up a cheaper phonics fits all parody, what a surprise.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 219.

    We need to get rid of Gove's influence. He has, after all, a SPAD who has written a phonics text book and is pushing it.

    We then need to get the people above in a room and not let them come out until they have written a robust strategy for teaching reading in schools. This I would imagine would rely on an holistic approach & not a narrow minded "phonics only politically driven" misunderstanding.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 218.

    It is the first paragraph that tells all. " international evidence demonstrates.... and this year introduced a phonics reading test for six-year-olds"
    What international evidence,in what context, how early?
    Then the association of the 'most effective way to teach' is to introduce a test! Clearly it is not the most effective way to teach if you agree with the experts and testing is not teaching.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 217.

    203.whambam - "........individuals taught during the "discredited" 50s and 60s have better literacy, grammar and numeracy. Just my experience, feel free to use the down arrow"


    But your Grandparents felt the same way about your generation compared to their's.....language changes over time, always have and always will.

    It's time people learned to live with that fact......

  • Comment number 216.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 215.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 214.

    I dispute that look and say dominated in the 40s and 50s. From my experience it came in during the late 60s and 70s. While no one learning system is right for every child, the phonetic system gives an analytical basis for which 80% of words can be pronounced and understood.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 213.

    I taught for 23 years in inner london schools. Most children we taught to read learned to read unless they had specific learning difficulties. The secret? Flood the environment with books and the joy of reading, practise it every day in as many ways possible. Create a culture of reading with variety of strategies. Put the whole community behind it and get them to write! Put quadblogging in Google

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 212.

    209.
    Athame57
    Absolutely!
    My husband and I read avidly, all sorts of fiction and non-fiction, and our home is full of books, but it was Harry Potter which got one of our sons from a reading age of 8 to adult between his 11th and 14th birthdays. For the other son it was the history of Napoleon. Remedial reading had not helped either of them, they just found something that they WANTED to read.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 211.

    Wow! a regurgitation of the fallacies. The teaching of reading has not changed in over fifty years, only the names have changed: look-and-say, language experience, whole language and now balance literacy. Sorry, no hope for any resolution the literacy issues in the near future given the comments.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 210.

    Phonics as the cure for reading failings is laughable. At 3 years I taught myself to read English; at 33 I moved on to Russian. Both times I memorised the pattern of each word and its association with surrounding words. That way your reading skills expand exponentially. The key to reading is books at home, subject irrelevant, and parents who indulge your curiosity. I'm not clever - ask my wife!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 209.

    Harry Potter!

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 208.

    I have no regard for politicians...
    All childrens behaviour is not the same...
    I know of a kid that has a certain part of his brain missing...
    He actually percieves the world as a different world that we see and hear.
    In my opinion he could or should be great?
    SADLY,Politcians are still in the DARK AGES...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 207.

    206. whambam

    Point taken. However I often hear older people compare young people's competence in, for example, reading and maths with their own, completely ignoring the fifty years of life experience they have benefited from. I've even had people claim they were 'just like this' when they left school. What a waste of fifty years of life!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 206.

    #205 Anglerfish

    I did say as a general rule. Absolutely agree that there are literate and numerate people in all generations, also there are those that are not. However I still hold fast to the opinion I expressed. My eldest son is 18 has 10 good GCSEs and is numerate and literate, was taught in what you would probably call the "old fashioned" way. My 14 year old is a different kettle of fish.

 

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