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Different ways to learn to read...

(67 Posts)
allyfe Thu 03-Apr-14 10:12:59

My reception DD (5.1) is doing well with her reading (not compared to the free readers, but I'm still impressed smile). But, she must also be one of the only children in the country (based on my reading of MN anyway) who actually likes Biff & Chip. In fact, she much prefers Biff and Chip compared to phonics books at the same level. I think that partly she simply doesn't like the stories/way of writing in phonics books. She never has. She loved the Read at Home ORT, but wouldn't touch the Read, Write Inc ones. But I think it is also because she recognises a lot of words, and tends to work things out based on the form and the meaning of the text (so sometimes she will say the wrong thing because it makes sense in the context of the sentence, and it has the same first letter as the word she should be reading). She does still sound words out if she doesn't know them, but she seems to need to have the satisfaction of having a lot of the high frequency words that she already knows.

She does also read other things than Biff & Chip (she will have a go at a lot of stuff - she has tried a simple Horrid Henry Early reader, and some I can read books (which she read all of).

So, my question is, is this a problem? And, she has been moved up a level recently, and whilst she still flies through the Biff and Chip, she doesn't like the phonics books she gets and won't try with them. Typical pushy mum, I think she could easily move up another level because it takes her five minutes to read the Biff & chips we get home. And, again, as with so many children, she reads higher level books at home. We only get two school books so I'd like them to be appropriate. But I did just wonder about her lack of interest in phonics texts, and if it is something we should try to work on more, or if I should just let her read in what seems to be a ORT way!

columngollum Sat 05-Apr-14 09:08:55

school is teaching whole word? Sorry, I missed that bit.

columngollum Sat 05-Apr-14 09:13:05

I don't understand that the school is teaching whole word.

The way I understand it in the OP is that the school does teach phonics but a) the child doesn't seem to be getting on very well with phonics at the moment and b) the child is offered phonics scheme readers by her school, but she doesn't like them and prefers to read other things.

mrz Sat 05-Apr-14 09:16:03

In the Whole word method the child is encouraged to think of a word that would fit the sentence and it is acceptable for the child to substitute another word if it doesn't change the meaning.

So if the sentence was:

Goldilocks discovered a little house in the wood.

and the child read:

Goldilocks discovered a little home in the wood.

that would be praised/encouraged hmm

meditrina Sat 05-Apr-14 09:17:13

What one reception child professes to "like" is not a reliable indicator of what children need to become proficient readers.

columngollum Sat 05-Apr-14 09:20:37

Ah, I see what you mean. Yes. It is possible that these teachers are playing Kenneth Goodman's Psycholinguistic Guessing Game

or maybe we've just misunderstood what the OP is telling us and are running around screaming "ah! Kenneth!" unnecessarily.

mrz Sat 05-Apr-14 09:23:16

Kenneth Goodman is Whole language not whole word CG so good idea not to shout his name

columngollum Sat 05-Apr-14 09:25:59

The problem now is that because teachers have to teach phonics in school it is possible to have a teacher who believes passionately in Kenneth and says Kennethy type things from time to time (because that's what she believes in.)

But, she actually teaches phonics, or tries to teach it, anyway. Quite how anybody is supposed to tell what's actually going on in a case like that I don't know.

columngollum Sat 05-Apr-14 09:29:01

Well, yes indeed. But Look and Say people don't read

The sheep came into the garden and ate the grass


The goat came into the garden and ate the grass

because although they both make perfect sense in that context L&S people do like to distinguish between sheep and goats. (Kenneth might be delighted whichever way you read it.) Reading stuff wrongly isn't an L&S tradition.

mrz Sat 05-Apr-14 09:31:27

Kenneth Goodman is Whole language not whole word CG they are 2 different things!

columngollum Sat 05-Apr-14 09:32:56


mrz Sat 05-Apr-14 09:33:24

Actually reading things inaccurately is very much a Look & Say tradition CG

CecilyP Sat 05-Apr-14 10:03:14

There is so much confusion over 'sight words'; all they are are words which can be read automatically 'on sight' without any conscious decoding and blending. Most children only have to sound out a word a few times (sometimes just once) to have it fixed in long term memory as a 'sight word', but the initial sounding out is vital.

Why do you think it is vital? Would you now know which words you originally learned by sounding out and which you learned because someone told you what they said. The ability to sound out words is vital to making progress, and certainly independent progress, but I can't see how an intitial sounding out is necessary for every word.

Once she knows the letter/sound correspondences (i.e how the individual sounds in words are spelled) thoroughly she will find decoding and blending very easy and effortless, but she has to go through the learning stage. And it takes about 2 years for most children to become expert.

Isn't that more because, after 2 years, whatever she reads, there will be proportionately more words that she has already read before, and fewer words she is encountering for the first time. Even if you find decoding easy, if every other word is a new word, reading must be very tedious, whereas if there is only one new word in a paragraph, it won't detract from what you are reading much at all. Or when you get to my age and there is only one new word in an entire book, it can be quite a novelty!

Phonics works in the same way that the written word was originally constructed. Written words consist of a series of speech sounds which have each been assigned a symbol (or symbols) to enable them to be written down. To read them you have to turn the symbols back into speech sounds (decode) and blend the sounds to produce the word. It is very simple.

That is a good way of looking at it, but the fact that, when we become fluent readers, we don't have to do this every the time is how we can not just read big thick books, (even with English spelling) but actually get pleasure from doing so. Not forgetting the poor souls who read every word as if they were reading it for the first time and will never enjoy reading.

columngollum Sat 05-Apr-14 10:07:44

No, it isn't.

Saying that doesn't even make sense. How can you have a look and say method if you look and say something else instead? That's not look and say. That's look or maybe don't and then say some random stuff...

Reading things incorrectly is one of Kenneth's stated aims. He even goes to great lengths to explain why he wants people to read things wrongly in his guessing game.

CecilyP Sat 05-Apr-14 10:11:46

So using a real example to illustrate what Maizie is saying. Some children have amazing memories. But they still need to be taught the alphabetic code, or they can never be independent readers.

True, the thing with sight words is that you either know it or you don't. How did the boy get on when you filled in the gaps in his phonic knowledge and encouraged him to use it?

Interestingly, although this child could "read" quite complex books, the only thing he could write was his name. Reading and writing do go hand in hand.

That's what I thought until DS went to a school which used a system called Foundations of Writing' popular in Scottish primary schools at the time, which didn't teach writing until children had shown a certain expertise at drawing and observational skills. DS, young in year, forged ahead in reading but don't think he actually wrote anything till P3 with no ill effects.

allyfe Sat 05-Apr-14 10:36:03

The school is teaching mixed methods. They have done all of the jolly phonics songs/sounds, and they are (I believe) learning digraphs and trigraphs (I know this because my daughter tells me about them when she reads them sometimes). They do teach phonics, and they don't do whole word learning (possibly with floppy, biff, chip, kipper etc. which I do think the children were taught as whole words).

Meditrina Whilst non-phonics and mixed ethos may produce fewer competent readers, it does still produce a lot of competent readers. But there are children that it fails. At the same time, I honestly do not believe that phonics alone works brilliantly for every single child. One of the reasons I think that is quite simply from the fact that my daughter uses mixed methods quite naturally.

Honestly, I don't know what they have been taught in school. So, if there is a word she finds hard, I give her the phonics sounds and she puts them together. I very occasionally just read a word for her - but that is when it doesn't comply to any basic phonics rules (that I can see). But those obviously don't come up in her reading scheme books. Just in the other ones. If she sounds something out incorrectly, it is often because she is being impatient (except with harder words) - at least that is my interpretation. It is hard to know for sure.

meditrina Sat 05-Apr-14 10:42:10

If you aim is to have the majority reading well, then you use the approach that delivers this.

Would you rather see 1 or 2 children per class who need extra help, or 6? Especially when there is no way of predicting if it's going to be your child who is one of the additional 4 or 5 who struggle if phonics are not properly taught?

maizieD Sat 05-Apr-14 10:44:42

That is a good way of looking at it, but the fact that, when we become fluent readers, we don't have to do this every the time is how we can not just read big thick books,

No, we don't have to do it every time because by the time we get to the stage of reading 'thick books' we have got a very large number of words into long term memory through the sounding out and blending route. Once a word is 'there' we don't have to sound it out and blend it again when we encounter it. Children who haven't done this never progress to 'thick books' because they find reading too difficult.

As to the sounding out and blending route being vital, do I really have to yet again link to the Stuart and Masterton research in which after multiple exposures to a number of focus words (without any teaching of phonics and decoding and blending) children could remember very few of them, if any?

All the serious research into the reading process has, by a process of replication of results over several decades, led researchers to conclude that knowledge of letter/sound correspondences and the ability to decode and blend to 'produce' the word is the way to produce skilled readers. Unfortunately teacher educators have, in the main, steadfastly refused to take on board these findings, preferring to hold on to disproved theories of reading and to continue to pass those theories on to their students. Who, in turn, use them to inform their teaching of reading and to inform parents. So the myths and misconceptions continue to be perpetrated.

Reading scientists have known since the 1990s at least how the process works and the most effective way to teach it. It is amazing that a quarter of a century later we're still arguing the toss.

A couple of times recently I have heard academics say that the Reading Wars are Over and that Phonics has Won. Nobody seems to have told the troops though...

allyfe Sat 05-Apr-14 10:45:22

Missed the second page of this.

Just to add - I don't think that the school is necessarily teaching whole word reading. But what I think the school is trying to encourage is comprehension in reading and enjoyment of reading.

My DD does use phonics. She does sound out words, she does get impatient, she does get satisfaction from reading the words that she now knows from sight. She does want to be a fluent reader and she does find learning to read hard work.

Honestly, I think that none of the above is particularly unnatural, nor particularly unreasonable.

I do think that some children find phonics more 'natural' than others. Some children will have a good auditory memory, others will have a better visual memory. Some will have great comprehension and stamina in listening to stories, others less so. My guess is that all of these things impact on the way a child learns to read. It doesn't make sense to me to say there is only one 'right' way to learn to read. There might be a better way to teach reading (which suits the majority of children), but surely all is fair in Love and reading learning? And I will just specify that I mean learning to read (such that a child can pick up a new text and read it, not just remembering where they pick up a book they have read before and recite).

maizieD Sat 05-Apr-14 10:55:02

^ At the same time, I honestly do not believe that phonics alone works brilliantly for every single child.^

Honest belief doesn't override evidence. And I'm afraid that the evidence shows that classes of exclusively phonics taught children perform better than 'mixed methods' classes.

One of the reasons I think that is quite simply from the fact that my daughter uses mixed methods quite naturally.

No, she uses them because she has been taught them, whatever you might say about the school teaching phonics. There is nothing natural about reading.

At the early learning to read stage looking and guessing is much, much easier than decoding and blending. That's why your dd prefers it. Though it is heartening to know that she still tries to decode & blend unfamiliar words. Encourage that and knock the guessing on the head...

allyfe Sat 05-Apr-14 10:55:19

Just to add one more thing, DD loves to write. She sounds things out, but what she puts down for what she is sounding is generally a long way from the actual phonetic sound. But remembering phonemes is not the same as recognising phonemes. Two different skills. The words that she writes correctly are the ones that she can read without now having to sound them out. But she loves writing. Again, we were told not to correct spelling so that the child didn't loose the interest and enthusiasm for writing.

bauhausfan Sat 05-Apr-14 10:58:56

allyfe - I joined this site (it's free) and you get access to loads of different level ORT books. I home ed and it has been a real money saver. You can switch the audio off so the child reads it or keep it on and the child and listen to the words. It's great.

allyfe Sat 05-Apr-14 11:02:29

But MasieD research that shows that a class of children perform better if they are using phonics is NOT the same thing as it working brilliantly for every single child. It is showing that overall, a group performs better. But, there may well be individual children within that group who would perform better if they were doing mixed methods (and in that I do believe phonics is a crucial part).

No, she uses them because she has been taught them, whatever you might say about the school teaching phonics. There is nothing natural about reading

Again, I don't agree. There may not be anything natural about reading, but learning is natural. We are naturally programmed to seek information and learn. Children are learning from the day they are born, learning to move to sit, to walk, to speak (which again, you could argue is unnatural - it was for our ancestors). So, a child comes to any form of learning and applies strategies. Some will be effective and others not so effective. I do totally agree that phonics is a crucial part of learning to read. I just do not think that it is the only part.

columngollum Sat 05-Apr-14 11:07:28

Well, a teacher's job is worrying about the overall performance of the group. We don't yet know if phonics is going to remove the long tail of underachievement in reading. But there are some indications that it might. Or at least it will have a damn good go at removing it.

Where it comes down to an individual child, especially one with a mother who is able to examine the reading teaching methods herself and pick and choose accordingly the whys and wherefores are probably beside the point.

allyfe Sat 05-Apr-14 11:51:05

It is important to teach what is going to make the majority learn - i.e. phonics. That is what the school do. But it does feel to me like there is no scope in the system for looking at the individual child after the majority method has been employed.

I wish that teachers had time to have proper parents evenings, where they could spend more than 10 minutes with parents, talking about where the child is at, and what that INDIVIDUAL child needs to do to progress.

bauhausfan Sat 05-Apr-14 12:32:56

I don't know about primary but I know as a secondary school teacher (a bit different as there are far more children to deal with) that it is so hard to give each child the attention that they need and tailor learning to their need too. I suppose that is why more and more parents are hiring tutors.

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