Teach Your Child to Read
| The main methods to teach reading |

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 decodable books.

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 (Elliott.p178)

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' or 'dyslexic'

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.

''A 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 p56)

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 (guessing), 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 WCCR p17)

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)

''The basic principle is that reading depends on speech, at every level.''

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)

X 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 reading''

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. http://www.rrf.org.uk/messageforum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=4328

''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 sound correspondence.

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 GRB p9)

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 GRB p240)

''(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 being  required. 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 bit.ly/28QsScK )

A sight word is ''a word that readers cannot not read, 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'' p16

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)

X 3 Reasons why segmenting is the mother of all skills in learning to read and spell https://www.thereadingcentre.com/2018/01/10/3-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 read.

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)

See- 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 programme 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

Next page >