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Is phonics the best way to teach kids to read? Nick Gibb and Michael Rosen debate

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ElenMumsnetBloggers (MNHQ) Tue 10-Jul-12 12:38:12

Last month all year one children in England had to take a phonics screening check, and phonics is being rolled out across the country as the way to teach children to read. But is this too prescriptive? We asked children's author Michael Rosen and Education Minister Nick Gibb to debate phonics. Read their debate about phonics as a tool for children to learn to read here and have your say. Do you agree with Nick Gibb or Michael Rosen? Is phonics the most effective way to teach children to read? Should we use several ways of teaching reading, or concentrate on phonics? Join the debate.

yellowraincoat Tue 10-Jul-12 19:01:34

It makes absolutely no sense to teach English reading phonetically. English isn't written phonetically. Spanish, Italian, German, sure, you can sound out the letters and you get the word.

But when you have brought, tough and makes no sense.

MerryMarigold Tue 10-Jul-12 19:02:35

MaizieD has some good points (although certainly only from 1 side of 'the debate'), but 'quantitative' is spelt incorrectly wink.

Chandon Tue 10-Jul-12 19:07:35

Mashabell, that is true.

As a linguist (translator and teacher) and non native English speaker, I have had to explain to many people that English is a very difficult language to learn.

I have limited in-depth knowledge of languages, but of the foreign languages that I have learned, Spanish and Swedish stood out as "easy" ie, either phonetically consistent (Spanish) or "simple" (Swedish). German seems complex but has very clear rules, and once you learn them you can get almost everything right (really worth learning the grammar, not many exceptions). English, sadly is a very irregular language.

The phonics system works for 1 of my children, and completely not at all for the other! The latter has to do "whole word learning" to cope with English.

They'll get there though.

I don't remember how I learned English myself, but I do know I still make mistakes. But then so do English people. It is a beautiful language though, and interesting too.

Inneedofbrandy Tue 10-Jul-12 19:09:56

mrz Yes she did actually. I could get the letter and copy out word for word why she failed due to her pronunciation its there in the next steps section.

mrz Tue 10-Jul-12 19:10:41

If English isn't phonetic yellowraincoat what exactly do you imagine it is?

Inneedofbrandy Tue 10-Jul-12 19:12:29

But my point is more that her literacy levels are top of the class apart from phonics and I dont really understand the fact she gets a test and fails due to the way she learns.

CockyPants Tue 10-Jul-12 19:12:37

My DD is 6, just finished year 1. End of reception she was on band6, by January in year1 she was a free reader. School and I taught her to read using phonics, ORT etc. I found that as she became more proficient her word recognition increased rapidly, and she started to use context to guess word she didn't know, rather than use phonics. This worked for her as she had a large vocab. Reading for pleasure came easily, as she enjoyed reading the scheme books. Transferred v easily to Enid Blyton and currently Roald Dahl. I guess what I am saying is that meaning and pleasure come as a result of learning HOW to read, which is via phonics.

MuddlingMackem Tue 10-Jul-12 19:27:34

Agree with CockyPants. My dd is just finishing Reception and now that she's more fluent she can now enjoy and actually look forward to her daily reading practice. But she too has got to this stage via phonics. Personally, I find that the progression through phonics really is an amazing process to witness, even with the second child it just doesn't get old. grin

mrz Tue 10-Jul-12 19:28:54

Inneedofbrandy what does she do when she meets a word she has never seen before? Is she a good speller or a "safe" speller?

kesstrel Tue 10-Jul-12 19:36:58

"Spelling seemed to come later though with the phonics system, that was the only thing that concerned me about it. I could always spell really well as I think I just memorised the words as they were on the page - I could literally see the word as if written down in a book in my head."

I think that's pretty unusual for beginning readers - I could do that by the time I was 12 or so but that was because I did a huge amount of reading.

My younger daughter is 13 now, and is horrified by the poor spelling of nearly everyone else in her (top stream) English class. Some of them were taught entirely with look and say/guessing methods; some like her had Jolly phonics in reception but then switched to look-and-say/guessing. However, I made sure I reinforced and added to her phonic knowledge and her sounding-out skills whenever she read aloud, asked for spellings, and played word games with me, because I knew the school wasn't doing it. She is a very good speller now; and she learns her spelling lists by noting any bit of a word that doesn't use the most common phonic pattern, and just remembering that.

mrz Tue 10-Jul-12 19:42:04

Inneedofbrandy then the teacher hasn't administered the test correctly.

"Alternative pronunciations must be considered when deciding whether a response is correct.
A child’s accent should be taken into account when deciding whether a response is acceptable. There should be no bias in favour of children with a particular accent.
^Any pronunciation difficulties for a child should be taken into account when deciding whether a response is acceptable (for example, a child who is unable to
form the ‘th’ sound and instead usually says ‘fw’ should have this scored as correct)."^

CockyPants Tue 10-Jul-12 19:45:47

Re spellings. DD is in top group in spellings too. I think this is due to sound phonics knowledge which proficient reading has added to, in terms of vocab used and sight recognition of words. She also has a photographic memory so once she has looked at her spelling list she recalls it easily. Worked v quickly through tricky words and HFW word walls. It is really only through phonics that English language can be understood. Everything else follows on. I appreciate every child is different, but I would have thought that phonics method is successful in 90% of children?

bigbuttons Tue 10-Jul-12 19:46:00

Some of the new books in reception are absolutely ridiculous. I can live with Biff and chip but these new books are purely phonics, the 'stories' have no meaning. A load of cvc words strung together. I refuse to even open these books any more and have told the teacher so. She sadly is too young and inexperienced to make any sensible judgment.The phonics screening test is a load of bollocks too, Who dreams up this shit?

mrz Tue 10-Jul-12 19:47:10

People who know what they are talking about wink

CockyPants Tue 10-Jul-12 19:52:20

Big buttons, DD used Oxford Reading Tree, then Ginn which is slightly harder, longer sentences, more vocab, more complex story. Later Collins Big Cat and Banana books for final level of scheme. ORT in particular is easy to borrow in our local libraries. May I recommend that you use them rather than this new book scheme? At first eg lilac, pink and red it is literally one word repeated. Then sentences, vocab is repeated a lot. Higher you go the more complex the story and less repetition. Hope this helps.

Inneedofbrandy Tue 10-Jul-12 20:04:53

mrz Mostly she just says the word even if she has never come across it before. Its not always right though although it makes sense in the sentence so am assuming that she guess the words. With spelling she now spells out phonic way but because of her dictation she can find it tricky and has only been doing that since March this year when we moved.

The school she was at in reception said she was a natural reader whatever that means.

mrz Tue 10-Jul-12 20:09:31

Some children are natural readers and most natural readers manage to work out the phonic code for themselves to some degree without any direct instruction. A few, like my son, never work out the code and as a result struggle with spelling so writing levels lag behind reading as they stick to safe words they can spell rather than demonstrate their wide vocabulary.

Inneedofbrandy Tue 10-Jul-12 20:11:47

She needs to continue working on her phase 5 (I think that is the magic e) but I am not that bothered, we've just finished reading James and the giant peach And now on BBC wonders of the solar system. Dont think phonics are for everyone. My Ds on the other hand does really well with them, but then hes never had speech problems.

Inneedofbrandy Tue 10-Jul-12 20:12:59

Thankyou for that, never knew what they meant by that exacly

JollyHockeyStick Tue 10-Jul-12 20:14:18

I haven't read the debate or the thread yet, but [[ here]] is an article in the guardian from 2010 about synthetic phonics and its use in Clackmannanshire.

JollyHockeyStick Tue 10-Jul-12 20:14:49

sorry, here

PrideOfChanur Tue 10-Jul-12 20:32:58

Must read the debate,but I always want to ask if there is evidence of children who cannot learn to read via properly taught phonics? (including coverage of the fact that English is complicated phoetically and there may be a choice as to how a particular sound is written,and how a group of letters is pronounced?)

It irritates me - DS's school said they taught using phonics - what they did was mix basic phonics in class,and the ORT - which is chock full of words which aren't phonetically regular.This left us with a totally confused DS.He is dyslexic too which didn't help.
With regard to reading for meaning,you cannot read for meaning if you are only able to look at the words blankly and make a random guess based on the first letter or general letter pattern. It sounds wonderful,but is no help if a child can't actually work out unfamiliar words.

learnandsay Tue 10-Jul-12 20:38:29

Pride, I think dyslexia is a slightly different topic.

hackmum Tue 10-Jul-12 20:38:30

I slightly edge to the Michael Rosen viewpoint.

Basically, Gibb is saying that phonics works with every child and is the proven best method for teaching any child to read. Rosen is saying that phonics works with some children, but other children learn by other methods. He says that the evidence for phonics is based on children who already had difficulty reading so is not generalisable to all children.

Now, I'm not a teacher, so I don't know for certain. But given the idiosyncrasies of English spelling, and given that we know children have different ways of approaching learning in general, then it seems unlikely to me that phonics would work for everybody. Surely there must be some kids out there who just recognise a word from the shape it makes, with a bit of help from the context?

I also think the idea of testing children on made-up words rather than real words is utterly insane. It completely defeats the point of learning to read.

lubeloo72 Tue 10-Jul-12 20:38:32

All children are different so the method of teaching should reflect this.
Good (natural) readers do not need to learn by decoding as they can easily recall new words by sight. Decoding slows them down which results in less fluency which results in less understanding so teaching reading through phonics is probably unnecessary for these children.
For those children that find reading a greater challenge (who do not commit words to memory easily) decoding phonetically can be a very useful and vital tool.
My greatest frustration though is that children who are taught phonetically habitually sound out even the high frequency words that they should be able to read on sight eg w-a-s (which isn't decodeable anyway!). So I think it is vital that there should be a greater emphasis on learning the high frequency words by sight recognition along with a systematic approach to teaching phonics for those that need it. Seeing that HF words make up a large proportion of the English language the fluency would improve and children would only need to sound out the words they really need to sound out (as well as of course using the many other cues that successful readers need to be able to use!).

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