Teach Your Child to Read
| The main methods to teach reading |

Recommended links for student teachers X

According to a past Director of the National Literacy Trust (Guardian Education 7/10/03) there was no 'golden age' when the majority of our children were readers. History says otherwise. Prior to 1870, before state education was introduced in the UK, literacy was 92% (West p163) ''The Poor Law Commission in 1841 found that 87% of workhouse children in Norfolk and Suffolk between the ages of nine and sixteen could read'' (Mount p178) Literacy was 98% in the USA before 1850, when Massachusetts became the first state to introduce compulsory schooling (Richman) Literacy was considered essential so people could read the Bible, but writing was not taught as it was thought that too much education would give common folk ideas above their station and result in civil unrest; Hannah More (1790), who established Sunday Schools for working class children, is quoted as saying, ''I allow of no writing for the poor. My object is not to make them fanatics, but to train up the lower classes in habits of industry and piety'' (Kerr. p85).

Nowadays, the ‘miracle’ of 90-100% of a school's children regularly finishing the primary stage with decoding abilities at the level needed to deal with the secondary school curriculum does occur, but it isn't common. It can be found in primary schools which have replaced the NLS multiple decoding strategies and banded scheme books with an expertly taught synthetic phonics programme (as part of a language and literature rich curricululm).

Such a school is Elmhurst Primary in Newham, east London, an area of high deprivation. Synthetic phonics (Read Write Inc) is the sole method of teaching 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 programme in 2004'' http://goo.gl/g4rJzQ Note that 'dyslexia' means severe and persistent difficulty with single word decoding (Elliott.p178)

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. http://literacyblog.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/St%20Thomas%20Aquinas

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 and has achieved 95+% every year in the phonics screening check.

Note that the KS2 'Reading' SAT is a comprehension (English vocabulary and background knowledge) test and therefore not a straightforward guide to how well a school is teaching phonics decoding. Look at the school's Y1 phonics screening check scores (expect 90+% every year) and if they provide programme-linked decodable books in Reception and KS1 to ascertain if decoding is being taught well. In schools teaching through synthetic phonics, with high levels of EAL, such as those mentioned above, children getting below the expected level (100) for Reading may be competent single word decoders but have weak language comprehension. For more discussion - see teenagers

Reading ability is based on two major, essential, interacting but different components: phonics decoding ability x language comprehension (pre-existing knowledge and vocabulary).

In 1911, G. Stanley Hall, an American professor of education, wrote on the subject of dyslexia, 'It is possible, despite the stigma our bepedagogued age puts on this disability, for those who are under it not only to lead a useful, happy, virtuous life, but to be really well educated in many other ways' (Quoted Ravitch p358) Attempts to put a positive 'spin' on dyslexia still occur today - dyslexia as a gift! Entrepreneur Guy Hands, previously owner of the music company EMI, has severe dyslexia. He ''hates people who say "dyslexia is no bad thing, look at all the famous people who have got it". He will not shirk from saying: "I really wish I could read" (Observer. 13/01/08)

The late Martin Turner, formerly head of psychology at Dyslexia Action, said that it was a 'travesty' to talk about dyslexia as a bonus when it caused such suffering. ''It's a myth that there are compensatory gifts. Dyslexics go into the visual arts like sheep head for a gap in the hedge. They aren't more creative, they are more stressed.'' (Jardine) In a review of the research on dyslexia, Dr. Rice and Professor Brooks came to the same conclusion. ''On anecdotal evidence, the belief that ‘difficulty in learning to read is not a wholly tragic life sentence but is often accompanied by great talents' may seem attractive. However, systematic investigation has found little if any support for it.'' (Rice/ Brooks p18) The late 'dyslexic' journalist AA Gill confirmed this view when he wrote, ''In truth, of course, dyslexics end up in the art room or the music studio or the drama class after school, because it’s the only place they aren’t special-needs remedial. They get good because they can’t do anything else.'' (Times 08/04/07 The Fish Club) It's worth reading what AA Gill wrote about dyslexia after his conversation with the psychologist Julian Elliott (author of The Dyslexia Debate)  - see Gill's book 'AA Gill Is Further Away'

Dyslexia is not a “Desirable Difficulty”

''We test hypotheses that those with reading disability are compensated with enhanced creativity. Stronger reading was in fact linked to higher creativity, controlling for IQ''.

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 p56)

Literacy and mental health

Reading failure correlates with aggressive, anti-social behaviour more strongly than any social or economic indicator (Turner/ Burkard p13) ''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) About 80% of prisoners in Scotland are functionally illiterate, according to figures released under a freedom of information request (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-20852685)

X Literacy and behaviour.

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 all words in text using synthetic phonics only (as part of a language and literature-rich curriculum) and those who insist that a mixture of decoding methods, including contextualized phonics, 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 learn to read through an informal 'discovery' method, given enough time, just as they learnt to walk and talk (Fortune-wood p47-8, Williams p75).

''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 strategies, 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 real books, 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 ''all children will learn to read if they are exposed to enough books, words, stories..''

What would you have me do, Mem?

Guessing: Why the Reading Wars won't end.

 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 WCCR p17)

''Imagine you're a five-year-old starting school, and you're a true reading/writing beginner. Your parents/grandparents/kinder teachers have not already taught you how to read or write. You can't recognise any letters or words, and you don't know that words are made of sounds and letters are how we represent these sounds. To you, the alphabet might as well be Wingdings...''

Advice, commonly given, that the choice of method to teach reading should depend on your child's particular learning or thinking style (Lowe/Thomas p19 Armstrong p60-63) is incorrect. Although this advice sounds, on the face of it, sensible and reasonable, it does students 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 teaching, 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, reading **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.

Children are predominantly reliant on auditory skills to learn to read expertly (Macmillan p126-132), writing being a coded transcription of the sounds in our speech. As Mona McNee says, ''We read with our ears. We spell with our ears'' (McNee p3) 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 (whole-word) learning habit as a result of poor initial teaching. Both sets of children need much more practice in the auditory aspects of reading and will not be helped by any method that reinforces their visual tendencies. 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 sounds 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) http://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/ch2-I.pdf )

For the majority of children it doesn't seem to matter if a 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 adult level literature and advanced educational texts (school English books contain around 88,500 different words (D.McGuinness ERI p216). The insidious effects of mixed 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.

Parents may be concerned that their children will be damaged if they start to teach them to read through phonics at too young an age, having heard that it is dangerous to impose anything 'developmentally inappropriate' on young children. There is no scientific basis to this idea. Sir Jim Rose noted that, ''(T)here is ample evidence to support the recommendation of the interim report that, for 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 Review 2006. para89) ''...an 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 Review.2006 para99) 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 p135)

Many parents have successfully taught children much younger than five to read using a suitable synthetic phonics programme. If the schools in your area are of poor quality, or you are unsure of the schools' methods to teach reading, 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)

''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) Furthermore, delaying the start of formal 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)

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' 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)

''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)

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) The evidence from Europe clearly shows that, ''Foundation literacy acquisition by non-English European groups is not affected by gender and is largely independent of variations in the ages at which children start formal schooling''(Seymour/Aro/Erskine p150); ''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 GRB p9)

Having a transparent alphabet code is not the only reason why children in most European countries learn to read and spell so successfully (accurately) and quickly; many European countries teach reading using the quick, simple and confidence-building method - synthetic phonics; letter names and sight words are not taught. The combination of a transparent alphabet code and the synthetic phonic teaching method means that, ''poor readers (children who can't decode) are rare to nonexistent in many European countries'' (D.McGuinness GRB p240)

''(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)

Evidence suggests that many readers who have learnt through a balanced approach or the 'discovery' method are handicapped by their lack of phonemic awareness and their limited knowledge of the advanced alphabet code. As a result they have difficulties reading (decoding) unfamiliar words (real or pseudo), and with spelling. Use Ruth Miskin's Nonsense Word Test to check phonics decoding ability: http://www.rrf.org.uk/archive.php?n_ID=103&n_issueNumber=50

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 (HFWs/very common words in print) which need to be learnt as whole shapes using visual memory only. 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 an early start reading predictable-text scheme books by using memorised sight words along with 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)

A different understanding is found where 'sight words' are theorised to be the initial stage of a biologically-driven developmental process of learning to read. Uta Frith's stage model is perhaps the most well known. The 1st stage of her reading acquisition model is 'Logographic', where children see familiar words solely, ''through their crude visual features such as shape or size''.
Uta Frith's developmental stages of reading acquisition model.

 Jenny Chew comments, ''The belief in sight-words as a first step is found everywhere'', but Chew goes on to say, ''Teachers must not be brainwashed into believing that logographic reading is natural if in fact it is the result of teaching, as the evidence suggests to be the case.''

2001. Jenny Chew's article critiques Uta Frith's developmental stage theory of learning to read.

The supporters of the Dual Route reading theory (see method 2) have a different interpretation of the term 'sight word'. It is one which is stored, they believe, in an 'orthographic whole-word store' in the brain, all its letters in the correct order ready for instant processing, going straight to 'meaning' without any phonological decoding. In their opinion, expert readers read all words holistically, except for rare or unknown ones. N.B. the Dual Route theorists' interpretation of the term 'sight word' is embedded in the 2006 Rose Report (Rose Report 2006 Appendix 1.paras 52, 54).

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. As 'Feenie' explained on Mumsnet, sight word learning, ''means learning them to automaticity - recognition on sight, not teaching them as sight words (wholes)''. Diane 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''  Prof. Dehaene agrees, ''The adult brain does not use global word shape: it still processes the letters, but all at once (in parallel)'' and, as a result, adult readers have ''an illusion of whole-word reading'' (Dehaene: how the brain learns to read bit.ly/28QsScK )

Literature review on eye movement & word identification: ''readers naturally access the sounds of words while reading silently'' p16

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' (italics added. 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

''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 directly taught or deduced) you'll find yourself tracking through the unusual words slowly left to right, one sound unit at a time, mentally sounding out as you go, 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)

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 every day, same-sex companions, in school or out, consist of other children who think that reading is ''not cool'', will copy those attitudes, ignoring those held by parents or other significant adults. This is another important reason for teaching children to read as early as possible, before any anti-book, peer-group influence takes hold.

All early language stimulation will accelerate a child's mental development with permanent advantages. ''All the evidence shows that the major predictor of becoming a good reader is the development of good language skills during the early years of life.'' (D. McGuinness GRB p9-10) With this in mind, looking at books and reading together should begin in babyhood and be an active exercise. Good preparation for learning to read, with nursery age children, is the practice of oral segmentation; as you talk to your child split the sounds of key words such as 'drink your j-oo-s', 'it's on the ch-air', 'find your k-oa-t', 'here is your sh-oo'...This is a gentle introduction to how words work.

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, usually from an extremely early age, but when hyperlexia is accompanied by an intellectual disability (it is commonly linked to autism), reading comprehension can 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 read (decode) quite competently, having been taught the transparent sound-symbol correspondences of the Italian alphabet code, but they lacked comprehension of what they read.

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 / word-call', the belief being that, ''As long as a child is decoding text, the brain is preoccupied and cannot assimilate the intellectual content of text'' (E.Carron. TES), 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)

This study refutes the 'barking at print' myth:
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 'palisadesk' notes that, ''You find the phenomenon of children who decode very well but understand almost nothing in only two populations: children with intellectual disabilities [see above] and children with very limited English'' (Kitchentablemath blog 30/12/08)

Aside from those with hyperlexia, a small number of children learn to read when they are very young with little formal instruction, seemingly by 'osmosis' of the print around them. They have inherited an ability to easily discern the phonemes in speech, plus a good memory for visual detail and a strong desire to learn how to read. 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. This has enabled them to intuit the alphabetic principle. ''It is simply not possible to learn to read without assistance'' (Howe.p21). 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 for themselves.

The English writing system. ''To claim, therefore, that some people learn to read and write as naturally as they learn to speak is simply a fiction. People who make such a claim are suffering from amnesia''

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). As Tom Burkard explains, ''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 by the 'osmosis' method (see above) whilst another has the ''potential to muddlement'' (McNee p81). Time spent on a effective programme 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)

Teacher and phonics expert, Debbie Hepplewhite, talks about her four children's different experiences of learning to read and her own experience as a classroom teacher.

The alphabet is used as a letter code for the individual sounds in our speech and, like all codes, it is difficult to decipher without the correct and complete 'key'. The English alphabet spelling code is particularly difficult to learn. It is the most 'opaque' in the world, due to the Norman-French, Danish, Latin and Greek spelling systems which, over time, were mixed in with the original (635 A.D) transparent, Anglo-Saxon system. 'For example, ch is used to spell /ch/ in Anglo-Saxon words such as chair; is used to spell /k/ in Greek derived words such as chorus; and spells /sh/ in French-derived words such as charade and Charlotte (Moats)

English, Danish, Portuguese and French are, in that order, the European languages with the most 'opaque' alphabet codes. English and Danish also have a complex syllable structure. Greek, Finnish, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Dutch are much easier to learn as they have a majority one-letter/one sound correspondence.


The English Alphabet Code - talk given by Diane McGuinness at the RRF conference 2011.

A very short summary of the phonics debate.


Substance not [learning] style

Barking at print? ''Less than 1 percent of first- through third-grade students who scored as poor in reading comprehension were adequate in both decoding and vocabulary''

Extracts taken from Romance and Reality by K. Stanovich

Tom Burkard: Rousseau for the Digital Age

Pamphlet for Londoners by Miriam Gross: So why can’t they read?

Barbash: Pre-K Can Work

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

House of Commons Education&Skills Committee publication: Teaching Children to Read, published March 2005.

Rose Report: 'Independent review of the teaching of early reading', published March 2006.

Illiterate boys: The new international phenomenon.

Lost for Wurds.

How Psychological Science Informs the Teaching of Reading

Another Blast in the Reading Wars.

When Two Vowels Go Walking by Matthew Davis

Why do wealthy kids usually do better in school than poor kids?

How should reading be taught?

X Handbook of early literacy research Vol.2 -see Ch.4 by Ashby and Rayner on eye movement research.

Diane McGuinness comments on the review of the Research Literature on the use of Phonics in the Teaching of Reading and Spelling, by Brooks, Torgerson and Hall
** Diane McGuinness explains multi-sensory learning: Brain Science for Reading Teachers
''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''

Answer: London Bridge is falling down

Next page >