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How to start teaching a child to read with phonics?

(171 Posts)
Zimbah Mon 12-Nov-12 22:40:22

This is probably a really stupid question... I've read hundreds of threads on this forum about phonics and have got myself in a tangle about how to actually go about teaching DD to read. She's 4, knows the letter sounds for the alphabet, and has started being able to separate out sounds within words although this is still a bit ropey. What do I do now - I'm paranoid about getting it wrong and making things harder, I initially started by teaching the old "Letterland" style sounds e.g. Muh for M, and now despite months of me only saying MMM she sometimes still says Muh. Can I just jump in with some reading scheme books? I know there are 44 sounds, but presumably I need some actual books to teach them within a word context, once she's learnt more basic ones?

And yes I realise I can do what I like as I'm her mum but I would prefer to follow a synthetic phonics way of teaching if possible, as that's what she'll do at school next year, so I'd rather that was her starting point.

maverick Fri 16-Nov-12 14:49:42

OED's word of the day ''poetolatry, n.: The worship or immoderate veneration of poets. Our earliest ex. is from C.S. Lewis' s Essays & Studies (1936)'', made me think of Guardian Education and M. Rosen grin

cornflakegirl Fri 16-Nov-12 15:19:24

Bonsoir - what about the email thing that did the rounds a while ago:

It deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

I know that the "first and last letters in the right place" isn't the whole story, and it is more complicated - and I know I can't read it as fast as normal text - but surely if it were just fast phonics, we wouldn't be able to understand it?

learnandsay Fri 16-Nov-12 16:04:19

It's funny cornflakegirl, but I think you're half right. I think the reason that we can read your garbled message is because we know (or think we know) what you were trying to say. Like

I **ing hate iticia* the& $&%ing make m- blo0d boil!

so we fill in the blanks in order to make the message make sense or egnarraer the letters until they make a word. If we didn't know how to read properly or the letters didn't look as though they dlow dekam a word meaningful in that context then we wouldn't be able to read it.

maizieD Fri 16-Nov-12 17:27:59

The reason that we can understand the jumbled text is that we are skilled readers who can do simple anagrams. If the words were more complex and more unfamiliar to us we would find it very difficult. As it is, it is just an amusing puzzle (though infuriating when it keeps being trotted out as some sort of 'proof' that phonics isn't particularly necessary for reading)

It is quite irrelevant to discussions of the best way to teach begining readers.

mrz Fri 16-Nov-12 17:33:47

Cornfkakegirl if you google it you will find it was exposed as a fake in 2007 but since then researchers from Durham University and the University of Massachusetts have tested the theory and found mixing the middle letters doesn't prevent readers from working out the word (much as you would any simple anagram ) but slows the reader down considerably and if the first and last letter are included in the mix then it become much, much slower.

radicalsubstitution Fri 16-Nov-12 17:45:10

zebedee - you are, of course, aware that slate is a metamorphic rock...wink

Bonsoir Fri 16-Nov-12 18:32:48

corflakegirl - when you read a text such as the one you posted, with muddled letters, you read it more slowly precisely because you need to slow down your processing of phonics to do so.

Feenie Fri 16-Nov-12 18:38:17

How disparaging can you get? It does not sound anything like a guess; it sounds like a clever little girl using what she already knew to work out something that she didn't.

It's a guess. She didn't read the word, she used the sounds she knew to read the word incorrectly and then guess the right word. It worked this time - but guessing is not a recommended strategy for reading. That's not disparaging - the child is not reading with me - it's just fact.

CecilyP Fri 16-Nov-12 19:37:03

I disagree. She used the sounds she already knew to make an approximation of the word and then tweaked the pronunciation to reach the correct word. It is hardly the lucky fluke that you seem to be implying.

learnandsay Fri 16-Nov-12 19:37:45

She read it. The words was in a sentence.

His mother said "come here straight away."

She know the phrase come straight away. And she can read the other words easily. If she was reading the word on its own in a list of words, (a thing that we don't do,) then it might have been a guess. I'll see. I'll ask her one day. Incidentally a description of phonics posted on mumsnet once explained that children are taught to sequentially sound out the variations of a letter or combination of letters until they find one that sounds right. That's guessing. So guessing is an integral part of how phonics works.

maizieD Fri 16-Nov-12 20:15:00

Incidentally a description of phonics posted on mumsnet once explained that children are taught to sequentially sound out the variations of a letter or combination of letters until they find one that sounds right. That's guessing.

Oh no. Someone else who doesn't know the meaning of the word 'guess' shock

Guess: Estimate or suppose (something)without sufficient information to be sure of being correct.

Children who know the alternative sounds represented by a particular grapheme are making an informed choice, not guessing.

Anyway, what a slightly odd sounding description of reading by decoding. Are those the exact words or just your paraphrasing?

Cat98 Fri 16-Nov-12 21:23:03

I don't doubt that the scientific research alluded to is accurate and that, overall, phonics is the most effective way to teach children to read. However do you think that it is not necessarily one size fits all?
I know I was taught to read by my mum (I had a desire to, she didn't force me!) and was a fantastic reader which continued all the way through school and culminated in an 'A*' gcse, an 'A' at a level and a 2:1 at uni (could have been a 1st if I had done more work!)
She tells me she used a mixture of phonics and word recognition. I was also a really good speller.
Ds is also learning with mostly phonics but some recognition to support it and so far he is doing brilliantly. Of course he may start going backwards but I doubt it! I wouldn't change the way he is learning as it works for him, and clearly worked for me.
I appreciate that we are quite possibly exceptions to the rule. But like everything I think following a dogmatic approach for all children, shunning something that is clearly working because 'it's not the right way' isn't ideal.

Cat98 Fri 16-Nov-12 21:26:38

To clarify I am in no way saying that pure phonics shouldn't be the first strategy. But also some children seem to just 'get' the recognition thing even if it confuses the hell out of others. Schools therefore should probably stick with phonics, but flexibility should be adopted where possible. Though again I appreciate that with 30 children they may have to just adopt 1 method and that should be phonics.

mrz Fri 16-Nov-12 21:40:44

Some children find learning to read easy and will work out the way letters are used to represent sounds with very little direct instruction. For most children being taught phonics helps them "break the code" more easily and a small number of children with complex needs will struggle whatever method is used.
However the idea that looking at the pictures will help any of these children to actually read the text is clearly flawed...

Whole word learning can appear a fast track method - early level look and say books are very repetitive and some only have the same single word on each page. "Oh look, little William is reading Ginn 360 level 1!"

Feenie Fri 16-Nov-12 22:05:53

And the idea of hoping that some children will just work it out for themselves is a very odd way of teaching - and in my experience doesn't work for too many children.

mrz Fri 16-Nov-12 22:08:50

It's a very risky way of teaching ... suppose your child isn't one of the fortunate few who manages to do this how long do you delay direct teaching

Feenie Fri 16-Nov-12 22:12:29

Actually, it's not just odd - it's not teaching.

simpson Fri 16-Nov-12 22:12:59

DD can read quite a few words that I don't know how she does it...whether she guesses from the rest of the context of the sentence or actually knows the phonetic code for that particular word (maybe she has been taught in school and I don't know about it - highly probable!!)

It's quite hard to work out as she does not sound out aloud very much now...I do worry that she is guessing but I suppose she would not be so accurate every time???

She taught herself to read at a basic level (I don't know how) and this week completed her yr3 brothers spellings correctly , so I guess she is full of surprises!!

Feenie Fri 16-Nov-12 22:14:29

Indeed, mrz - especially since you have no way of knowing beforehand which children will struggle. Too many people have this misconception that if children are immersed in literature from birth then they will be fine. It doesn't work like that.

mrz Fri 16-Nov-12 22:17:01

My son was a fluent reader before he started nursery without any formal teaching, my daughter who had the same early experiences didn't learn until she was taught in reception.

maizieD Fri 16-Nov-12 22:17:36

^ However do you think that it is not necessarily one size fits all?^

I'm sorry, but this is a really daft statement. There is only one set of words which make up the English Language; are you saying that we should have lots of different ones because it's really not right that one language has to be used by all English speakers?

There is only one alphabetic code used to construct written English words. It has to be learned, explicitly or implicitly, for truly effective reading of English. Decades of research tells us that the most effective way for all but a tiny (3 - 5%) percentage of children to learn to read is to learn the code and how to apply it to the written word. If you're going to insist on the size analogy this tells us that one size fits practically all. Certainly far more than any other 'method' (well, there are only two other 'methods'; one is learning words as 'wholes' and the other is doing a mix of phonics and 'whole word' learning with some dubious guessing strategies thrown in).

Well taught phonics results in some 95 - 100% of children in any one school leaving KS2 reading competently (L4, if you're going to use KS2 English SATs results as a measure). Nationally with the old NLS 'guidance' only about 80% of children achieved L4. God kows what whole word children ever achieved because whole word proponents don't believe in assessment...but the dire results of whole word teaching (very predominate in the 1980s & 90s) were enough to galvanise government into trying to Do Something About It, resulting in the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) in the late 1990s (see above for its effect).

I can't help feeling that one size fits 95% of children is a big improvement on the one size NLS fitting 80% of children.

simpson Fri 16-Nov-12 22:19:26

Exactly mrz - DD could read before she started nursery (not fluent obv. Just SATPIN level) and DS now yr3 struggled for the majority of reception (although is Aug born) both had/have same up bringing...

mrz Fri 16-Nov-12 22:23:07

Interestingly my son is the one with SEN

Tgger Fri 16-Nov-12 23:56:50

So, can it be agreed that phonics is the way to teach at school, but that a lot of children will also use their own methods to crack the code. That's up to them and their brains surely. Are some people threatened by this, it seems that way?

I don't believe in telling children that their way is the wrong way if it has worked for them. Their brains are naturally much more creative than ours and if you embrace this creativity you let children fly. Of course we can show them our way that may be more logical and fit the rule more times than theirs, and perhaps after a time that's what they will start to choose rather than their first random rule, but IMO this should be done with caution when they are 4/5/6..... hides and prepares to be shot down in flames....

simpson Sat 17-Nov-12 00:07:13

Tgger - actually I do agree with you. DD taught herself the word "like" on sight but once she knew the rule of how to decode it I remember her saying "that's why like is like!!" ie she knew the I/e sound. So I am not stressing if she seems to learn a word by sight as she will hopefully process it to the phonic rule when she learns it iyswim....

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