Recommended links for student teachers X
According to a past Director of the National Literacy Trust (Guardian Education 7/10/03) there was no 'golden age' when the majority of our children
were readers. History says otherwise. Prior to 1870, before
state education was introduced in the UK, literacy was 92% (West p163) ''The Poor
Law Commission in 1841 found that 87% of workhouse children
in Norfolk and Suffolk between the ages of nine and sixteen
could read'' (Mount p178)
Literacy was considered
essential so people could read the Bible, but writing was
not taught as it was thought that too much education would
give common folk ideas above their station and result in civil
unrest; Hannah More (1790), who established Sunday Schools for working class children, is quoted as saying, ''I allow of no writing for the poor. My object is not to make them fanatics, but to train up the lower classes in habits of industry and piety'' (Kerr. p85).
It still isn't common for virtually all of a primary
school's children to regularly finish year 6 with decoding abilities
at the level needed to deal with the demands of the
secondary curriculum. For this to happen, primary schools have
to replace the old NLS 'Searchlight' decoding strategies and
the early levels of their banded scheme books with an expertly
taught synthetic phonics programme and carefully matched
Such a school is Elmhurst Primary in Newham, east London, an area of high deprivation. Synthetic phonics (Read Write Inc) is the sole method of teaching children to read at the school. The headteacher, Shahed Ahmed, says, “More than 90 per cent of our pupils speak English as an additional language and we have 20 per cent mobility. The school ''has 1,000 pupils and not one of them leaves unable to read'' (TES. Lightfoot. 12/08/11) Furthermore, ''No child has been identified as having dyslexia since we adopted the programme in 2004'' http://goo.gl/g4rJzQ Note that 'dyslexia' means
persistent difficulty with single word decoding
Curwen primary school
is also in Newham, east London. A teacher at the school says,
''Ten years ago 40% of our children left us not able to read
properly. Now all of them leave us reading well...There are
more EAL & economically deprived children in the school than
there were 10 years ago. So, how come reading results are
better?..The difference is purely down to the change in
teaching methodology. We teach reading solely by using
synthetic phonics [Read Write Inc.]. It works''.
Another school which, through teaching the synthetic phonics
programme Sounds-Write ''with fidelity'', has superb reading and
spelling results, is St Thomas Aquinas in Milton Keynes.
St George's is a small primary school in Battersea, London.
Half of its pupils have English as an additional language and
over half are eligible for free school meals. The school uses
Sounds-Write to teach reading and spelling. ALL its children
have reached the required standard in the phonics decoding check
5 years in a row; good evidence that high
quality synthetic phonics teaching in the early years actively
prevents children from becoming 'phonetically deaf'
Simple View of Reading: reading ability is based on two major, essential, interacting but different components: phonics decoding ability x language comprehension (pre-existing knowledge and vocabulary).
Note that both components are essential but neither component is sufficient on its own.
The KS2 'Reading' SAT is a comprehension (English vocabulary and generic knowledge)
test and therefore not a straightforward guide to how well a
school is teaching phonics decoding. Look at the school's Y1
phonics screening check scores (expect 95+% routinely), and if
they provide phonics decodable books in Reception and
KS1 for all reading practice, to ascertain if decoding is being taught well.
curriculum rich in knowledge'' is the other essential component needed to ensure all
children achieve a high level of reading ability. ''(O)nly curriculum-based tests can be
fair and educationally productive'' (Hirsch
2006 p108) Unfortunately, the KS2 Reading SAT is a generic
knowledge test and not curriculum related.
''Unless other departments (and primary
schools) are providing a curriculum rich in knowledge, through
proper teaching of a broad range of subject disciplines, many
pupils will never perform very well in reading tests. Those
who do particularly well without a knowledge rich curriculum
succeed because of the knowledge and vocabulary they have
acquired outside school''
In 1911, G. Stanley Hall, an American professor of education,
wrote on the subject of dyslexia, ''It is possible, despite the stigma
our bepedagogued age puts on this disability, for those who
are under it not only to lead a useful, happy, virtuous life,
but to be really well educated in many other ways'' (Quoted
Ravitch p358) Attempts to put a positive 'spin' on
dyslexia still occur today - dyslexia as a gift! Entrepreneur Guy Hands, previously owner of the music company EMI, has severe dyslexia. He ''hates people who say "dyslexia is no bad thing, look at all the famous people who have got it". He will not shirk from saying: "I really wish I could read" (Observer. 13/01/08)
The late Martin Turner, formerly head of psychology at Dyslexia Action, said that it was
a 'travesty' to talk about dyslexia as a bonus when it
caused such suffering. ''It's a myth that there are compensatory
gifts. Dyslexics go into the visual arts like sheep head for
a gap in the hedge. They aren't more creative, they are more
stressed.'' (Jardine) In a review of the research on dyslexia, Dr. Rice and Professor
Brooks came to the same conclusion. ''On anecdotal evidence,
the belief that ‘difficulty
in learning to read is not a wholly tragic life sentence but
is often accompanied by great talents' may seem attractive. However, systematic investigation
has found little if any support for it.'' (Rice/
Brooks p18) The late 'dyslexic' journalist AA Gill confirmed this view when he wrote, ''In truth, of course, dyslexics end up in the art room or the music studio or the drama class after school, because it’s the only place they aren’t special-needs remedial. They get good because they can’t do anything else.'' (Times 08/04/07 The Fish Club)
See AA Gill 's chapter on dyslexia in AA Gill Is
Further Away, written after his
conversation with the educational psychologist Prof. Julian
Elliott (author of The Dyslexia Debate)
''We test hypotheses that those with reading disability are compensated with enhanced creativity.
Stronger reading was in fact linked to higher creativity, controlling for IQ''.
The ability to read and write well is key to a happy
and successful passage through life in our society. Professor
MacDonald wrote, ''My own research on the psychology of adult
illiteracy has amply demonstrated that the ability to read
is probably the most significant factor (out of many) in determining
a person's sense of autonomy and self-worth.''(MacDonald
p5) Intellectual independence also relies on good reading
skills. ''Close reading of tough-minded writing is still
the best, cheapest and quickest method known for learning
to think for yourself.''(Gatto
Literacy and mental health
Reading failure correlates with aggressive, anti-social
behaviour more strongly than any social or economic indicator (Turner/ Burkard p13) ''The Centre for Social Justice found there are significant literacy and numeracy problems in 50-75% of children who are permanently excluded from school. Many children were found to “display challenging behaviour to hide the fact they cannot read.” (DfE.Evidence paper p1) About 80% of prisoners in Scotland are functionally illiterate, according to figures released under a freedom of information request (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-20852685)
X Literacy and behaviour.
You do not have to delve very far into the world of educational
academia to discover the so-called 'Reading Wars'. This is
a long running and acrimonious debate between those
who say that children should be taught to decode using phonics only
and those who insist that decoding through multi-cues
along with memorising sight words, works just fine. The controversy extends into the progressive
education community where many members take the more extreme
'whole-language' position. They are adamant that all children can
teach themselves how to read through an informal 'discovery' method given
enough time, just as they learnt to walk and talk.
''The essential constructivist principle is that teachers should teach nothing directly, but rather function as coaches while their students basically teach themselves''. Professor Stephen Krashen, ''a self-described 'staunch defender'' of whole-language, believes that, "(A)ny child exposed to comprehensible print will learn to read, barring severe neurological or emotional problems...Kids learn to read by reading'' (Allen)
Another of the major exponents of whole language, Margaret Meek, has famously said that children learn to read, "when there is something they want to read and an adult who takes time and trouble to help them". Whole language enthusiasts suggest that structured teaching to develop reading skills is not only unnecessary, it may be positively harmful'' (Palmer. TES. 10/11/95)
Australian children's book author Mem Fox also believes that ''all
children will learn to read if they are exposed to enough
books, words, stories..''
A parent asks, ''What would you have me do, Mem?''
Guessing: Why the Reading Wars won't end.
For an idea of the difficulty involved in learning to read
using an opaque alphabet code, look at this re-coded, first line
of a well-known nursery rhyme and work out what it says: ytoxto
hruxsz ub ldyyuos xtmo (answer at the base of this page)
''This example provides the adult reader with some idea of the
child's first experience with print. If you stared at this
passage for years, you wouldn't have the slightest idea how
to decode it. Why then should we expect a child to decipher
the English alphabet code, one of the most complex ever designed,
without direct instruction?'' (D.McGuinness
Advice, commonly given, that the choice of method to teach
reading should depend on your child's particular learning or thinking
style, is incorrect.
Although this advice sounds, on the face of it, sensible and
reasonable, it does pupils
no favours. ''Excluding students identified as “visual/kinesthetic” learners from effective phonics instruction is a bad instructional practice—bad because it is not only not research based, it is actually contradicted by research''
(Stanovich p30 http://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/Stanovich_Color.pdf)
The multi-sensory issue is too often used as an excuse to promote multi-strategy teaching, also known as 'balanced literacy',
which is actually very unbalanced as it focuses almost
exclusively on one 'decoding' strategy, that is guessing using
the picture, context or first letter as clues, and one sense,
the visual. For true multi-sensory learning,
lessons should provide multiple tasks that reinforce all possible sensory and motor systems
in tandem: listening (phoneme analysis), looking
(discriminate letter shapes/learn spelling patterns, visual tracking), writing (kinesthetic movement), and speaking
(speech-motor system, auditory feedback) to anchor the
spelling code in memory as quickly as possible.
Children are predominantly reliant on auditory skills to
learn to read fluently (Macmillan
p126-132), writing being a coded transcription of the sounds in our speech.
Children who have had 'glue ear' or regular episodes of
moderate hearing loss in early childhood are at increased risk
of difficulties with learning to read, as are those who have
acquired a dominant visual reading habit as a result of
faulty initial teaching. Both sets of children need much more practice in the auditory aspects
of reading, working at the phoneme level. This does NOT mean that time
should be spent on discrete listening (phonological) exercises.
Research shows that what develops children's reading skills
best is time spent working with the phonemes AND letters (spellings) together.
''Teaching children to manipulate phonemes using letters
produced greater effects than teaching without letters''
(USA.2000 National Reading Panel. Ch2.p4)
basic principle is that reading depends on speech, at every
For the majority of children it doesn't seem to
matter if the mixture of methods is used to teach them to decode. Over time most children manage to memorise many of the high frequency words by sight and invent strategies to work out longer, trickier words in their leveled scheme books. Sadly, a significant percentage of these, to all appearances,
successful readers, will have had a more difficult time learning
to read than is necessary, will remain poor spellers and will be unable to read the more unusual words found in adult level
literature and advanced educational texts (school English
books contain around 88,500 different words (D.McGuinness
ERI p216) The insidious effects of mixed
decoding methods create young people who dislike reading and writing and are
the cause of the vast numbers of teenagers who 'stall' in
their studies at the secondary stage.
Parents may be concerned that their children will be
damaged if they start to teach them to read pre-school using
phonics, having heard that it is dangerous to impose anything 'developmentally
inappropriate' on young children. There is no scientific basis to this idea. Sir Jim
Rose noted that, ''(T)here is ample evidence to support
the recommendation of the interim report that, for most children,
it is highly worthwhile and appropriate to begin a systematic
programme of phonic work by the age of five, if not before
for some children'' (Rose Review 2006.
para89) ''(A)n appropriate introduction to phonic work
by the age of five enables our children to cover ground that
many of their counterparts in other countries whose language
is much less complex phonetically do not have to cover''(Rose
Review.2006 para99) When living in a print-saturated environment, many children attempt to read at a very early age. ''Letting them drift along using their invented strategies, without intervention, may harm them for life'' (D.McGuinness WCCR p135)
Young children only stand to benefit from explicit instruction
Many parents have successfully taught children much younger than five to read using a suitable synthetic phonics programme.
If the schools in your area are of poor quality or you are unsure of the schools' methods to teach reading, then this isn't 'hot housing' but a wise precaution. 'Bright' children will also benefit from an early start. Chartered psychologist Professor Joan Freeman
writes, ''In my practice I see several children a week who can read, write and make excellent conversation, and who are well under school age, some as young as 2. No parent or teacher can make a child do this if they are not capable. The children are otherwise normal and happy and keen to learn. The numbers of them that I can see could doubtless be multiplied by many hundreds around the country. The proposed prohibitions by the anti-early-literacy group to stop enthusiastic children from getting the basics of literacy at nursery would be a cruel blow to their lively searching minds'' (Guardian.letters. 25/07/08)
Recommended resources for teaching pre-schoolers to read.
''Once a child can read independently, the
growth of many other skills is promoted'' (Research
cited- Macmillan p7) ''Reading... opens some important
doors...it gives the young learner a degree of autonomy and
independence...also gives a child access to the whole culture
of literacy. Reading makes it possible... to have access to
vast quantities of stored knowledge'' (Howe
'97 p154) ''The increased reading experiences of children
who crack the spelling-to-sound code early..have important
positive feedback effects. Such feedback effects appear to
be potent sources of individual differences in academic achievement'' (Stanovich. Matthew Effects p364) Furthermore, delaying the start of formal instruction
can be detrimental, especially for boys, ''(D)elaying the start of school for a year has no benefits and is likely to lead to a substantial drop in IQ...the largest reading ability
sex differences in the world occur in countries such as Denmark,
Finland and Sweden where children don't start school until
age 7'' (RRF 51 Macmillan)
Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading
experience and ability 10 years later.
''(R)apid acquisition of
reading ability might well help develop the lifetime habit of
Research: Impact of a play-based curriculum in the first two years of primary school: literacy and numeracy outcomes over seven years. ''It appears that no extra positive effect can be found for the play-based approach on reading and maths outcomes, and that perhaps a slight negative effect is evident''.
''(A)t age eighteen, children who started school a year later had I.Q. scores that were significantly lower than their younger counterparts. Their earnings also suffered: through age thirty, men who started school later earned less. A separate study, of the entire Swedish population born between 1935 and 1984, came to a similar conclusion''
Early Years 'expert', Sue Palmer, ally of Steiner teacher Dr.Richard House and author of Toxic Childhood, is one of those who tars the teaching of early reading using synthetic phonics with the 'formal
and risky' brush, once describing advocates as, ''(A) rabble of back to basics diehards'' (Palmer. TES 10/11/95). More recently she opined that it was 'cruel and mad' to expect the majority of five year olds to be able to write simple sentences (NurseryWorld 11/1/12). But, as Sir Jim Rose said, ''The term ‘formal’ in the pejorative sense in
which phonic work is sometimes perceived in early education
is by no means a fair reflection of the active, multi-sensory
practice seen and advocated by the review for starting young
children on the road to reading'' (Rose
Review.2006 Summary p3)
The following ''non-experimental'' study is commonly quoted by those
who suggest that it's unnecessary, even detrimental, for children
to begin to be taught phonics around the age of 5, as we do in
England. The main author, Dr. Suggate, is a strong supporter
of Rudolf Steiner's theories about education.
In the following RRF messageboard thread, educational
psychologist John Noble and Simon Webb, an author and blogger, comment on the study.
''Steiner was very clear about why delayed reading was a good
idea – not because older children can learn to read better, but
because memorising and reading interfered with the incarnation
of the etheric body. It could damage a spiritual protective
sheath around the child leading to illness and
spiritual degeneration. ‘Developmental needs’ in the Steiner
world are to do with the incarnation of spiritual entities. Only
after adult teeth have appeared is a child spiritually ready to
learn to read''
''Currently, the most vehement opponents of synthetic phonics
are the Early Years lobbyists. Their belief system has it
that teaching five-year olds to read is detrimental to their
physical and mental well-being. They quote Finland where children
do not begin ‘formal teaching’ until much later
and learn to read easily to bolster their case...But there
is nothing ‘formal’ about synthetic phonics teaching.
It is multi-sensory and fun and can be achieved in 30 minutes
a day, leaving several hours to be filled by child-initiated
play, sand, water, painting, outdoor play, you name it.'' (Shadwell. issue 88. 2006)
Debunking the Finnish fantasy, one piece
at a time..
English, Danish, Portuguese and French are, in that order, the
European languages with the most 'opaque' alphabet codes.
English and Danish also have a complex syllable structure.
Greek, Finnish, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Dutch are
much easier to learn as they have a majority one-letter/one
The Early Years opponents of synthetic phonics consistently fail to mention the evidence from Denmark on the teaching of early reading, possibly because it doesn't suit their agenda. ''Danish shares with English
the features of a deep orthography and a complex syllable
structure. In Denmark children do not enter primary school
until they are 7 years old. Despite this 2-year age advantage,
they experience difficulties in acquiring the logographic
and alphabetic foundation processes which are comparable to
those observed in English, although less extreme'' (Seymour/Aro/Erskine) The evidence from Europe clearly shows that, ''Foundation literacy acquisition by non-English European groups is not affected by gender and is largely independent of variations in the ages at which children start formal schooling'' (Seymour/Aro/Erskine p150);
''In countries with a straightforward alphabet
writing system, where each sound is represented by only one
symbol, learning to 'crack the code' takes about twelve weeks
for all children'' (D.McGuinness
Having a transparent alphabet code is not the only reason
why children in most European countries learn to decode so successfully (accurately) and
rapidly; many European countries teach
reading using the quick, simple and confidence-building method
- synthetic phonics; letter names and sight words are not
taught. The combination of a transparent alphabet
code and the synthetic phonic teaching method means that, ''poor
readers (children who can't decode) are rare to nonexistent
in many European countries'' (D.McGuinness
''(O)ur alphabetic system is not transparent as it is in
Finnish, where there is only one way to spell each sound in
the main. Our code needs to be introduced carefully from the
simple to the more complex by teachers who understand it themselves.
Left until six, our children will already have developed look
and stare strategies, along with guessing and be well on the
way to making a dog’s dinner of understanding the code.''(Shadwell. issue 88. 2006)
Evidence suggests that many of those who have learnt to
read through HFW memorisation and
guessing strategies for decoding, are handicapped
by their lack of phonemic awareness and their limited
knowledge of the advanced alphabet code. As a result they have
difficulties accurately decoding unfamiliar words (especially
multi-syllable ones) and with spelling.
This evidence is further supported by some fascinating
research carried out by Just and Carpenter which looked at
the eye movements of readers. This showed that, despite appearances,
expert readers do not skip words or look at words as 'wholes'
but attend to and process the individual letter/sound correspondences
in every word as they are reading (Research
cited -Macmillan p68)
Individual letter/sound correspondence processing is necessary because many words
differ from another by only one or two letters - sad/said, diary/dairy,
four/floor/flour, quit/quite/quiet... If, during reading, many words are
guessed at and misread, it can completely change the sense
of the text making it a meaningless, confidence-sapping exercise.
People interpret the meaning of the term 'sight word' in
different ways. The most common understanding is that sight
words are high frequency words which need to be learnt as whole shapes using visual
memory only (customarily using 'look-say' flash cards). This
is advocated by infant teachers who use mixed-methods. The
HFWs, they believe, are mostly ''non-phonetic'' or ''too
irregular'' to be learned through phonics. Additionally, they
think that if children can get off to a rapid start reading
the school's leveled predictable-text scheme books, enabled by
the use of memorised sight words and multi-cueing (guessing)
strategies, this will be 'confidence-boosting'. Yet, as researchers Ashby and Rayner point out, ''one could argue that these children are only pretending to read, as the inherent magic of reading rests on the reader's independence'' (Ashby/Rayner.p60)
A different understanding is found where 'sight words' are
theorised to be the initial stage of a biologically-driven
developmental process of learning to read. Uta Frith's stage
model is perhaps the most well known. The 1st stage of her
reading acquisition model is 'logographic', where children are
said to see
familiar words solely, ''through their crude visual features
such as shape or size''.
Uta Frith's developmental stages of reading acquisition model.
Jenny Chew comments, ''The
belief in sight-words as a first step is found everywhere'', but
Chew goes on to say, ''Teachers must not be brainwashed into
believing that logographic reading is natural if in fact
it is the result of teaching, as the evidence suggests to
be the case.''
2001. Jenny Chew's article critiques Uta Frith's
developmental stage theory of learning to read.
The supporters of the Dual Route reading theory (see method 2) have a different interpretation of the term 'sight word'. It is one which is stored, they believe, in an 'orthographic whole-word store' in the brain, all its letters in the correct order ready for instant processing, going straight to 'meaning' without any phonological decoding
In their opinion, expert readers read all words holistically,
except for rare or unknown ones. N.B. the Dual Route theorists' interpretation of the term 'sight word' is embedded in the 2006 Rose Report (Rose Report 2006 Appendix 1.paras 52, 54).
Synthetic phonics practitioners say that a 'sight word' is a word that a reader has successfully decoded many times before. As a consequence,
it is read so fast that it seems to the reader as
though it is being read instantly, going straight to meaning
without any phonological decoding. Prof. McGuinness points out, ''One should never think that just because "it seems like" we read instantly, this is, in fact, what we do. Our brain processes millions of bits of information all the time that we are not consciously aware of, because the processing speed far outstrips our ability to be conscious of it. An efficient reader has "automatized" or "speeded up" the decoding process to the point where it runs off outside conscious awareness''
Prof. Dehaene agrees, ''The adult brain does not
use global word shape: it still processes the letters, but all
at once (in parallel)'' and this results in adult-level
skilled readers having
''an illusion of whole-word reading'' (Dehaene:
how the brain learns to read
A sight word is ''a word that readers cannot
even if they choose not to – because the level of automaticity
for the brain is so high, that reading is not a matter of
conscious choice'' (Prof. Pamela Snow)
Literature review on eye movement & word identification: ''readers
naturally access the sounds of words while reading silently''
Modern eye-movement studies show that expert readers process all the information about a word at once using parallel processing: ''(T)he word-superiority effect demonstrates that skilled readers process all of the letters when identifying a word' (italics added. Ashby/Rayner p58) and ''represent complex aspects of a word's phonological form, including syllable and stress information'' (italics added. Ashby/Rayner p57), but this is done at a subconscious level. Only when the skilled reader comes to a previously unencountered
word do the skills of phonological decoding come back into consciousness. ''(R)ecent brain studies show that the primary motor cortex
is active during reading, presumably because it is involved
with mouth movements used in reading aloud. The process of
mentally sounding out words is an integral part of silent
reading, even for the highly skilled'' see p90 www.psychologicalscience.org/pdf/pspi/reading.pdf
''We have known for about a century that inner speech is accompanied by tiny muscular movements in the larynx, detectable by a technique known as electromyography. In the 1990s, neuroscientists used functional neuroimaging to demonstrate that areas such as the left inferior frontal gyrus (Broca’s area), which are active when we speak out loud, are also active during inner speech. Furthermore, disrupting the activity of this region using brain stimulation techniques can interrupt both “outer” and inner speech'' (http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2014/aug/21/science-little-voice-head-hearing-voices-inner-speech)
Read the following (real) book title to examine your own
phonological decoding skills. As an expert reader who
implicitly understands how the Alphabet Code works (whether
through direct phonics instruction or deduced over time) you'll find yourself tracking
through the unusual words slowly left to right, segmenting one
GPC at a time, mentally sounding out as you go,
then blending the sounds as you proceed. 'Nonscience and the Pseudotransmogrificationalific Egocentrified Reorientational Proclivities Inherently Intracorporated In Expertistical Cerebrointellectualised Redeploymentation with Special Reference to Quasi-Notional Fashionistic Normativity, The Indoctrinationalistic Methodological Modalities and Scalar Socio-Economic Promulgationary Improvementalisationalism Predelineated Positotaxically Toward Individualistified Mass-Acceptance Gratificationalistic Securipermanentalisationary Professionism, or 'How To Rule The World'. Brian J. Ford (Wikipedia. Nonscience)
3 Reasons why segmenting is the mother of all skills in learning
to read and spell
The most important socialising force for a child is their
peer-group. The influence is especially strong during middle-childhood
(6-12 yrs) (Harris p226).
This factor needs to be considered in the reading equation. A
child, whose everyday companions, in school or out, consist of
other children who think that reading is boring and unpleasant, will
copy those attitudes, ignoring those held by parents or other
significant adults. This is another important reason for most children to begin a systematic
synthetic phonics programme by the age of five
(Rose Report 2006. para89), before any anti-book,
peer-group influence takes hold.
All early language stimulation will accelerate a child's mental
development with permanent advantages. ''All the evidence
shows that the major predictor of becoming a good reader is
the development of good language skills during the early years
of life.'' (D. McGuinness GRB p9-10)
With this in mind, looking at books and reading together should
begin in babyhood and be an active exercise. Good preparation
for learning to read, with nursery age children, is the practice
of oral segmentation; as you talk to your child split the
sounds of key words such as 'drink your j-oo-s', 'it's on
the ch-air', 'find your k-oa-t', 'here is your sh-oo'...This
is a gentle introduction to how words work.
There is a, ''widespread and pervasive misunderstanding that poor decoders are, in some way, intellectually inferior'' but, ''we can make no judgements about an individual's intellect based upon their decoding skills'' (Elliott. LDA Bulletin p13) Alexander Faludy, described as ''so severely dyslexic that he can barely write'', won a place at Cambridge University at the age of 14. (Times 17/01/98) Another high IQ 'dyslexic' (he has the spelling ability of an 8 year old), Ben Way, was a multi-millionaire businessman by the age of 20 (Telegraph 10/01/00)
Children with serious intellectual disabilities can learn
the mechanics of reading. Children with hyperlexia are
self-taught, fluent decoders from an extremely early age, but when hyperlexia is accompanied by an intellectual disability (it is commonly linked to autism),
reading comprehension can be poor. A parent on Mumsnet reported that her son with hyperlexia could read the Financial Times at age three. She also said that he was badly handicapped by a lack of phonic knowledge as he progressed through school and this resulted in him being unable to spell; ''What happened with my son was that because he was an exceptional reader he was never taught phonics and in Y6 he was still not writing anything!'' Mona McNee, founder of
the UK Reading Reform Foundation, taught her own son to read
using synthetic phonics, despite the fact that he has Down's
syndrome (McNee p8). The researchers
Cossu, Rossini and Marshall found that Italian children with Down's syndrome
could decode quite competently, having been taught
the transparent sound-symbol correspondences of the Italian
alphabet code, but they lacked comprehension of what they
Can children with intellectual disabilities learn to read?
There is a widely circulated myth that too much emphasis on
decoding through phonics causes children to 'bark at print'
aka ''Ron Burgundy Syndrome'' but, as Prof. Stanovich points out, ''There is no research evidence indicating that
decoding a known word into a phonological form often takes
place without meaning extraction. To the contrary, a substantial
body of evidence indicates that even for young children, word
recognition automatically leads to meaning activation..when
the meaning of the word is adequately established in memory''(RRF 50 Stanovich p8)
Ron Burgundy Syndrome
Specific Reading Comprehension Disability: Major Problem, Myth, or Misnomer?
''Although poor reading comprehension certainly qualifies as a major problem rather than a myth, the term specific reading comprehension disability is a misnomer: Individuals with problems in reading comprehension that are not attributable to poor word recognition have comprehension problems that are general to language comprehension rather than specific to reading''
''Experienced practitioners and teachers point out that,
in the course of phonics teaching, as children 'start to get
the hang of it', they begin to self-teach and 'need to read
a lot to consolidate their skills', that is, to develop effortless
reading and focus more and more on comprehending the text.
At this point, children may appear, some would say, to be
'barking at print' without fully understanding what they are
reading. Although this is often levelled as a criticism of
phonic work, such behaviour is usually transitional as children
hone their phonic skills. Given that even skilled adult readers
may find themselves 'barking at print' when they are faced
at times with unfamiliar text, it is hardly surprising that
children may do so in the early stages of reading'' (Rose
Review para 49) Canadian SEN teacher SusanS notes that, ''You find the phenomenon of children who decode very well but understand almost nothing in only two populations: children with intellectual disabilities [see above] and children with very limited English'' (Kitchentablemath blog 30/12/08)
Aside from those with hyperlexia, a few children learn to
read when they are very young with little formal instruction,
seemingly by 'osmosis' of the print around them. They have
very good visual memories along with an ability to rapidly
intuit the spelling patterns in text. In addition, and
importantly, they will have had plenty of parental/carer
interaction where books are involved and that interaction will
have included some basic alphabetic instruction. Having had, from very early in life, plenty of access to a wide variety of texts alongside a helpful, literate person, they will have received prolonged and repeated exposure to the code's
predictable patterns. With this lucky combination of nature and nurture they have managed to deduce the alphabet code for themselves.
Who speaks for reading, writing and literature?
Research, studying factors that predict children's reading
ability, showed that in Britain the strongest predictor at
age seven was the mother's level of education rather than
the child's IQ (D.McGuinness WCCR p29). As Tom Burkard explains, ''When teachers don't teach, the education children receive from their parents becomes of paramount importance, and the children of ill-educated parents are at an overwhelming disadvantage'' (Burkard.2007.p30)
Education isn't natural - that's why it's hard. ''Schools exist
to teach the hard stuff that children are unlikely to just pick
up from their environments''
''Most schools rely on parents to teach children to read..''
In education, is poverty destiny?
''At an academic level, we should again focus on the agency of
the school. An approach to early reading that places heavy
emphasis on children taking lists of sight words home to learn
is inequitable. So is an approach that hinges on practising
reading at home. Instead, children need to be explicitly and
systematically taught to read while they are in school''
Parents need to be aware that widely varying degrees of the
inherited subskills helpful in learning an opaque alphabet code
can occur amongst siblings. It is not unknown for one child
in a family to have learnt seemingly by 'osmosis' (see above) whilst
another has the ''potential to muddlement'' (McNee p81).
Time spent on an evidence-based
will be worthwhile, and if instruction commences once a child can speak and understand simple sentences, the easier and
less onerous the job will be. Parents have a big advantage
here if they do it themselves, as evidence suggests that how fast a child learns to
read is directly related to the amount of one-to-one instruction
received (D. McGuinness WCCR p30)
Teacher and phonics expert, Debbie Hepplewhite, talks about her four children's different experiences of learning to read and her own experience as a classroom teacher.
A very short summary of the phonics debate.
Pamphlet for Londoners by Miriam Gross: So why can’t they read?
What reading does for the mind: Cunningham&Stanovich
Does Learning to Read Improve Intelligence? A Longitudinal Multivariate Analysis in Identical Twins From Age 7 to 16
House of Commons Education&Skills Committee publication:
Teaching Children to Read, published March 2005
How Psychological Science Informs the Teaching of Reading
Why do wealthy kids usually do better in school than poor kids?
X Handbook of early literacy research Vol.2 -see Ch.4 by Ashby and Rayner on eye movement research.
Answer: London Bridge is falling down