Recommended links for student teachers X
Simple View of Reading: reading ability is based on
two major, essential, interacting but different components:
phonics decoding ability x language comprehension (pre-existing
knowledge and vocabulary).
Note that both components are essential but neither
component is sufficient on its own.
It is still unusual for the majority of a primary
school's children to regularly finish year 6 with decoding
and spelling abilities at the level needed to deal
with the demands
of the secondary curriculum. The KS2 'Reading' SAT is a
comprehension (English vocabulary and generic knowledge) test
and therefore not a straightforward guide to how well a school
is teaching phonics for decoding and spelling.
To ascertain if
a primary school is teaching
phonics decoding well:
1. Ask the school what percentage of their Y1
children reached the expected standard in the phonics
check (In 2017, 1,125 schools had 95%+ of their Y1 pupils
achieving the expected standard).
2. Find out if
the school provides a tailored synthetic phonics intervention
for all those who do not reach the expected standard in the
3. Ask if the school provides phonics programme-linked decodable books in Reception and KS1, rather than Book
Bands or leveled books using predictable or repetitive text.
4. Do children at the school get given lists of words to
memorise by sight alone (for example, using 'look, cover,
write and check') for homework?
is in Newham, east London, an area of high deprivation.
Synthetic phonics (Read Write Inc) is used to teach children to read at the school. The headteacher, Shahed Ahmed, says, “More than 90 per cent of our pupils speak English as an additional language and we have 20 per cent mobility. The school ''has 1,000 pupils and not one of them leaves unable to read'' (TES. Lightfoot. 12/08/11) Furthermore, ''No child has been identified as having dyslexia since we adopted the
[synthetic phonics] programme in 2004'' http://goo.gl/g4rJzQ
Note that 'dyslexia' describes a
persistent difficulty accurately decoding single words
(Elliott.p178) and spelling
Curwen primary school
is also in Newham, east London. A teacher at the school says,
''Ten years ago 40% of our children left us not able to read
properly. Now all of them leave us reading well...There are
more EAL & economically deprived children in the school than
there were 10 years ago. So, how come reading results are
better?..The difference is purely down to the change in
teaching methodology. We teach reading solely by using
synthetic phonics [Read Write Inc.]. It works''.
Another school which, through teaching the synthetic phonics
programme Sounds-Write ''with fidelity'', has superb reading and
spelling results, is St Thomas Aquinas in Milton Keynes.
St George's is a small primary school in Battersea, London.
Half of its pupils have English as an additional language and
over half are eligible for free school meals. The school uses
Sounds-Write to teach reading and spelling. All its children
have reached the required standard in the phonics decoding check
6 years in a row and all the children in Y1 and Y2
(2018) can spell at CA or better; good evidence that high
quality synthetic phonics teaching in the early years actively
prevents children from becoming ''phonetically deaf''
curriculum rich in knowledge'' is the other essential component needed to ensure all
children achieve a high level of reading ability. ''(O)nly curriculum-based tests can be
fair and educationally productive'' (Hirsch
2006 p108) Unfortunately, the KS2 Reading SAT is a generic
knowledge test and not curriculum related.
''Unless other departments (and primary
schools) are providing a curriculum rich in knowledge, through
proper teaching of a broad range of subject disciplines, many
pupils will never perform very well in reading tests. Those
who do particularly well without a knowledge rich curriculum
succeed because of the knowledge and vocabulary they have
acquired outside school''
''E D Hirsch describes how several recent studies have conclusively shown
that background knowledge is the number one factor in reading
trumping academic ability and IQ in pupils, and complexity in texts''
The ability to read and write well is key to a happy
and successful passage through life in our society. Professor
MacDonald wrote, ''My own research on the psychology of adult
illiteracy has amply demonstrated that the ability to read
is probably the most significant factor (out of many) in determining
a person's sense of autonomy and self-worth.''(MacDonald
p5) Intellectual independence also relies on good reading
skills. ''Close reading of tough-minded writing is still
the best, cheapest and quickest method known for learning
to think for yourself.''(Gatto
''The Centre for Social Justice found there are significant literacy and numeracy problems in 50-75% of children who are permanently excluded from school. Many children were found to “display challenging behaviour to hide the fact they cannot read.” (DfE.Evidence paper p1)
''Reading failure correlates with aggressive, anti-social
behaviour more strongly than any social or economic indicator'' (Turner/ Burkard p13)
You do not have to delve very far into the world of educational
academia to discover the so-called 'Reading War'. This is
a long running and acrimonious debate between those
who say that children should be taught to decode using phonics only
and those who insist that decoding through multi-clues
along with memorising sight words, works just fine. The controversy extends into the progressive
education community where many members take the more extreme
'whole-language' position. They are adamant that all children can
teach themselves how to read through an informal 'discovery' method given
enough time, just as they learnt to walk and talk.
''The essential constructivist principle is that teachers should teach nothing directly, but rather function as coaches while their students basically teach themselves''. Professor Stephen Krashen, ''a self-described 'staunch defender'' of whole-language, believes that, "(A)ny child exposed to comprehensible print will learn to read, barring severe neurological or emotional problems...Kids learn to read by reading'' (Allen)
Another of the major exponents of whole language, Margaret Meek, has famously said that children learn to read, "when there is something they want to read and an adult who takes time and trouble to help them". Whole language enthusiasts suggest that structured teaching to develop reading skills is not only unnecessary, it may be positively harmful'' (Palmer. TES. 10/11/95)
Australian children's book author Mem Fox also believes that ''all
children will learn to read if they are exposed to enough
books, words, stories..''
X ''Surely if children can learn something as complex as speech
without much effort, why do we need to go to the trouble of
painstakingly teaching them phoneme/grapheme relationships?''
For an idea of the difficulty involved in learning to read
using an opaque alphabet code, look at this re-coded, first line
of a well-known nursery rhyme and work out what it says: ytoxto
hruxsz ub ldyyuos xtmo (answer at the base of this page)
''This example provides the adult reader with some idea of the
child's first experience with print. If you stared at this
passage for years, you wouldn't have the slightest idea how
to decode it. Why then should we expect a child to decipher
the English alphabet code, one of the most complex ever designed,
without direct instruction?'' (D.McGuinness
Advice, commonly given, that the choice of method to teach
reading should depend on your child's particular learning or thinking
style, is incorrect.
Although this advice sounds, on the face of it, sensible and
reasonable, it does pupils
no favours. ''Excluding students identified as “visual/kinesthetic” learners from effective phonics instruction is a bad instructional practice—bad because it is not only not research based, it is actually contradicted by research''
(Stanovich p30 http://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/Stanovich_Color.pdf)
The multi-sensory issue is too often used as an excuse to promote multi-strategy
decoding instruction (supposedly catering for different
learning styles), also known as 'balanced literacy',
which is actually very unbalanced as it focuses almost
exclusively on one 'decoding' strategy, that is guessing using
the picture, context or first letter as clues, and one sense,
the visual. For true multi-sensory learning,
lessons should provide multiple tasks that reinforce all possible sensory and motor systems
in tandem: listening (phoneme analysis), looking
(discriminate letter shapes/learn spelling patterns, visual tracking), writing (kinesthetic movement), and speaking
(speech-motor system, auditory feedback) to anchor the
spelling code in memory as quickly as possible.
Diane McGuinness explains multi-sensory learning:
''The cognitive systems of the brain rely on cross-modal
processing to form what are known as "routines" or "subroutines"
-- which are carried out in the dendrites in "neural circuits."
In a complex act, various subroutines/circuits are linked up in
the brain (via neural pathways), because each one of them occurs
in a different region. Thus, if you teach phonemes linked to
letters, and reinforce this via writing, you have connected up
the auditory cortex language areas of the medial left
hemisphere, (phonemic analysis and synthesis already in place
because of language), with something NEW - i.e. visual symbols
(not ordinarily part of language processing) which engage the
posterior occipital regions of the brain responsible for visual
pattern analysis, and then link both to a kinesthetic response
by writing what you hear and see, which engages the fine motor
processing systems governed by the motor cortex (usually left
hemisphere superior motor gyrus). When you link all three as you
process text (or generate text via writing), these three systems
of the brain "cooperate" and reinforce one another, and this
doubles the speed of learning. You have three different parts of
the brain (plus their subsidiary regions) acting in tandem''
Children rely on good auditory skills to
learn to read fluently (Macmillan
p126-132), writing being a coded transcription of the sounds in our speech.
Children who have had 'glue ear' or regular episodes of
moderate hearing loss in early childhood are at increased risk
of difficulties with learning to read, as are those who have
acquired a dominant visual reading habit as a result of
faulty initial teaching. Both sets of children need much more practice in the auditory aspects
of reading, working at the phoneme level. This does NOT mean that time
should be spent on discrete listening (phonological) exercises.
Research shows that what develops children's reading skills
best is time spent working with the phonemes AND letters (spellings) together.
''Teaching children to manipulate phonemes using letters
produced greater effects than teaching without letters''
(USA.2000 National Reading Panel. Ch2.p4)
basic principle is that reading depends on speech, at every
For the majority of children it doesn't seem to
matter if the mixture of methods
is used to teach them to decode. Over time most children
manage to memorise many of the high frequency words by sight
and invent strategies to work out longer, trickier words in
their leveled scheme books. Sadly, a significant percentage of
these, to all appearances, successful readers, will have had a
more difficult time learning to read than is necessary, will
remain poor spellers and will be unable to read the more
unusual words found in secondary level
literature and advanced educational texts (school English
books contain around 88,500 different words (D.McGuinness
ERI p216) The insidious effects of mixed
decoding methods create young people who dislike reading and writing and are
the cause of the vast numbers of teenagers who 'stall' in
their studies at the secondary stage.
Why can’t children read… Dickens?
On the best age to start teaching children to decode and
spell English, in school, using synthetic
phonics, the Rose report gives the
following advice: ''(F)or most children,
it is highly worthwhile and appropriate to begin a systematic
programme of phonic work by the age of five, if not before
for some children'' (Rose Report 2006.
Sir Jim Rose noted that ''(A)n appropriate introduction to phonic work
by the age of five enables our children to cover ground that
many of their counterparts in other countries whose language
is much less complex phonetically do not have to cover''(Rose
When living in a print-saturated environment, many children attempt to read at a very early age. ''Letting them drift along using their invented strategies, without intervention, may harm them for life''
(D.McGuinness WCCR p153)
statutory Early Learning Goals guidance says that by the end of
the early years foundation stage [Reception year] children should be able to, ''use phonic knowledge
to decode regular words and read them aloud accurately'' and,
''use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which
match their spoken sounds''. Further guidance from the DfE
notes that ''Most phonics programmes encourage the teaching of at least one grapheme for all 40-plus phonemes
[a simple/basic code] by the end of Reception, alongside the skill of blending sounds together to read words'' (DfE)
N.B. not all schools begin teaching phonics from the beginning
of Reception and not all children have a full year in Reception
(parents have the right to defer until the term after their
2017. 'Bold beginnings' Ofsted's report into the Reception
2018. Effectiveness of Preschool-Wide Teacher-Implemented
Phoneme Awareness and Letter-Sound Knowledge Instruction on
Code-Based School-Entry Reading Readiness
''Overall, preschool-wide, teacher-implemented,
phoneme-focused PA and LSK instruction can support code-based
reading readiness skills for children with SLD and TD''
''So how can we make sure Reception is a success
for every child?
By putting reading at its heart. And I mean
reading in the widest sense of the word.
It is almost
impossible to overestimate the importance of literacy. Without
the ability to read, pupils cannot access other subjects
properly. Literacy is empowering: it gives children independence
to explore what interests them.
Phonics are undoubtedly
central here. The evidence base is now overwhelming. It provides
the body of knowledge children need so that they can read and
pronounce words aloud.
But phonics knowledge only gives young
children the means to say and decode words. It does not teach
them what the words mean. Neither, without practice, does it
enable children to read fluently and make sense of what they’re
It’s by singing and hearing stories that children
gain an understanding of what words actually mean. I'm talking
about comprehension. And I’ve yet to meet a young child who did
not enjoy listening to a story or singing a song with their
There are some parents who don’t read to
their children in the evening. That’s when schools have to step
in and teach them not only how to read, but a love of reading.
Teaching 4- and 5-year-old children is important. Playing on
their own doesn’t cut it.''
Jones.HMI.Ofsted's Deputy Director of Early Education )
Prof.Daniel Muijs: Bold beginnings and the importance of
''(W)hy do we insist on waiting for children to be
‘ready’, only to then label them SEN when they don’t
miraculously discover or do what everyone’s waiting for?'' (Quirky
Teacher. twitter 26/07/18)
Young children only stand to benefit from explicit instruction
''If we truly want all children to thrive in reading, we need to
introduce phonics in early years''
Parents may be concerned that their children will be damaged if
they start to teach them to read pre-school using phonics,
having heard that it is dangerous to impose anything
'developmentally inappropriate' on young children. There is no
scientific basis to this idea.
''I still can’t help but be concerned about the fact
that only 44% of disadvantaged, white working class males
achieve an acceptable outcome by the end of reception year'' (Quirky
Teacher. twitter 06/03/18)
Many parents have successfully taught children much younger
than five to read using a suitable synthetic phonics programme.
If you are uncertain about how well the schools in your area
teach early reading and spelling, then this isn't 'hot housing' but a wise precaution. 'Bright' children will also benefit from an early start. Chartered psychologist Professor Joan Freeman
writes, ''In my practice I see several children a week who can read, write and make excellent conversation, and who are well under school age, some as young as 2. No parent or teacher can make a child do this if they are not capable. The children are otherwise normal and happy and keen to learn. The numbers of them that I can see could doubtless be multiplied by many hundreds around the country. The proposed prohibitions by the anti-early-literacy group to stop enthusiastic children from getting the basics of literacy at nursery would be a cruel blow to their lively searching minds'' (Guardian.letters. 25/07/08)
Recommended resources for teaching pre-schoolers to read.
''Once a child can read independently, the
growth of many other skills is promoted'' (Research
cited- Macmillan p7) ''Reading... opens some important
doors...it gives the young learner a degree of autonomy and
independence...also gives a child access to the whole culture
of literacy. Reading makes it possible... to have access to
vast quantities of stored knowledge'' (Howe
'97 p154) ''The increased reading experiences of children
who crack the spelling-to-sound code early..have important
positive feedback effects. Such feedback effects appear to
be potent sources of individual differences in academic achievement'' (Stanovich. Matthew Effects p364)
Strong evidence of the need to start direct teaching of
phonics in Reception comes from Wales where a play-based
curriculum until the age of seven was put in place in September
Delaying the start of direct instruction
can be detrimental, especially for boys, ''(D)elaying the start of school for a year has no benefits and is likely to lead to a substantial drop in IQ...the largest reading ability
sex differences in the world occur in countries such as Denmark,
Finland and Sweden where children don't start school until
age 7'' (RRF 51 Macmillan)
Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading
experience and ability 10 years later.
''(R)apid acquisition of
reading ability might well help develop the lifetime habit of
Research: Impact of a play-based curriculum in the first two years of primary school: literacy and numeracy outcomes over seven years. ''It appears that no extra positive effect can be found for the play-based approach on reading and maths outcomes, and that perhaps a slight negative effect is evident''.
''(A)t age eighteen, children who started school a year later had I.Q. scores that were significantly lower than their younger counterparts. Their earnings also suffered: through age thirty, men who started school later earned less. A separate study, of the entire Swedish population born between 1935 and 1984, came to a similar conclusion''
Early Years 'expert', Sue Palmer, ally of Steiner teacher Dr.Richard House and author of Toxic Childhood, is one of those who tars the teaching of early reading using synthetic phonics with the 'formal
and risky' brush, once describing advocates as, ''(A) rabble of back to basics diehards'' (Palmer. TES 10/11/95). More recently she opined that it was
''cruel and mad'' to expect the majority of five year olds to be able to write simple sentences (NurseryWorld 11/1/12). But, as Sir Jim Rose said, ''The term ‘formal’ in the pejorative sense in
which phonic work is sometimes perceived in early education
is by no means a fair reflection of the active, multi-sensory
practice seen and advocated by the review for starting young
children on the road to reading'' (Rose
Review.2006 Summary p3)
''I can’t help thinking
that Sue Palmer, the literacy consultant and author of Toxic
Childhood, doth protest too much, too often. This time she’s
complaining about the government’s new EYFS writing target''
Why Upstart is a non-starter. ''Upstart
Scotland is actively campaigning to introduce a Nordic-style
kindergarten system between the ages of three and seven, with
learning being undertaken through ‘creative play’ rather than
Heather Fearn examined Schweinhart and Weikart's Perry
High/Scope 'child led' pre-school program research:
few years ago I read a serious book on early reading instruction
that stated, without question, that there was strong scientific
evidence that direct instruction methods, used even at nursery
level, lead to increased criminality among adults...''
''The EPPE study (http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/10005309/)
was an enormously significant longitudinal Study funded by the
DfES from 1997 – 2004 and with findings in support of our ‘child
led’ EYFS curriculum. It actually cites the first highly
flawed Schweinhart and Weikart study''
Heather Fearn looked closely at the EPP(S)E study:
The following ''non-experimental'' study is commonly quoted by those
who suggest that it's unnecessary, even detrimental, for children
to begin to be taught phonics around the age of 5, as we do in
England, and we should wait until the age of seven (when
children's adult teeth appear). The main author, Dr.Suggate, is a strong supporter
of Rudolf Steiner's theories about education.
In the following RRF messageboard thread, educational
psychologist John Noble and Simon Webb, an author and blogger, comment on the study.
''Steiner was very clear about why delayed reading was a good
idea – not because older children can learn to read better, but
because memorising and reading interfered with the incarnation
of the etheric body. It could damage a spiritual protective
sheath around the child leading to illness and
spiritual degeneration. ‘Developmental needs’ in the Steiner
world are to do with the incarnation of spiritual entities. Only
after adult teeth have appeared is a child spiritually ready to
learn to read''
''Currently, the most vehement opponents of synthetic phonics
are the Early Years lobbyists. Their belief system has it
that teaching five-year olds to read is detrimental to their
physical and mental well-being. They quote Finland where children
do not begin ‘formal teaching’ until much later
and learn to read easily to bolster their case...But there
is nothing ‘formal’ about synthetic phonics teaching.
It is multi-sensory and fun and can be achieved in 30 minutes
a day, leaving several hours to be filled by child-initiated
play, sand, water, painting, outdoor play, you name it.'' (Shadwell. issue 88. 2006)
X Debunking the Finnish fantasy, one piece
at a time..
The Early Years opponents of synthetic phonics consistently fail to mention the evidence from Denmark on the teaching of early reading, possibly because it doesn't suit their agenda. ''Danish shares with English
the features of a deep orthography and a complex syllable
structure. In Denmark children do not enter primary school
until they are 7 years old. Despite this 2-year age advantage,
they experience difficulties in acquiring the logographic
and alphabetic foundation processes which are comparable to
those observed in English, although less extreme'' (Seymour/Aro/Erskine)
''(O)ur alphabetic system is not transparent as it is in
Finnish, where there is only one way to spell each sound in
the main. Our code needs to be introduced carefully from the
simple to the more complex by teachers who understand it themselves.
Left until six, our children will already have developed look
and stare strategies, along with guessing and be well on the
way to making a dog’s dinner of understanding the code.''(Shadwell. issue 88. 2006)
''In countries with a straightforward alphabet
writing system, where each sound is represented by only one
symbol, learning to 'crack the code' takes about twelve weeks
for all children'' (D.McGuinness
Evidence suggests that many of those who have been taught
to read through high frequency word memorisation and
guessing strategies for decoding, are handicapped
by, among other things, their lack of phonemic awareness and their limited
knowledge of the advanced alphabet code. As a result they have
difficulties accurately decoding unfamiliar words (especially
multi-syllable ones) and with spelling.
This evidence is further supported by some fascinating
research carried out by Just and Carpenter which looked at
the eye movements of readers. This showed that, despite appearances,
expert readers do not skip words or look at words as 'wholes'
but attend to and process the individual letter/sound correspondences
in every word as they are reading (Research
cited -Macmillan p68)
Individual letter/sound correspondence processing is necessary because many words
differ from another by only one or two letters - sad/said, diary/dairy,
four/floor/flour, quit/quite/quiet... If, during reading, many words are
guessed at and misread, it can completely change the sense
of the text making it a meaningless, confidence-sapping exercise.
People interpret the meaning of the term 'sight word' in
different ways. The most common understanding is that sight
words are high frequency words which need to be learnt as whole shapes using visual
memory only (customarily using 'look-say' flash cards). This
is advocated by infant teachers who use mixed methods. The
HFWs, they believe, are mostly ''non-phonetic'' or ''too
irregular'' to be learned through phonics. Additionally, they
think that if children can get off to a rapid start reading
the school's leveled predictable-text scheme books, aided by
the use of memorised sight words and multi-cueing (guessing)
strategies, this will be 'confidence-boosting'. Yet, as researchers Ashby and Rayner point out, ''one could argue that these children are only pretending to read, as the inherent magic of reading rests on the reader's independence'' (Ashby/Rayner.p60)
Synthetic phonics practitioners say that a 'sight word' is a word that a reader has successfully decoded many times before. As a consequence,
it is read so fast that it seems to the reader as
though it is being read instantly, going straight to meaning
without any phonological decoding. Prof. McGuinness points out,
''One should never think that just because "it seems like" we
read instantly, this is, in fact, what we do. Our brain
processes millions of bits of information all the time that we
are not consciously aware of, because the processing speed far
outstrips our ability to be conscious of it. An efficient reader
has "automatized" or "speeded up" the decoding process to the
point where it runs off outside conscious awareness''
''The adult brain does not
use global word shape: it still processes the letters, but all
at once (in parallel)and this results in
skilled readers having
''an illusion of whole-word reading''
how the brain learns to read
Literature review on eye movement & word identification: ''readers
naturally access the sounds of words while reading silently''
Modern eye-movement studies show that expert readers process all the information about a word at once using parallel processing: ''(T)he word-superiority effect demonstrates that skilled readers process all of the letters when identifying a word' (Ashby/Rayner p58) and ''represent complex aspects of a word's phonological form, including syllable and stress information'' (italics added. Ashby/Rayner p57), but this is done at a subconscious level. Only when the skilled reader comes to a previously unencountered
word do the skills of phonological decoding come back into consciousness. ''(R)ecent brain studies show that the primary motor cortex
is active during reading, presumably because it is involved
with mouth movements used in reading aloud. The process of
mentally sounding out words is an integral part of silent
reading, even for the highly skilled'' see p90 www.psychologicalscience.org/pdf/pspi/reading.pdf
X Handbook of early literacy research Vol.2 -see Ch.4 by Ashby and Rayner on eye movement research.
''We have known for about a century that inner speech is accompanied by tiny muscular movements in the larynx, detectable by a technique known as electromyography. In the 1990s, neuroscientists used functional neuroimaging to demonstrate that areas such as the left inferior frontal gyrus (Broca’s area), which are active when we speak out loud, are also active during inner speech. Furthermore, disrupting the activity of this region using brain stimulation techniques can interrupt both “outer” and inner speech'' (http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2014/aug/21/science-little-voice-head-hearing-voices-inner-speech)
Read the following (real) book title to examine your own
phonological decoding skills. As an expert reader who
implicitly understands how the Alphabet Code works (whether
through direct phonics instruction or deduced over time) you'll find yourself tracking
through the unusual words slowly left to right, segmenting one
GPC at a time, mentally sounding out as you go,
then blending the sounds as you proceed. 'Nonscience and the Pseudotransmogrificationalific Egocentrified Reorientational Proclivities Inherently Intracorporated In Expertistical Cerebrointellectualised Redeploymentation with Special Reference to Quasi-Notional Fashionistic Normativity, The Indoctrinationalistic Methodological Modalities and Scalar Socio-Economic Promulgationary Improvementalisationalism Predelineated Positotaxically Toward Individualistified Mass-Acceptance Gratificationalistic Securipermanentalisationary Professionism, or 'How To Rule The World'. Brian J. Ford (Wikipedia. Nonscience)
3 Reasons why segmenting is the mother of all skills in learning
to read and spell
''As a literate adult, you may not realise that when you are
reading, you are segmenting words into their constituent sounds
and then blending them to form words''
The most important socialising force for a child is their
peer-group. The influence is especially strong during middle-childhood
(6-12 yrs) (Harris p226).
This factor needs to be considered in the reading equation. A
child, whose everyday companions, in school or out, consist of
other children who think that reading is boring and unpleasant, will
copy those attitudes, ignoring those held by parents or other
significant adults. This is another important reason for most children to begin a systematic
synthetic phonics programme by the age of five
(Rose Report 2006. para89), before any anti-book,
peer-group influence takes hold.
There is a, ''widespread and pervasive misunderstanding that poor decoders are, in some way, intellectually inferior'' but, ''we can make no judgements about an individual's intellect based upon their decoding skills'' (Elliott. LDA Bulletin p13) Alexander Faludy, described as ''so severely dyslexic that he can barely write'', won a place at Cambridge University at the age of 14. (Times 17/01/98) Another high IQ 'dyslexic' (he has the spelling ability of an 8 year old), Ben Way, was a multi-millionaire businessman by the age of 20 (Telegraph 10/01/00)
Children with serious intellectual disabilities can learn
the mechanics of reading. Children with hyperlexia are
self-taught, fluent decoders from an extremely early age, but
when hyperlexia is accompanied by an intellectual disability
(it is commonly linked to autism), reading comprehension will be poor.
A parent on Mumsnet reported that her son with hyperlexia could read the Financial Times at age three. She also said that he was badly handicapped by a lack of phonic knowledge as he progressed through school and this resulted in him being unable to spell; ''What happened with my son was that because he was an exceptional reader he was never taught phonics and in Y6 he was still not writing anything!''
Mona McNee, founder of
the UK Reading Reform Foundation, taught her own son to read
using synthetic phonics, despite the fact that he has Down's
syndrome (McNee p8). The researchers
Cossu, Rossini and Marshall found that Italian children with Down's syndrome
could decode quite competently, having been taught
the transparent sound-symbol correspondences of the Italian
alphabet code, but they lacked comprehension of what they
Can children with intellectual disabilities learn to read?
There is a widely circulated myth that too much emphasis on
decoding through phonics causes children to 'bark at print'
aka ''Ron Burgundy Syndrome'' but, as Prof. Stanovich points out, ''There is no research evidence indicating that
decoding a known word into a phonological form often takes
place without meaning extraction. To the contrary, a substantial
body of evidence indicates that even for young children, word
recognition automatically leads to meaning activation..when
the meaning of the word is adequately established in memory''(RRF 50 Stanovich p8)
Ron Burgundy Syndrome
Specific Reading Comprehension Disability: Major Problem, Myth, or Misnomer?
''Although poor reading comprehension certainly qualifies as a major problem rather than a myth, the term specific reading comprehension disability is a misnomer: Individuals with problems in reading comprehension that are not attributable to poor word recognition have comprehension problems that are general to language comprehension rather than specific to reading''
''Experienced practitioners and teachers point out that,
in the course of phonics teaching, as children 'start to get
the hang of it', they begin to self-teach and 'need to read
a lot to consolidate their skills', that is, to develop effortless
reading and focus more and more on comprehending the text.
At this point, children may appear, some would say, to be
'barking at print' without fully understanding what they are
reading. Although this is often levelled as a criticism of
phonic work, such behaviour is usually transitional as children
hone their phonic skills. Given that even skilled adult readers
may find themselves 'barking at print' when they are faced
at times with unfamiliar text, it is hardly surprising that
children may do so in the early stages of reading'' (Rose
Review para 49) Canadian SEN teacher SusanS notes
that, ''You find the phenomenon of children who decode very
well but understand almost nothing in only two populations:
children with intellectual disabilities and children with very limited English'' (Kitchentablemath blog 30/12/08)
Aside from those with hyperlexia, a few children learn to
read when they are very young with little formal instruction,
seemingly by 'osmosis' of the print around them. They have
good visual memories and auditory skills and rapidly
intuit the statistical spelling patterns in text. In addition, and
importantly, they will have had plenty of parental/carer
interaction where books are involved and that interaction will
have included some basic alphabetic instruction. Having had, from very early in life, plenty of access to a wide variety of texts alongside a helpful, literate person, they will have received prolonged and repeated exposure to the code's
predictable patterns. With this lucky combination of nature and nurture they have managed to deduce the alphabet code
and decoding skills for themselves.
Who speaks for reading, writing and literature?
Research, studying factors that predict children's reading
ability, showed that in Britain the strongest predictor at
age seven was the mother's level of education rather than
the child's IQ (D.McGuinness WCCR p29).
''When teachers don't teach, the education children receive from their parents becomes of paramount importance, and the children of ill-educated parents are at an overwhelming disadvantage'' (Burkard.2007.p30)
Education isn't natural - that's why it's hard. ''Schools exist
to teach the hard stuff that children are unlikely to just pick
up from their environments''
''Most schools rely on parents to teach children to read..''
In education, is poverty destiny?
''At an academic level, we should again focus on the agency of
the school. An approach to early reading that places heavy
emphasis on children taking lists of sight words home to learn
is inequitable. So is an approach that hinges on practising
reading at home. Instead, children need to be explicitly and
systematically taught to read while they are in school''
Parents need to be aware that widely varying degrees of the
inherited subskills helpful in learning an opaque alphabet code
can occur amongst siblings. It is not unknown for one child
in a family to have learnt seemingly by 'osmosis' (see above) whilst
another has the ''potential to muddlement'' (McNee p81).
Time spent on an evidence-based
will be worthwhile, and if instruction commences once a child can speak and understand simple sentences, the easier and
less onerous the job will be. Parents have a big advantage
here if they do it themselves, as evidence suggests that how fast a child learns to
read is directly related to the amount of one-to-one instruction
received (D. McGuinness WCCR p30).
Prof. Willingham examines Developmentally Appropriate Practice
What reading does for the mind: Cunningham&Stanovich
Does Learning to Read Improve Intelligence?
A Longitudinal Multivariate Analysis in Identical Twins From Age 7 to 16
Why do wealthy kids usually do better in school than poor kids?
Answer: London Bridge is falling down