Is phonics that important? / Is a lower phonics score teamed with a high reading level worrying?

(89 Posts)
whyisthishappening Sat 19-Jul-14 17:54:19

My daughter scored OK for her phonics but has a much higher reading level.

She reads beautifully with good understanding and expression.

Her dad has a photographic memory and our daughter also has a fantastic memory but she can't spell.

She seems to learn words, she sees an unfamiliar word, guesses what it is - or struggles and works it out, or we tell her. She then knows it.

We try to get her decoding the words but it is a struggle. She is a very enthusiastic reader and reads everything.

I struggle with phonics - I read words not letters. I struggle to work out the sounds when they are not in words. I took a long time to learn how to spell also.

So is phonics that important for my daughter?

shelsco Sat 19-Jul-14 19:05:54

Sounds like it is possible that your dd may have a specific difficulty with phonics, though if her phonics score was ok it may just be her least preferred method. Although there is a huge push on phonics and the government seem to think it is the only strategy used for reading, many children who are weak at phonics can learn very well using other strategies. both my ds's struggled with phonics. I gave them loads of help at home(I'm a teacher) but they have recently been diagnosed with dyslexia. Both were missed at primary school as both had very high reading comprehension scores. They had low phonic scores despite great comprehension on the dyslexia assessment.
Many of the children that I teach are weak with phonics yet they are good readers as they use sight vocabulary and context cues. If your dd has good understanding I wouldn't worry particularly about it. I would keep an eye out for dyslexia though. The poor spelling could be an indicator. I would also look out for working quite slowly and (particularly as she gets older) unfinished exam papers due to lack of time. I would also look up Auditory Processing Disorder. Does she struggle to follow complex instructions or fail to remember instructions? Ds used to always repeat the last couple of words in a set of instructions and we now realise it was to give him time to think about and process what we had said. Both ds's are bright and in top set at secondary and teachers were certain they were fine. It was only when ds1 started running out of time in exams that we had him tested. I'm glad we did as we now know how to help him further.

mrz Sat 19-Jul-14 19:17:24

As a Y1 teacher & SENCO it would concern me and I would want to do more detailed assessments to find out why. Unlikely to be anything serious but certainly indicates gaps in phonics knowledge which may cause problems as she encounters more new vocabulary and for spelling.

insanityscratching Sat 19-Jul-14 21:54:12

Dd learned to read (taught herself) before school and was then taught phonics once in school. She has a photographic memory too and so her preferred and first method was always to use her memory and then she would fit the phonics sounds round it. So if asked to spell a word she would reproduce it from memory and then slot the phonics rules that she also memorised around what she knew to give the answer that the teacher wanted. Now at age 11 I can't work out what method she uses but she has no problem reading or spelling.

Poppiesway Sat 19-Jul-14 22:05:39

My ds2 has really really struggles with phonics.. He's at end of yr 3 and so behind in reading. For the past term his teacher has stopped using phonics and gone with he whole word reading.. So e words he has to break down but has to see a word and just read it as one...
In the past few months he has suddenly picked up and now in the "below national average" instead of "well below"

Ds1 took to phonics straight away.. And just read and read and read.. They're all so different!

hiccupgirl Sat 19-Jul-14 22:18:16

Phonics are fantastic and a good working knowledge of the English sound system is very important but not every child learns to read, spell and write in the same way despite the current government's belief that only phonics should be taught as a way to learn to read.

If your child is making good reading progress but scores lower on a phonics test, it would suggest to me that they have a good visual memory and are relying on this rather than breaking words down. This may be a problem for their spelling and they may find it tricky to break down long unknown words as they get older but then again they will probably find their own ways round this - for example find visual markers within the words to help the tackle them or use the sentence context to work it out. It wouldn't be a major concern to me unless she was failing to progress or there were other difficulties with learning like remembering/following instructions.

RiversideMum Sun 20-Jul-14 06:52:24

If a child can read well but not spell well, my guess would be that they are relying on memory for reading and do not have a very good understanding of phonics. This seems to be supported by the fact the OP has to tell her DD new words. This is not really a sustainable strategy for reading is it? If the child has such a good memory, isn't this an issue of teaching too? If she can remember hundreds of words, she can be taught letter/sound correspondences.

mrz Sun 20-Jul-14 07:00:11

There are more than one million words to memorise but only 44 sounds (with 180ish spellings) a much more realistic expectation. Which is why whole word teaching is a limiting strategy ... OK if you want to be able to read Biff & Chip but not if you want to read more extensively.

Context is very good strategy for working out the meaning of unfamiliar words but a very unreliable way to actually read new words.

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Sun 20-Jul-14 10:47:37

Given the fact that you say she can't read unfamiliar words without help, then yes, I would be worried. That's precisely the thing that she needs phonics for.

At some point she will reach the limit of her memory for words. Whilst her reading level might look high for her age now, if she reaches her limit within the next 12 months or so her reading will stall where it is and her level will begin to look much worse in comparison to her chronological age. Would you be happy for her to still be reading at the same level at 15/16/18?

Belloc Sun 20-Jul-14 10:58:51

Both my daughter and son failed the phonics test, and scraped through with the minimum score on the second attempt a year later. They are both excellent readers. And DD is an intuitively good speller (not sure about DS3 yet as he is only 6).

For some reason phonics doesn't work well for them. It doesn't seem to chime with the way they learn, or the way their brains work. They both have a reading age of way beyond their years. <shrugs>

debbiehep Sun 20-Jul-14 12:28:18

Imagine you are reading a book and there is a word, or a number of words, in the book which are not known in your spoken vocabulary.

There are no picture cues and although the context of the sentence/text gives you an idea of the possible meaning - in order to bring the new word/s into your spoken language, you do need to have a 'pronunciation' for it to fully adopt the new word/s to increase your vocabulary.

You could be any age, but ultimately you need to be able to 'decode' the word/s and come up with at least an approximate pronunciation.

The alphabetic code is essential for this. Even if you think your children do not need phonics, or have managed very well without phonics, you may not have considered the full implications.

Your children may have deduced, or ferreted out (Jim Rose's words) the alphabetic code knowledge more than any teacher or parent realises, or your child may be getting by in reading supported by good oral vocabulary.

Ultimately, however, everyone needs a good understanding of the alphabetic code for reading and for spelling - and this helps the reader/writer to be attentive to the details in the printed word.

Yes, all children are 'different' with different learning capacities, different language experiences - but they all benefit from good familiarity with the alphabetic code.

I suggest there is a hidden epidemic amongst our pupil population of young people who can 'read' to all intents and purposes - but many can decode new words and longer, more challenging words - well enough.

Please don't be against phonics because your child is a 'good reader' - many of you acknowledge, at least, that phonics will help spelling - it really is about being attentive to the detail of the printed word whether for reading or spelling.

There is many an infant teacher, or parent, who is unaware of the longer term consequences of neglect of phonics teaching/learning.

However, I suggest that the level of phonics teaching in English-speaking countries is not high-enough or rigorous enough in many cases.

The Year One phonics screening check which gets such a bad press is a very simple way for all of us to get an indication of 'teaching effectiveness' - and results over the past three years are showing that there is a big discrepancy in teaching effectiveness between schools and regions - and that teachers can become more effective when their minds are sharpened regarding the need to be effective.

The Year One phonics screening check is not demanding - and there has to be a good reason why the vast majority of children are not reaching or exceeding the benchmark.

There are schools demonstrating that even with a cross-section of children (all individual), they can get 90% to 100% of their children to the point of accurate decoding.

It is a fallacy to suggest that the 'better readers' do not get the nonsense-words correct because they are 'better readers' or they 'don't need phonics' or because they are 'trying to make sense of' the words.

The 'better readers' may well get through reading books of any description really well at this stage - but they should also be able to decode simple words that are not in their spoken vocabularies - which is something that is always required when reading books in one's lifetime - including for the adults as I said earlier.

mrz Sun 20-Jul-14 12:28:47

I thought my son didn't need phonics because he was a fluent reader from a very early age ... unfortunately I was very wrong

debbiehep Sun 20-Jul-14 12:30:22

I made a typing error here:

"I suggest there is a hidden epidemic amongst our pupil population of young people who can 'read' to all intents and purposes - but many can decode new words and longer, more challenging words - well enough."

I should have typed that many 'cannot' decode new words and longer, more challenging words - well enough.

Belloc Sun 20-Jul-14 12:53:32

I found it very depressing that my then 5 yo could explain a split digraph but couldn't pass his phonics test. grin

mrz Sun 20-Jul-14 13:00:34

perhaps the school should have focused on teaching him to use phonics rather than teaching technical language

Lucked Sun 20-Jul-14 13:06:02

But do most good readers not work out most phonics sounds on their own anyway as their reading progresses even if they don't realise it, otherwise how am I, or anyone middle aged, able to decode new words?

minionmadness Sun 20-Jul-14 13:09:11

My dts2 (6) loves the words "split diagraph" and uses it often.

He has ASD though and has a "collection" of favourite words wink

mrz Sun 20-Jul-14 13:13:44

Many do Lucked but many apparent good readers begin to struggle around Y3/4 because they don't have an effective strategy for tackling new words - which perhaps explains the "good reader" excuse used by some schools.

Belloc Sun 20-Jul-14 13:19:55

mrz - yes, precisely. He seems to know an awful lot about phonics theory.

I suppose I learnt to read using phonics. But I had no idea that was what it was called. Nor had I heard of a split digraph, or trigraph (until my then 5 year old explained it all to me). My older children learnt to read using phonics too but they weren't burdened with the technical language, or the phonics test. My younger two are being educated in an unnecessarily complicated and confusing way.

mrz Sun 20-Jul-14 13:22:34

Perhaps that is something their school needs to address ... I don't use the terms split digraph or trigraph with my class but they do know how to read and spell

Belloc Sun 20-Jul-14 13:23:12

<wishes children were in mrs class>

Belloc Sun 20-Jul-14 13:23:36

mrz class.

debbiehep Sun 20-Jul-14 13:40:50

Please try not to consider that your children are 'burdened' with the Year One phonics screening check.

Reading a list of words in a largish font with the class teacher is not a burden from the child's perspective and reading words in lists is not an uncommon practice for children anyway. It should be a routine and familiar activity.

I have heard from parents and teachers who said children 'wanted to do it again' the next day - and enjoyed the one-to-one time with the class teacher.

There are some serious prejudices against both the teaching of phonics and the screening check - and yet these things are so very important - and had to be hard fought for as they were not the diet of infant classrooms necessarily.

Teachers also had to fight for the notion of providing little children with books that they could actually read rather than books which they had to guess their way through.

Everything that is promoted nowadays is well-evidenced not only in research but in leading-edge classroom practice in some schools - thankfully more and more schools nowadays.

Belloc Sun 20-Jul-14 13:47:04

debbiehep - well it is a burden if they haven't been taught how to use phonics properly.

Belloc Sun 20-Jul-14 13:48:03

Is the phonics test adjusted for summer birthdays?

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