Recommended links for student teachers
and NQTs X
''Teaching children to read is one of the
most important things the State does.''
(UK Parliament's all-party Science and Technology committee)
It is still unusual for nearly all of a primary school's
children to regularly finish year 6 able to decode and encode
at a level that allows them to deal confidently with the
reading and spelling demands of the secondary
curriculum. However, some schools (examples below) are managing to rectify this deplorable and needless state of
''It is essential that, by the end of their primary
education, all pupils are able to read fluently, and with
confidence, in any subject in their forthcoming secondary
education'' (Ofsted School
Inspection Handbook 2019)
Elmhurst primary school
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
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 and 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 primary school which, through teaching the linguistic 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 (a measure of
deprivation). The school uses
Sounds-Write to teach reading and spelling. All its Y1 children 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 chronological age or better; good evidence that
high quality linguistic phonics teaching in the early years actively
prevents 'phonemic deafness' or 'dyslexia'
Christchurch primary school is in Chelsea, London. It is
graded Outstanding by Ofsted and its reading and writing
progress scores are well above average. For the last 10 years it
has been using a linguistic phonics programme, the Sound Reading
whole-class use of SRS at Christchurch PS:
SVoR: Why it is Essential to Teach
High Quality Phonics in the Early Years:
The Simple View of Reading (SVoR): Reading ability is
based on two major, essential, interacting but different components:
phonics decoding ability x language comprehension.
components are essential, neither is sufficient on its own.
Many educationalists believe that ''most
students will learn to read regardless of whichever
approach is employed'' (Elliott 2020)
Certainly, there has always been a small percentage of children who
figure out the alphabetic principle early on and
learn how to decode fluently despite receiving very little in the way of phonics teaching
(''the rapid graspers''
DfE). It's also true that most children who
receive the low quality phonics instruction that is still common
in primary schools, do manage to memorise the most common words
by sight and devise a range of partial guessing strategies to
read the longer, trickier words in the school's leveled reading scheme or
'real' books. Sadly, a significant percentage of these seemingly
successful readers will have had a more difficult time learning
to read than is necessary and will remain weak spellers.
Then there are the children with excellent visual memories and
rich vocabularies. They take to reading easily in a
balanced approach classroom and appear to read the school's
predictable-text scheme books without difficulty, moving swiftly
up the levels
during the early primary years. A problem occurs if they
continue to rely heavily on whole-word memorisation and
multi-cue word guessing, and don't discover for themselves how to
decode all words efficiently using phonics. Their reading ability is
likely to stall when their whole-word memories become overloaded
and the look-and-guess pictures disappear from the books. This commonly
7-10 yrs (the '4th
grade reading slump'), sometimes later if they have good
general knowledge and a
wide vocabulary, both of which aid inference.
The 4th grade reading slump.
When children taught through the balanced
approach get to secondary school, 20-30% (see
struggle to fluently decode the huge number of novel, multi-syllable words they
will encounter in secondary level literature (school English books contain around 88,500
different words (D.McGuinness ERI p216)
and in texts for other subjects.
The insidious effects of the
balanced approach produce a regular cohort of
'dyslexics', generate high numbers of students who dislike
reading and writing and cause significant numbers of
teenagers to stall in their studies at the secondary stage.
''Multi-syllable problems are decoding problems! The
point that I have to make all the time is that if students can't
read multi syllable words well, we aren't finished with decoding
instruction'' (Sara Peden.
Providing poor quality or insufficient phonics decoding instruction in
the early years, thereby compelling children to devise their
own word reading strategies, proved perhaps surprisingly to be
most detrimental to those children who had the richest
vocabulary, despite them having equivalent PA abilities to those
who managed to discover for themselves how to decode efficiently using phonics.
Decoding strategies as predictors of reading skill:
''Children who stayed with the most inefficient [decoding]
strategies had significantly higher vocabulary scores and
equivalent phonemic processing ability when compared to readers
with more efficient decoding strategies.''
X Is phonics a ‘method’ for teaching
''Phonics is best understood as a body of knowledge and
skills about how the alphabetic system works, and how to apply
it in reading and spelling, rather than one of a range of
optional ‘methods’ or ‘strategies’ for teaching children how to
read'' (DfE 2021. Phonics programme
''A beginning reader must at some point discover the alphabetic
principle: that units of print map onto units of sound. This
principle may be induced; it may be acquired through direct
instruction...but it must be acquired if a child is to progress
successfully in reading'' (Stanovich.
The Matthew Effect)
SVoR: Language / Vocabulary / Reading Comprehension:
The end-of-KS2 Reading comprehension test is not curriculum-based and,
unlike the Y1 phonics decoding check, ''the KS2 assessments are
designed to produce a normal distribution of abilities and not
all children are statistically able to ‘pass’' (David
''As Beck et al. (1999) observed, the impression is often
given in reading development that reading comprehension is the
final stage in a hierarchical structure. This, they suggest,
results in the assessment of reading comprehension being
accepted as the most accurate assessment of reading...SSP can
improve word recognition and enhance the development of reading
fluency. However, to evaluate its efficacy on an assessment that
is also dependent on the development of cognitive maturation and
global, cultural and discrete knowledge may be a conflation.''
(Timothy Mills p93)
''A reading comprehension test is unable to reveal
that a child has not yet mastered the phonic code. A pseudo word
assessment can reveal this'' (The
To increase the probability of performing well in
the Reading test, pupils
require an extensive,
knowledge-rich (English) vocabulary, drawn from a wide variety of
different subjects, especially the humanities and sciences
(Christine Counsell). Schools in
areas of deprivation, especially those with a high pupil turnover (these schools often have Y6 cohorts
that are mostly different children to the original Y1 cohort),
can find filling the knowledge-rich vocabulary gap an enormous
challenge. Schools that draw the majority of their pupils from
stable, middle-class areas, find it much
easier to achieve high scores in the Reading test.
average socioeconomic status (SES) of the
student body of the school...strongly predicts the
achievement of the school's students'' (Dr.
Hollis Scarborough. underline in original)
''Vocabulary size is the outward and visible sign of
an inward acquisition of knowledge. It is also a reliable
correlate to social class.''
''But as cognitive scientists have discovered, the
key factor in comprehension isn’t skill; it’s subject-specific
knowledge and vocabulary'' (Natalie
Teacher Tarjinder Gill closely examined the KS2 Reading test's
construction. She concluded that, ''By ignoring the role
knowledge plays in comprehension and focusing so heavily on
measuring reading comprehension skills it does not provide
valuable or useful information about the targets or reading''
''(O)nly curriculum-based [reading]
tests can be fair and educationally productive'' (Hirsch
Hirsch: There's No Such Thing as a Reading Test
Reading comprehension: a new
“A child’s inference cannot exceed their ‘mental models’,
background knowledge or vocabulary. These are the things that
poor comprehenders lack and no amount of comprehension-strategy
practice can fill this gap.”
that literacy, as a skill, is not constant, but is relative to
subject matter domain, and it depends upon the extent of the
reader’s background knowledge in that subject''
tests are really “knowledge
tests in disguise.” (Prof. Willingham)
''(R)eform standardised reading tests so that they are based
on a specific body of knowledge taught in the preceding years
rather than knowledge selected at random'' (Greg
Ashman. Quillette 08/08/19)
remarkable reading test'
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''
The importance of early phonics improvements for predicting
later reading comprehension
Cognitive Load Theory:
Fluent and accurate word decoding aids reading comprehension by
reducing cognitive load:
In a twitter thread outlining their research (not yet published), 'The Reading Ape' highlighted the
pivotal role of high quality phonics (intervention) teaching for
reading comprehension success:
year 5 with code deficit were taught phonics for a year (90% of
the year group). All those who achieved expected standard at KS2
had mastery of the initial and extended code (85% of the year
group). Those with complete mastery of initial, extended and
polysyllabic level (59%) had a mean standardised score of 108
and a mean spelling score of 17...(C)ode knowledge was greatest
indicator of fluency and comprehension across whole sample. So,
if phonics hasn't worked, teach it properly.''
Cognitive load theory: Research that
teachers really need to understand
Willingham: Decoding, knowledge and reading comprehension.
Learning to read: primary and
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''
Why can’t children read… Dickens?
Reading Ability Links with Mental Health / Crime:
The ability to read and write well is a major 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''. 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 is likely the single most important skill acquired
through formal schooling,
an essential foundation for educational progress and mastery. In
today’s world, a basic
level of reading proficiency is no longer sufficient for the
demands of the workplace
(Vaughn et al., 2003). Reading failure contributes to a host of
long-term negative outcomes,
including frustration leading to more generalized academic and
high rates of suspension, and limited access to employment
opportunities in adulthood
(Brunner, 1993). Youth with pronounced reading difficulties are
marginalization in their schools and communities and lifelong
risk of involvement in the
juvenile and criminal justice systems.''
Krezmien, Mason, & Meisel, 2005 p95)
''Struggling readers are more likely to report feeling sad,
lonely, angry, anxious and depressed.
Their poor reading skills make it hard for them to keep up in
other subject areas. They’re more likely to have behavior
problems, to drop out of school and to end up in the criminal
(APM Reports. What the Words Say)
Can Reading Problems Affect Mental Health?
''Reading failure correlates with aggressive, anti-social
behaviour more strongly than any social or economic indicator''
(Turner/ Burkard p13)
Literacy and Behaviour
and Reading: “...the single most powerful predictor of their
ability to overcome the trauma and survive their circumstances
is the ability to read.”
The Reading Wars:
You do not have to delve far into the world of educational
academia to discover the 'Reading Wars'. This is a very long
running and acrimonious debate between those who say that
high quality phonics is the most efficient and effective way to
teach decoding and spelling, according to all the available
scientific evidence, and those who insist that using a range of
guessing strategies to read words in context, a so-called
'balanced approach', works best. The controversy extends into
the progressive education community. Many of its members hold
the more extreme
belief that nearly all
children, given an environment full of books with helpful,
literate adults on hand, can teach themselves how to read,
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''.
American 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'' (Charlotte Allen)
Another of the major exponents of whole language, the late Margaret Meek, 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..''
Fact and fiction with Mem Fox
The home literacy environment: ''Storybook exposure was not a
significant predictor of children’s outcomes. In contrast,
direct literacy instruction remained a predictor of reading /
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
Multi--Modal (Multi-Sensory) Teaching in High Quality
For true multi-modal teaching,
each phonics lesson 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.
''Be careful with interpreting the term
“multi-sensory” – it doesn’t mean shaving cream and sand.”
(Dr. Jan Wasowicz)
Diane McGuinness explains multi-modal teaching:
''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''
Beginning Reading Instruction Around Europe:
On the best age to start teaching children to decode and
spell English words using phonics, the 2006 Rose review gave 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 review 2006.
para89) Ofsted's new Schools Inspection Handbook
indicates that inspectors will expect to see that,
''(R)eading, including the teaching of systematic, synthetic
phonics, is taught from the beginning of Reception''. An
Ofsted spokesperson added, ''We do not expect to see phonic lessons in
''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)
As evidence of the benefits of waiting until children are
aged seven to start direct teaching of reading, the Early Years
lobbyists can be relied on to flag up Finland, where all children
become accurate word decoders within weeks of starting formal
school - aged seven. What they fail to tell you is that Finland
has a very transparent alphabet code and many Finnish parents
teach their children to read pre-school as it's so easy to do.
''One-third of Finnish children can already read
simple text when they begin school''
''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)
''(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)
''Imagine the state of our education system if children
actually had to wait until they were 7 to start their marathon
journey into the mastery of the incredibly deep orthography of
the English language. It's not hyperbole to say it would be an
Y3 teacher & English lead)
The Early Years 'play' lobbyists consistently fail to mention the
evidence from Denmark, 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 [sic] and alphabetic foundation
processes which are comparable to those observed in English,
although less extreme'' (Seymour/Aro/Erskine)
English, Danish, Portuguese and French are, in that order,
the European languages with the most opaque alphabet spelling codes.
English and Danish also have a complex syllable structure.
Greek, Finnish, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch and
much easier to learn as they have a majority one
sound / one spelling correspondence.
Despite having a unusually complex spelling code, English is unremarkable phoneme-wise; 44 phonemes is close
to the international average.
''English is just as phonetic as Spanish and
Italian, just far less transparent'' (John
X 2003: Map of Europe showing %
of errors in word decoding at the end of first year of formal
school by country.
The UK children in the study lived in
Scotland. At that time, nearly all children throughout the UK
were taught using a 'balanced reading approach'
(England: NLS Searchlights), not high
2019 update: England's DfE (but not *Scotland,**Wales or
N.Ireland) introduced synthetic phonics teaching after
the 2006 Rose review. After a slow start, all of England's state
primary schools now teach a daily, discrete phonics lesson,
starting in the first term of Reception year. At the end of year
1, after nearly two years of phonics lessons, all children are
examined on their word decoding accuracy using the DfE's phonics
screening check (PSC). In 2019, 82% achieved the 'expected
standard' score in the Y1 PSC. England's phonics checks' results
provide some evidence of a
rise in children's alphabet code knowledge and phonics skills
since its introduction in 2012, when nearly half (42%) failed to achieve the
'expected standard' score.
Caution: despite the steady rise in England's PSC results
(presently stagnated), the code knowledge and phonics skills of
many Y1 children remains weak and insecure because they've
received the minimum of phonics instruction and lack sufficient practice.
In addition, unlike in European countries
with transparent spelling codes, much of the advanced English
spelling code still remains to be taught at the end of year 1;
because of its timing, only 85 of the 176 common GPCs are usable
in the check.
X Comprehensive information on England's
phonics screening check
* Why Scotland is getting it wrong on phonics. Anne Glennie.
** ''Estyn, fighting phonics since 2007'' (Welsh
teacher. Rob Randel)
Does Curriculum for Wales leave reading to chance?
Does CfW Leave Reading to Chance? (Part 2)
factors hugely influence the speed and ease of learning to
decode and encode an alphabetic writing system fluently and
accurately: the degree of transparency of the language's spelling code
and the way it is taught.
Children in many European countries learn to decode words
accurately in just a few weeks once formal instruction commences
because their spoken languages are written using transparent
spelling codes. In addition, European countries with transparent
alphabetic codes teach children to decode all words using phonics. ''Phonics
is the only rational method with a transparent orthography'' (Uta
Frith. NYTimes). Furthermore,
children are not taught letter
names pre-school or asked to memorise any words as whole shapes. The combination of a
transparent alphabetic code and phonics used
as the sole decoding mechanism, means that, ''(P)oor
readers (children who can't decode) are rare to nonexistent
in many European countries'' (D.McGuinness
''In the initial teaching of reading in languages with
highly consistent orthographies (e.g. Spanish and especially
Finnish), phonics is used without comment or dispute as the
obvious way to give children who are not yet reading the most
effective method of ‘word attack’, identifying unfamiliar
printed words'' (Torgerson et al 2018)
X A Brief Analysis of The
English Alphabet Code by Prof. McGuinness:
''Think how bad the English people would be at mathematics, if
the written code had multiple alternative symbols for the same
number, and each symbol could represent more than one quantity''
''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
X Prof. McGuinness responds to
Usha Goswami's TES article 'The Language Barrier':
McGuinness points out that, ''Language is a biological
imperative. Reading is not''.
It is important to
differentiate between reading and spelling problems which are
due to a range of severe perceptual and cognitive deficits (less than 5% of
children in all countries), and
the extremely common problem (20->30+% of children in English-speaking countries) of
persistently slow and inaccurate single word decoding
Evidence from European countries with transparent alphabetic codes
and from England's schools that teach
decoding using a high quality phonics programme with
fidelity, strongly indicates that the latter problem occurs
almost entirely as a result of inadequate phonics instruction and
not because large numbers of English-speaking children have
inherited a neurodevelopmental defect 'dyslexia'.
languages (spelling codes) are human inventions and have to be
taught. Some spelling codes, such as Finnish and Georgian, are
really quick and easy to teach and to learn as they are very
transparent. English has one of the most complex (opaque)
spelling codes in the world and it requires around three years of expert teaching,
using a high quality phonics programme, if
it is to be learnt successfully
by all but a tiny percentage of pupils.
with general language delays, weak auditory or verbal short-term
memory, or other perceptual and cognitive deficits could have
problems learning to read and spell. But these are language and
memory problems, not ''reading disorder''
problems. These children are few and far
between, constituting less than 5% of the population''
Sounds-Write's longitudinal study of 1607 pupils indicates that
virtually all mainstream pupils can be taught to decode and
spell by the end of KS1, if they have teachers who are
use a high quality phonics programme with fidelity - see p17
only 2.6% were having immense
difficulty with word decoding at end of KS1.
'Narrowing the Third-Grade Reading Gap' Research Brief:
''The National Institute of Health (NIH) indicates that nearly
all children have the cognitive capacity to learn to read,
estimating that only 5% of
young readers have severe cognitive impairments that would make
acquiring reading skills extremely difficult''
''Reading, writing and spelling is biologically
unnatural. It requires specific instruction” (Prof.
What the Georgian alphabet can teach us about teaching reading
and writing: ''The relatively easy thing about learning the
Georgian script is that it has thirty-three letters, most of
which represent a single sound. In other words, the writing
system is very transparent''
''If language development really played a causal role in
learning to read one would expect to find the same incidence of
reading problems everywhere, because human language is a
biological trait''. (D.McGuinness. LDLR p206)
''The other important thing to tell kids is that their
difficulty in learning to write is not their fault. Aside from a
tiny percentage (2%?) of children with very special needs, the
reason why kids struggle with getting stuff down on paper is
that the process of linking sounds to spellings has not been automatised in the early years and that’s the fault of poor
''All humans have the same brain architecture, and
therefore how we learn is the same in all countries''
Beginning Phonics Instruction in
England's Early Years:
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)
The DfE's 2021 'essential core criteria' includes that phonics
3. enable children to start learning
phonic knowledge and skills early in reception, and provide
a structured route for most children to meet or exceed the
expected standard in the year one (Y1)
Phonics Screening Check and all national curriculum expectations
for word reading through decoding by the end of key stage 1.
5. begin by introducing a defined group of grapheme-phoneme
correspondences that enable children to read and spell many
words early on.
(DfE phonics programmes core criteria.
Explicit Instruction in the Reception Classroom
''English reading can be challenging so I encourage as
early a start as possible (and, no, research reveals no harm in
Prof.Daniel Muijs: Bold beginnings and the importance of
Literacy in the early years: Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings report on
Reception teaching was controversial, but it may ultimately
serve to open some eyes and minds, writes Debbie Hepplewhite
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''
The most important socialising force for a child is their
peer-group. Their 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, unpleasant,
'only for girls' (https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cdev.13359)
copy those attitudes, ignoring those held by parents, carers 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 review 2006. para89), before any anti-reading,
peer-group influence takes hold.
Parents may be concerned that their children will be damaged if
they start to teach them to read pre-school using synthetic /
linguistic phonics, having heard that it is dangerous to impose
anything deemed 'developmentally inappropriate' by the Early
Years 'play' lobby.
There is no scientific basis to this belief.
''Endless, unstructured play until they are 7 will not
enable children to magically develop a readiness to read or
write (these are biologically secondary). This kind of thinking,
albeit loving, disadvantages the disadvantaged the most.''
Many parents have successfully taught children much younger than
five to read using a high quality 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. Intellectually able children may also benefit from an earlier 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)
Dear Parents. Welcome to the confusing world of reading
parents, you buy a lottery ticket when your child starts
Recommended resources for parents and carers to teach pre-schoolers -> 6yrs old to read and
Delaying the start of formal instruction, even if only for a
year, 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)
''(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''
''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)
There is a reciprocal relationship between motivation and
reading, but early reading has a stronger impact on motivation
than vice versa.
Does Learning to Read Improve Intelligence?
A Longitudinal Multivariate Analysis in Identical Twins From Age 7 to 16
''(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)
What reading does for the mind: Cunningham&Stanovich
Reading is uniquely efficacious for developing crystallised
Teaching ‘advanced academic content,’ in the early years
‘'associated not only with improved math and English/language
arts achievement but also with improved social-emotional
Death of a dogma? ''The dubious concept of developmental
appropriateness has had its day''
Prof. Willingham examines Developmentally Appropriate Practice
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''.
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''
Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood and chair of
Upstart Scotland (see below), 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).
In a later article 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''
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
‘formal’ learning'' (Anne
X Unravelling Upstart: Upstart
make many misleading claims, but their statements tend to rely
on false assumptions, selective use of research, and weak or
isolated research studies.
Steiner / Waldorf Education and
Teaching Phonics in the Early Years:
''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'' (italics added)
Dr. Richard House is a Steiner-trained teacher, a former
university lecturer on 'Early Childhood' and an author of books on
education including 'Too Much, Too Soon?'. He was a
leading figure in the Open EYE anti-early-years-schooling
campaign, organising three press open letters in 2006, 2007
(both with Sue Palmer -see above) and in 2011. On the subject of children starting
'formal schooling' in Reception year (age 4-5), Dr. House says, ''(T)he evidence
is now quite overwhelming that such an early introduction to institutional
learning is not only quite unnecessary for the vast majority of children,
but can actually cause major developmental harm, and at worst a shortened
life-span....Young children's "runaway" intellect actually needs to be
slowed down in the early years if they are not to risk growing up in an
intellectually unbalanced way, with possible life-long negative health
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 how to read in Reception
year, as we do in England, and we should wait until age 6-7. The main author, Dr.Suggate, is a strong supporter
of Rudolf Steiner's theories about education. Steiner
educationalists strongly advocate for delaying the start of
formal education for 'spiritual' (see above), not
In the following RRF messageboard thread, educational
psychologist John Noble and Simon Webb, an author and blogger, comment on the
Written Word Processing and the Brain:
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) with so-called 'tricky'
spellings. Many infant teachers believe that these particular
HFWs are ''non-phonetic'' or ''too irregular'' to be decoded
using phonics; they must be visually memorised as whole units
(customarily using 'look-say' flash cards) as ''they can't be
Synthetic / linguistic phonics practitioners say that a
'sight word' is any word, real or nonsense,
that the reader has consciously and accurately decoded using
phonics a number of times before. Whenever the reader
subsequently encounters that particular word in text, they
decode it extremely rapidly below conscious awareness,
making it seem
as though it is being read instantly, going directly to meaning without any phonological decoding taking place.
''Sight words are a function of the reader not of the language,
they are words that become automatically recognised through
repeated decoding. The most important factor is how often they
are accurately read (decoded) by the individual reader.''
(Monique Nowers. Twitter)
''As a competent reader becomes more fluent, their
automaticity masks their dependence on phonics''
''The ability to sound out words is, in fact, a major
underpinning that allows rapid recognition of words. (This
recognition is so fast that some people mistakenly believe it is
happening “by sight.”)'' (Dr. Louisa Moats)
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''
Highly skilled readers may feel
that they are bypassing phonological decoding but, in addition to lacking a credible research
base, the Dual Route / Late Sight Word theory was challenged convincingly by Glushko back in
1979. He argued that the brain automatically processes ALL the
information available about the input signal from each word in
parallel, processing multiple modalities simultaneously (much of
which does not reach consciousness) and processing is not
carried out along two separate routes or pathways
(D. McGuinness ERI p289)
''Learning does not occur in ‘‘pathways,’’ but via anatomical
and neurochemical changes in dendrites and adjacent cell
(D.McGuinness ERI p339)
Modern eye-movement studies confirm that skilled readers,
even when reading silently, process nearly every word, and this
processing includes the word's phonological information.
Researchers Ashby and Rayner explain: ''The
word-superiority effect demonstrates that skilled readers
process all of the letters when identifying a word'' and
''represent complex aspects of a word's phonological form,
including syllable and stress information''
(italics added. Ashby/Rayner p57/p58),
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.
abundant proof that we automatically access speech sounds while
(Prof. Dehaene. Reading in the
X Handbook of early literacy research Vol.2 -see Ch.4 by Ashby and Rayner on eye movement research.
Diane McGuinness discusses Dual Route in 'Early Reading
Instruction' p287-> including Glushko's insights.
Silent reading isn't so silent, at least, not to your 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
Literature review on eye movement & word identification: ''(R)eaders
naturally access the sounds of words while reading silently''
''For skilled readers, phonological coding may be consciously
experienced as inner speech, or the voice they hear in
their head during reading'' (Ashby/Rayner p54)
''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
phonemic 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,
blending (synthesising) 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)
Do fluent, adult readers read whole words as 'sight words'?
''(W)hat the proponents of [Dual Route/Late Sight Word] theory
fail to recognise is that the tests conducted by Cattell could
just as easily have to do with the speed of motor processing or
the rate of speech output NOT the speed of processing visual
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''
All about S e g m e n t i ng
Prof. Share: On the Anglocentricities of Current Reading Research
and Practice. Includes extensive discussion of
the late stage sight word theory.
Phonics Decoding, SEN(D) and Intelligence:
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 hyperlexia are self-taught, fluent word
readers (they are not necessarily phonemically aware
from an extremely early age, but when hyperlexia is
accompanied by an intellectual disability (it is commonly
linked to autism) reading comprehension suffers.
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 phonics 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!
His teachers and numerous Ed Psychs were totally fooled by his
apparent fluent reading (if only the PSC had been around) and
dismissed his difficulties because of this''
Research on reading instruction for pupils with autism (ASD).
Children with serious intellectual disabilities can be taught
decoding mechanics. 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
''Reading is really a very basic process. And
it turns out that even children who might have really quite
severe learning difficulties can nonetheless learn to read well.
But when I say that, what I mean by 'learn to read well' is that
they learn to decode well'' (Prof.
Snowling. The Dyslexia Myth)
Canadian SEN teacher Susan S. 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)
2020. Ann Sullivan, an SEN phonics tutor, did an informal
poll on how reading is taught in UK special schools:
Whole word recognition 16.2%. Whole language - cues 2.7%.
Systematic phonics 33.8%. Phonics & Whole language 47.3%.
commented on the poll results: ''There is a need to inform teachers in special
schools of the research in how children learn to read and the
implication on instruction - phonics as the sole approach within
the Simple View of Reading''
all children learn to read, including those with multiple and
complex needs? Yes (nearly).
''We need to be honest that for some students our aim
is not be to 'read novels' but to become functionally literate
in order to be independent in adult life'' (Ann
Sullivan. SEN phonics tutor)
Word Calling / Barking at Print:
There is a widely circulated myth that too much emphasis on
decoding through phonics causes children to 'bark at print'
aka ''Ron Burgundy Syndrome'' (see link below) but, as Prof. Stanovich
explains, ''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 ('Old Andrew')
''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)
Why ‘just reading’ might make more of a difference than
teaching comprehension skills such as
inference and analysis:
''Once children can decode fluently, comprehension is a language
problem rather than a reading problem per se...For some
time now I’ve been of the belief that one of the best uses of an
English teacher’s time is to ‘just read’ to their classes...A
new study by Jo Westbrook, Julia Sutherland, Jane Oakhill and
Susan Sullivan suggests that ‘just reading’ made a
significant difference to students’ standardised reading
Parents, Poverty and Reading:
2019. Gill Jones, Ofsted's Deputy Director for Early
Education, wrote about Ofsted's new 'deep dives' into schools'
teaching of early reading:
''Some schools in
disadvantaged areas help all their children
learn to read well from the start. Some schools have said that
this gap in the PSC between poorer and more affluent children is
because of the lower levels of cultural capital among
disadvantaged children. However, as we know, the successful
learning of systematic synthetic phonics is not dependent on
''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)
''Most schools rely on parents to teach children to read..''
''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)
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''
''Avoid parent-blame. It is not the job of parents to
teach children how to read.''
(Prof. Pamela Snow)
Why do wealthy kids usually do better in school than poor kids?
Why poor kids are more likely to be poor readers (and what we
can do about it)
Answer: London Bridge is falling down