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Concerned that school reading books are hindering DDs reading progress

(47 Posts)
Readytomakechanges Mon 16-Jan-17 14:07:49

I'm currently struggling with anxiety so can't figure out whether I'm being over-anxious about DD's reading or whether I have legitimate concerns that I need to be talking to DD's teacher about.

DD started reception in September. They cover phonics at school and the sounds that have been covered at school come home in a phonics book. So far, all of the sounds written in DD's phonics book are sounds that she was previously confident with. I see this as a good thing as it will ensure that the sounds are really cemented in her memory and will ensure she hasn't 'missed' any sounds as she's mainly learnt them through reading at home rather than any formal order.

In addition to the phonics, DD gets 'Key Words' sheets sent home. It has been made very clear to us that the key words are to be learnt by sight and not sounded out. I understand that, at this stage, it can be helpful to learn some high frequency words by sight as they appear regularly in text and the spellings for those sounds are not learnt until later. However, the majority of the words given by the school are words that could be decoded easily with DD's current phonics knowledge.

The problem that I'm encountering is that, as DD has learnt now 80 words by sight, this seems to have made her more likely to guess words that look vaguely similar to the sight words she knows rather than to decode them.

The reading books that are sent home (she gets 2-3 per week) are the Storyworld books and are made up almost entirely of the 'sight' words that DD has learnt. The 'key words' sent home are made up of some of the year one high frequency words that turn up if I google 'high frequency words' and some words that seem specific to the Storyworld stories, so that DD can sight-read the books quickly. The books seem set up to reinforce learning these words by sight as they have lots of repetition. Each book may have one word that can be decoded and the rest have already been taught by sight (DD's not decoding quickly).

DD reads to me most days. We have Jelly and Bean Books (a gift), Songbirds and a Reading Chest subscription. I didn't mind that the books from school were as I have described, as DD races through them in a minute, so I thought of them as just something that DD needed to do and then she can choose anything from our home collection, whenever she likes. However, I've now noticed that after reading her school books, her reading of other books seems slightly worse. It's as though she loses faith in the decoding and tries to guess a lot more after having sight read the school book, which makes her reading of other books worse.

We also get books sent home that were read at school with a TA, with a comment in her reading diary such as "Excellent reading! No hesitations. Answered all questions correctly." DD does not get anything from reading this book again, but the book will not be changed until I have written a comment about it having been read again at home.

Well done if you've read this far.

In summary: Are my concerns legitimate enough to bring up with the teacher at the next parents evening in March, or do I just need to chill out and leave it (easier said than done for me atm)?

maizieD Mon 16-Jan-17 14:27:28

You could bring your concerns up with the teacher but it's my guess that if s/he is sending home lists of words to be 'learned by sight' and Look & Say readers they won't be particularly supportive of you.

According to the National curriculum the school should be giving children books which enable them to practise their phonic skills.

I suggest that when you get these 'sight word' lists you help her to read them by sounding out and blending, pointing out any correspondences she might not yet know. When you listen to her reading stick rigorously to sounding out and blending unfamiliar words, once again, helping her with correspondences she might not know. Always pick her up on guessing or misreading words straight away. If school won't do it you have to help her to make sounding and blending unfamiliar words, and accurate reading, into a habit.

irvineoneohone Mon 16-Jan-17 14:30:30

Yes, I would be worried.

There are lots of threads about same issue, so you can search and read it.
I think reading chest and songbirds are recommended by MN teachers, so you have good resources at home, I think.

I am sure some experts will come along and give you a good advice later in the day.

irvineoneohone Mon 16-Jan-17 14:32:59

oops, slow cross post, maizieD is one of the best!

CripsSandwiches Mon 16-Jan-17 14:38:03

If you can afford to you could invest in some phonics books for home (read, write inc. are good you can get black and white packs cheaply online. Or Songbirds?).. On the plus side most children learn to read well whatever method used to teach them but there's absolutely no reason the school shouldn't use phonics as that has been established to be the best method.

BigWeald Mon 16-Jan-17 15:09:22

We had a similar experience, in that DS knew all the phonics sounds he was taught in reception before starting, the school nominally teaching phonics, but sending home non-decodable books to read. However our school also had decodable books, and though they did send home a list of high frequency words, they did not ask us to 'learn' them (by sight) or anything. But simply the fact that he encountered lots of non-yet-decodable words in books structured to encourage guessing meant that by the summer term of reception, DS was getting into bad habits of guessing. Like you, I felt that the school reading books (the non-decodable ones) were actually damaging his reading progress rather than supporting his development.

I had followed the advice of 'incidental teaching', i.e. whenever a PGC came up that DS did not know yet, I explained it to him (e.g. 'head' -> 'in this word, the <ea> digraph makes an /e/ sound'). However I think that whereas that is fine for the occasional not-yet-decodable word in generally decodable books, if you are given generally non-decodable books then that strategy can easily lead to overwhelming the child with too much confusing information (so in the 'head' example, it was only a page earlier or so that I had introduced to him that sometimes the /ee/ sound is spelled <ea> for example in the word 'reading'). Being bombarded with too many new spellings for sounds and new sounds for spellings, DS gained the impression that at the end of the day, any grapheme can signify pretty much any phoneme, and thus he resorted to guessing.

I posted here asking for advice (have NC since) and people suggested going right back to the basics, going through all the basic phonics again and building up to the more complex phonics, basically starting over with the phonics teaching but doing it right (rather than leaving it to school). Some resources were suggested (sounds-write in particular).

As it were, the summer holidays arrived, I got DS a pile of books he REALLY wanted to read, and though they were non-decodable, he was so keen on properly understanding the books that he gave up on the guessing strategy - I think he realised that it caused him to misunderstand the books too often. After a few months I think what happened is that he worked out the more advanced phonics for himself, intuitively. A lot of children do actually manage to learn to read even without direct /good/ consistent phonics instruction, and it turns out that we were lucky in that DS was one of them.

But I also observed some of DS' classmates really struggling. Being told off by TAs/teachers for guessing and yet constantly being supplied with books structured to encourage guessing. Being asked to 'read' words they had never been taught how to read but then being told off for attempting (by guessing). Gaining the impression that reading was some sort of magical process they just didn't get. That reading just was 'not for them'.

These kids are in Y2 now and some of them have eventually 'clicked' (I assume they worked out the phonics for themselves, or their parents intervened), but quite a few of them are now being sent into 'booster sessions'. However, they had intensive one-to-two booster sessions with some kids in Y1 already and still those kids did not 'pass' the phonics screening. My guess is because more of the same insufficient teaching, more of the same non-decodable books, isn't very likely to solve the problem! And so I am not too hopeful that the current booster sessions are going to achieve much either - except for being painful and frustrating for the kids involved.

So what I'm saying is that yes, mixed methods teaching as you describe can IMO do real damage to children learning to read. But no, it won't necessarily hurt your specific child in the long term - chances are she'll be a bit confused for a bit, perhaps put off a little, but will work it out eventually and though she may learn to read a bit more slowly than she would otherwise, and though it may take a little longer for her start reading for enjoyment, in the long term it might very well make little difference.

So should you take it up with the school? Depends how confrontative you are. Chances are that school will be wholly uninterested in your opinions on how the children 'should' be taught to read. Probably you taking it up with them will have zero effect. But just maybe there are other parents who have said similar things and the school just may be in the process of reviewing its literacy strategies and in such a case your added input just may be taken into account.

On the whole, I wouldn't. I'd keep an eye on my own child's progress, provide them with decodable books, stop making them read the school books and only discuss it if the teacher complains.

ICouldDieLaughing Mon 16-Jan-17 15:18:53

I was in a similar situation to you last year Ready, including anxiety, and I don't think you're overreacting. Having seen how it's taught I'm a great believer in phonics equipping children to work out words on their own, and I guess how they do it in school could be different to the way you read with your DD (definitely different for me)? If school teaching goes against how you've done it up to now I'd say it would be natural for your DD to lose a bit of confidence but that won't last. I think most children lose confidence at some point when confronted with the complexities of the English language! I'd definitely raise it with school, can you get a meeting with the teacher before parents evening? I would definitely try and support / follow school learning at this stage and if you take your DD's books in the teacher should be able to say whether they support current learning or not. Your DD will get there!

user1484226561 Mon 16-Jan-17 17:29:27

You are worrying about nothing, all these different systems don't really matter, lots of practice, with one system or another, and she will progress.

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Mon 16-Jan-17 17:55:44

They do matter because they do damage children's reading.

You are right, OP, but I suspect you won't get anywhere with the school. If you already have access to other schemes then I would just 'school proof' her and keep teaching her more phonics with the other books. She should get to a point where the non decodeables are a bit easier for her.

irvineoneohone Mon 16-Jan-17 18:01:26

Is it really difficult to change "user whatever" to more personal usernames?

I find it really annoying userxxxx spreading bad advice!

Readytomakechanges Mon 16-Jan-17 18:27:28

Thank you all.

It's encouraging to hear that, most likely, she'll get there eventually either way.

Tonight's reading book only had 2 words that weren't from her key word list.

I'm thinking of taking the more cowardly approach of never reading the school books with her and just reading our own selection as I don't think anything I say is likely to alter the way things are done in the classroom.

I made her a little game this evening where I'd cut up all the key words and made them into a lucky dip and when she pulled a word out she had to sound it out first, before reading it. Doesn't sound like much of a game, but she loves that sort of thing.

user1484226561 Mon 16-Jan-17 21:00:35

They do matter because they do damage children's reading.

they really don't. They don't make any difference at all.

we are all perfectly capable of reading, between us we would have been taught every single method that has ever been invented.

There is absolutely no difference between one method and another

absolutely absolutely none

LoveDeathPrizes Mon 16-Jan-17 21:05:08

Storyworlds use high frequency, picture context and initial letter cueing to encourage children to use a variety of reading cues. Lots of children can segment and blend but research found that very few of them had decent comprehension of story and phonics as a dominant strategy started to fail them once they reached orange band. Jelly and Bean are great for teaching phonics but so many children think of reading as purely phsonic based that lots of schools make a point of sending different books home.

LoveDeathPrizes Mon 16-Jan-17 21:08:37

Spelt phonics wrong. Ironically.

LoveDeathPrizes Mon 16-Jan-17 21:18:03

There is a difference in methodology. Phonics, when used as the only strategy has led to a real decline in comprehension and inference skills in reading - this has left a lot of children with no real understanding of the pleasure of reading because they see words as code and operate on a letter level basis so nothing really makes sense. Generally these kids might sound really proficient but struggle when it comes to comprehension around KS2. Kids who use a range of strategies would appear to be the lifelong readers.

TeaCakeLiterature Mon 16-Jan-17 21:33:14

I wouldn't be waiting until March - I'd be asking these questions now!

National Curriculum says about books reinforcing phonics but this doesn't sound like it fulfils that!

Definitely keep up the amazing work you're doing - your daughter is so lucky to have you doing that...but I'd also raise it with the school. If nothing else, it might make the teacher reflect privately and consider how things are done even if you don't hear it 😉

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Mon 16-Jan-17 21:33:38

There is a difference in methodology. Phonics, when used as the only strategy has led to a real decline in comprehension and inference skills in reading

Do you have any solid evidence for this? It's a very tired and unproven argument that usually seems to stem from a) a misunderstanding of the Clack study b) Rosen's endless outpourings on the subject.

I can think of a number of teachers and HT's who'd be very surprised to find out that phonics only rather than mixed methods leads to a decline in comprehension and inference.

LoveDeathPrizes Mon 16-Jan-17 21:37:47

It's the basis of the Reading Recovery initiative. It's pretty well reported on but let me have a look for you.

I can think of many HTs and LAs who have, in the past five years, reviewed their SATs comprehension anomalies and come to exactly that conclusion.

LoveDeathPrizes Mon 16-Jan-17 21:41:17

Some research citations here but I can't vouch for them personally. Will keep looking.

maizieD Mon 16-Jan-17 21:43:09

Yes please, LoveDeathPrizes. Do give us some links to research evidence which supports your assertion that phonics taught children have no real understanding of the pleasure of reading. I'm sure people from countries where only phonics is taught as a matter of course would be especially interested. If it's true it can't be a phenomenom unique to readers of English, surely?

Thank you irvine blush grin

LoveDeathPrizes Mon 16-Jan-17 21:55:05

It'll probably be enough for keen readers - generally they're already organically using a range of other cues organically just from understanding the features of texts.

The problem stems more from children who don't have the added exposure to stories to give it that frame of reference so they're essentially just barking at text.

OP I understand that your child isn't one of these children and sounds like she's doing incredibly well. It's more just to support the school's choice of books. Most Reading Recovery schools won't send home phonics books as 'Reading books' but might use them as phonic teaching tools in descrete lessons.

maizieD Mon 16-Jan-17 22:01:34

X posted.

The link to Inference training says nothing about impaired enjoyment. It is as well to remember that 'comprehension' is a language function. It is largely dependent on receptive/expressive vocabulary and prior knowledge.

You might find this interesting:

Specific Reading Comprehension Disability: Major Problem, Myth, or Misnomer?

I'm afraid that Reading Recovery is largely discounted by the scientific reading research community. Its research methods are poor and its results are not impressive when seen in the light of their claims. I can't say 'when compared with phonics based interventions' because they are very careful to avoid doing studies which compare RR to phonics based interventions.

LoveDeathPrizes Mon 16-Jan-17 22:03:43

The Rose Report suggests use of mixed methods is best. The phonics focus was taken completely out of context and pushed as the way forward but the full report doesn't support this. The Simple View of Reading is a nice model that summarises its findings.

LoveDeathPrizes Mon 16-Jan-17 22:05:31

The RR evidence-base for the point in question would be inference training rather than strict RR.

I appreciate that RR has its limitations too.

ageingrunner Mon 16-Jan-17 22:11:17

Does it matter if a child has memorised or learnt words by sight? That's how people read when they've learnt to read, surely? I'm not decoding every word I read on here.

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