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oh help, have i got phonics all wrong?

(31 Posts)
preschoolly Fri 15-Jul-11 12:38:14

I admit to being terrified by helping my nearly four year old to read, because I'm worried that I'll 'teach' her all wrong (probably because I am a teacher's daughter and am therefore convinced that teaching is an arcane craft that the rest of us should have no access to). But dd is fascinated by letters and words and a computer programme called Reading Eggs, so I have kind of let her get on with it.
She's at preschool (recep in Jan) but has recently picked up Songbirds phonics purple books (so really easy) and I've let her sit with me and blend and decode the words. She enjoys doing this and decodes well so I mentioned it to her teacher who asked me to take in a book she had already read. Did so with great trepidation as I know that once she has read a book once she'll just try and memorise it. They would be better testing her on a book she hasn't seen imvho.
Teacher says that while her phonics knowledge is 'extraordinary' (it isn't, I don't think, she's just interested like many kids) she isn't 'reading' because she isn't guessing enough from the pictures. This my fault, because I told her NOT to guess from the pictures but to sound out then read the words - because I thought that is what phonics is all about. Have I got it all wrong? Should I be encouraging her to guess more? Obv this is part of reading, but I was concentrating on the phonics stuff because I thought that was what they wanted. Bah. I clearly know nothing. Can anyone advise me what to tell dd when it comes to reading?

AMumInScotland Fri 15-Jul-11 13:00:32

I think what you need to tell her is "lets enjoy doing it this way, but when you get to school the teacher might do it differently, and that's fine".

The idea that she isn't reading because she's going by the words and not guessing from the pictures sounds daft to me, and certainly has nothing to do with phonics. But if that's one of the different ways they encourage children to approach books when she gets to school, then I'm sure that's for good reasons - most schools use a range of methods, some of which suit some children better than others.

Don't worry about "what they want" - the important thing is not to have your daughter convinced that she has to do it one way to please you, then struggles when the teacher says different.

titchy Fri 15-Jul-11 13:14:47

I don't think you really need to worry about it! If she can sound out the words and work ouot what they by blending then fine. If she gets stuck let her look at the picture to get a clue from that.

Basically as long as she can recoghnise letters and know what sounds they make (i.e. 'b' makes 'buh' sound - but a short clipped 'buh') she shouldnt be confused. as long as she is enjoying books that is the main thing.

prh47bridge Fri 15-Jul-11 13:26:58

From the Department for Education:

"phonic programmes should not encourage children to guess words from non-phonic clues such as pictures before applying phonic knowledge and skills"

Scattercat Fri 15-Jul-11 13:35:06

Please do not take the advice of the preschool teacher! You are doing exactly the right thing and obviously have a much better understanding of what learning to read with phonics is all about.

Don't change tack - your daughter sounds like she is doing really well. Help her out if she is stuck on a word because she hasn't learnt the alphabet sound yet - don't ask her to guess from the pictures as this will only confuse her as to how she should be reading.

littleducks Fri 15-Jul-11 14:00:30

You seem to be doing it fine, either continue you as you are or have a break over the summer.

My dd has just finished reception and sounds similar to yours. I always tell her not to 'guess' from the pictures, as she has a great memory for stories. She has been told to guess by some teachers and to never guess by others.

I don't agree that guessing helps, for children like mine, who could stand up and recite bear hunt/the tiger who came to tea/the bear who lived under the stairs word perfect (as can i from very repeated readings!) as they then do not learn to recognise that word in another context and become truely stuck when they move to harder books with less picture clues.

preschoolly Fri 15-Jul-11 14:10:31

Thanks all. That's reassuring. Littleducks, that's just it - she's got a very good memory for words, particularly rhyming ones - so I'd rather she didn't guess. The Dept of Education quote is interesting. DD's teacher who said this is a qualified teacher (the other is an NNEB, and she has a variety of TAs as well).The preschool is part of her school so they'll presumably assess her for when she joins the rest of her year in Jan, so I was surprised to her her going against what I thought was the phonics stuff we've been told to do. Especially since we've had a literacy workshop with the school coordinator who informed us it was all very phonics based. I guess we'll just continue what we're doing. She also told me not to push dd into doing more than ten minutes a day with reading. Push her? I can't stop her... She currently stops halfway through her conversation in order to break the word she is saying into its component sounds, she is so obsessed by it. Still, it did stop her in the middle of a tantrum the other day so I guess I should be pleased.

blackeyedsusan Fri 15-Jul-11 14:40:27


blackeyedsusan Fri 15-Jul-11 14:44:04

oops, how did that happen? posted too soon. guessing from the pictures is a strategy used by weaker readers and should be discouraged.

choccyp1g Fri 15-Jul-11 15:49:36

So when we read a book without pictures, we are not really reading !
The whole thrust of phonics is that you learn the "codes" of how the letters fit together to make words.

maizieD Fri 15-Jul-11 16:22:53

'Reading' from the pictures is an old strategy, from the Dfes National Literacy Strategy, which was abandoned in 2007. Naturally there are masses of teachers around who were trained on the old NLS, nay, who were forced to use it by Advisors and Consultants pushing the then 'official' line. Teachers sometimes aren't very good at abandoning the methods they were trained in, even if they are not very effective (or even quite damaging, as in the case of 'reading' from pictures).

Carry on with what you are doing, it sounds good! Why 'read' pictures when you can read the words?

On the other hand, pictures can greatly enhance a story, but in their own way by interpreting the appearance of characters and settings and putting in lots of interesting detail which isn't in the text. But that is an entirely different thing from using them to carry the storyline or as 'prompts' for word identification.

Feenie Fri 15-Jul-11 17:54:15

Absolutely shock at your dd's teacher's comments!

MsMinervaMcGonagall Fri 15-Jul-11 19:01:47

Feenie, I agree the teacher's comments are strange i.e. guessing from the pictures is demanded before you can say she's reading. I don't agree with that. But I am surprised how many people are saying using the pictures to support understanding is absolutely wrong and shouldn't be encouraged. Surely a range of strategies- phonics, context (including pictures), what the word looks like etc will lead to the greatest progress? Was at a talk by Michael Rosen last night and I think he would be shocked to hear people say DO NOT use the pictures at all.

Feenie Fri 15-Jul-11 19:16:00

It depends how the pictures are used. If they are used to enhance or extend understanding of the story, fine. If they are used to help a child guess wildly without reading the word or decoding the sounds at all, that's terrible. And if a child does guess some words from looking at the picture alone, that's called a 'mixture' of strategies, but helps no one. It's a teacher's job then to gently lead a child back to the word itself and help them to decode it then confirm the picture 'guess'.

I've seen the results of children unable to read because they are encouraged to use picture clues to guess sometimes - as long as they only do it for some words, it's a mix of strategies, right? Well, that's what they've been encouraged to do hmm They rely on the guessing using pictures, and end up thoroughly confused by the mish mash, sorry, range, of strategies they've been taught to use, and don't use their decoding skills to actually read the word.

Scattercat Fri 15-Jul-11 19:31:11

Great post Feenie

preschoolly Fri 15-Jul-11 19:42:20

Thanks everyone. I suspect this may be a bit of an 'end of termitis' problem anyway and we'll be able to sort in sept. Meanwhile we'll continue decoding

maizieD Fri 15-Jul-11 20:22:42

Was at a talk by Michael Rosen last night and I think he would be shocked to hear people say DO NOT use the pictures at all.

Sadly, Michael Rosen, though he writes delightful books and poems for children, knows very little about the teaching of reading. His opinions are fed to him by the 'mixed methods' lobby who don't want to understand that a child encouraged to 'read' the pictures is left floundering when the pictures run out...

Pictures are an enhancement of text, not a substitute for text (I did say that earlier but perhaps it didn't register).

Please be absolutely clear that the idea that phonics taught children aren't allowed pictures in books is as much a myth as the more common one that says phonics taught children aren't allowed to read books.

MsMinervaMcGonagall Fri 15-Jul-11 21:21:06

As I thought I made clear in my earlier post, I agree that 'pictures are an enhancement of text, not a substitute for text'.

I'm really surprised to disagree with you Feenie as usually I wholeheartedly agree with your posts. Are you saying that any encouragement of anything other than phonics will lead to children who are thoroughly confused?

I'm not trying to start any bunfights, here, believe me, I'm genuinely interested in your (and others) POV and experience.

Feenie Fri 15-Jul-11 21:30:57

I'm saying that in the earliest teaching of reading, the encouragement of a 'mixture' of strategies can have dire consequences for some children.

When we taught mixed strategies in the mid 90s, we had some children who left our school unable to read at a level 4.

When we started to teach phonics only (along with the enjoyment of reading and sharing of books - drives me bonkers when people like Michael Rosen, although I am a huge admirer of his work, assume that teaching phonics precludes those things), we eliminated the confusion for those children, and now all of our children go on to secondary school reading at a level 4, except for a couple of children with very severe educational needs, and a full statement, who left us to join a special school.

Fifteen or so years of seeing children able to read using this method for early reading has left me in no doubt as to which methods are most successful.

Some children naturally learn using sight reading aswell, and we would never discourage this (try stopping it! You can't.) But for children to be able to learn reading quickly, efficiently and to be able to reach a point swiftly where they can thoroughly enjoy Michael Rosen's work, I would say from some considerable experience that phonics beats mixed methods every time.

MsMinervaMcGonagall Fri 15-Jul-11 21:49:37

OK, I think perhaps it comes down to a discrepancy between what I referred to as 'a range of strategies' and what you refer to as 'mixed methods'.

I agree totally with what you're saying about teaching phonics along with the enjoyment of reading and sharing books Feenie. Phew, agree with you again!

Phonics is an essential base for being able to read. It has to be built upon to allow children to develop all the 'strategies' wink necessary to be fluent, skillful readers. As teachers we need to encourage all the ways of making meaning - and I'm talking higher level meaning here I suppose, rather than decoding - alongside phonics to promote enjoyment of books and full engagement with them.

I'm NOT promoting 'what other ways can we scrabble around to work out a word without using phonics at all'. However, I have taught children in Y5/6 who have been taught solely with phonics and can read a page of text coherently but do not have any understanding of what they've read, cannot reflect on it, cannot engage with it at a higher level. And often cannot read words that do not obey certain phonic rules because they don't use context. I guess that's a failure of teachers not teaching these skills...dare I say assuming that phonics=reading? I hope not...

As an aside: From what MR was saying last night, I didn't get the impression he was saying teaching phonics precludes enjoying books, in fact he positively endorsed teaching of phonics....along with the enjoyment of reading and sharing books.

HumphreyCobbler Fri 15-Jul-11 21:59:26

I just do not ever see children being taught phonics without also reading and enjoying books. I cannot actually see how it is possible. Any primary classroom is full of books, words, signs, poems, banners, games, etc. Phonics just enables them to access all of it.

Feenie Fri 15-Jul-11 22:02:02

I think we agree (phew!)

With regard to your efficient decoders who have little comprehension, I would say that this is not due to teachers assuming that phonics=reading, but crap teaching of comprehension. Phonics= efficient decoding. The faster we teach that, the sooner we can teach decent comprehension and higher level strategies.

I'm glad you got that message from Michael Rosen - I've seen blogs by him that would seem to assume that phonics precludes reading enjoyment altogether. Sounds like he has thought better of it smile

HumphreyCobbler Fri 15-Jul-11 22:02:50

pointless aside. I once saw Philip Pullman at a festival, pulling apart a teacher who had used his work to teach punctuation by removing all the full stops from the opening paragraph and asking the children to put them back. The audience all gasped in a shocked kind of way and I wanted to stand up and point out that they would all be pretty annoyed if none of their children knew what a full stop was ACTUALLY, and you have to teach it somehow, even if it wasn't the most inspired teaching idea ever.

Feenie Fri 15-Jul-11 22:06:12

I would pay a lot of money to see you do that, Humphrey grin

MsMinervaMcGonagall Fri 15-Jul-11 22:07:09

"Phonics = efficient decoding. the faster we teach that, the sooner we can teach decent comprehension and higher level strategies."

Agreed. how come I can never put things so succinctly?

Although I'd perhaps add 'mostly' efficient decoding. What about 'tricky words'? Context, pictures, sentence structure come in here IMO at the earliest stages (without undermining phonics).

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