Recommended links for student teachers X
The failure to teach phonics directly, systematically and as the
sole decoding strategy in the early years of primary school, has had
serious, long-term consequences for vast numbers of students.
Secondary teacher Heather Fearn explains, ''Reading failure is endemic. I
would estimate that about a third of my A level students have noticeable
issues with word level reading that significantly impact upon their progress
in history at A level..At secondary school we should be giving students more
complex texts to build their vocabularies and reading stamina. However, the
research is pretty clear about when difficulties need to be identified if
children are to overcome them – way back in year 1. The research is also
pretty clear about what it is that struggling readers lack – a grasp of the
alphabetic principle that they are able to apply fluently when reading.''
Reading failure? What reading failure?
When students struggle with word decoding, their comprehension also suffers.
As Professor Keith Stanovich pointed out in his chapter on the Matthew
Effects, Romance and Reality; ''When [phonological decoding]
processes demand too much cognitive capacity, fewer cognitive resources are
left to allocate to higher-level processes of integration and
comprehension'' (Stanovich.Progress in Understanding
E. D. Hirsch: ''One way we overcome this limitation
of working memory while reading is by learning how to make a rapid,
automatic deployment of underlying reading processes so that they become
fast and unconscious, leaving the conscious mind (i.e., the working memory)
free to think about what a text means. This is why fast and accurate
decoding is important. Experiments show that a child who can sound out
nonsense words quickly and accurately has mastered the decoding process and
is on the road to freeing up her working memory to concentrate on
comprehension of meaning''
The goal of synthetic phonics instruction: overt, conscious phonics decoding -> fluent, subconscious phonics decoding = mental energy freed for comprehension.
Key Stage 2 (KS2) National Curriculum Tests (commonly known as SATs) are
taken in the last year of primary education and the results are used by
secondary schools as a guide to students' ability and academic potential on
entry. SATs ‘Levels’, previously used to report children’s attainment and progress,
changed in 2016.
The new SATs explained here:
at the end of Key Stage 2 was measured in Levels - Level 4c being the
expected standard for pupils in their final year of primary school. In the
new tests, the expected standard is measured completely differently. The
expected level is set at 100, but scores can range between 80 and 120''
The reading element of the English KS2 SAT is a comprehension
test and this can give a misleading impression of a student's actual reading
ability. Reading ability is based on two major, essential, interacting but different components: phonics decoding ability x language comprehension (pre-existing knowledge and vocabulary).
X ''If a student
leaves [primary or] secondary school unable to read it is the school’s
X 5 things every new (secondary) teacher should
know about reading
Every year a significant percentage of children start secondary school with, at best, the reading skills of an average seven-year-old**. ''At the age of 14, 63% of white working-class (a euphemism since most of them are jobless like Bulldog) and more than half of the black Caribbean boys have a reading age of seven or less'' (Harriet Sergeant.Fixing Broken Britain) Few will receive anything in the way of evidence-based remedial teaching at this stage of their education even though, ''Ensuring that as many children as possible are able to 'read to learn' is not a responsibility that ends when children leave primary school'' (Rose 2009 p108). ''Research demonstrates that less than half of ‘poor readers’ (reading age under 8) are identified on secondary SEN registers – with the result that they fall further behind and leave school functionally illiterate, having received no help''(Mary Meredith.blog 30/10/14)
Journalist Harriet Sergeant says, ''I have spent the past nine months
interviewing youngsters who are now on the streets or in and out of prison
because no one taught them to read and write between the crucial ages of
five and seven. And no one, in seven subsequent years of education (most
dropped out of school at around 14) addressed the problem. One young man
explained: “For my first two years of secondary school, I was in the top
sets for maths and science, but rubbish at everything else because of my
lack of literacy. That kills you in every subject. Even in maths you need to
read the question'' (Sunday Times. 08/02/09)
Secondary English teachers are very unlikely to have received training in teaching the essential phonics decoding component of reading. English teacher David Didau observes, ''As long as kids pick [decoding] up in Year 1 or 2, they’ll be fine. Problems arise if they arrive a secondary school without being able to do this with much facility as most of us secondary trained English teachers lack the training or time to do much about it'' (http://learningspy.co.uk/2012/02/29/the-teaching-of-reading/)
Mr.Bunker wishes he'd received some positive and practical synthetic phonics training as part of his secondary English PGCE course in 2011: ''Despite being an English teacher, I consider my knowledge of phonics teaching to be incredibly poor. We didn’t actually learn about it at Uni, we were just made aware that teaching reading through phonics completely undermines the nature of ‘meaning’. We read a lot about this as well – a lot of Literature supporting the same point. Yes, we knew a lot about why Synthetic Phonics was wrong, without really being told what it was or how it is used in Primary Schools'' https://mrbunkeredu.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/things-i-wish-theyd-told-me/
English teacher and author Phil Beadle once won a Teacher of the Year
award, but he is, ''..a very angry man, because he knows that the teaching profession is letting down countless numbers of children. He knows that he was never trained how to help children who couldn’t read in secondary school. Just give them a word puzzle and sit them in the corner. Send them off to the special needs rooms to fill in more word puzzles. Send them to the restart room or sin bin when they kick off. Oh, and give them a word puzzle. Not my job to teach them how to read, that’s what primaries are for. This used to be the same attitude in primaries where junior teachers were concerned. If they haven’t learned in the infants they must be special needs or it's their parents fault'' (Shadwell.Teaching: the fourth factor)
When a secondary school lacks staff with expertise in teaching basic
literacy skills, students with reading difficulties will often be set to
work on computers with 'remedial phonics' software installed. Using a
computer as a tutor is, as Dr.Philip MacMillan explains, unlikely to help them. ''Computers are fine for practice but if your students have still not acquired facility with phonological analysis and synthesis by age 11/12 then you might be better off using a competent adult who can direct attention to the articulatory process and how it relates to reading.
It will also help establish connections between letters and sounds if writing (by hand) is a part of the process. The kinaesthetic activity involved in writing integrates visual, oral and aural activities, keyboarding is less effective as it uses a different part of the brain and is less fine grained. In those with significant difficulties learning is best mediated by another more competent human being as a large component of learning involves social processes..We all lip read when listening to speech if the face is visible and in circumstances where there is ambiguity in the incoming speech signal lip reading will assist with extracting the sounds. In those with undeveloped phonological analysis, for whatever reason, there needs to be as many sources of input as possible, a disembodied voice will provide less information than a human face visible to the listener. I have yet to meet a computer that can respond to the mood state of the individual and attempt to alter it, a perceptive human will do just this and amend how they respond accordingly'' (EP. P.MacMillan SENCo forum 8/2/13)
If your child is already at the secondary stage it will be
more difficult to undo the damage from faulty or missing reading instruction. ''Older poor readers have the same basic problems as younger
poor readers and need to learn the same skills. Their problems,
however, are complicated by years of frustration and failure'' (Hall/Moats p213) They suffer from 'The Matthew Effect', from the biblical verse
in St. Matthew 25:29: "For unto every one that hath shall
be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath
not shall be taken away even that which he hath", which
can be summarized as, "The rich get richer, and the poor
get poorer." Early development of reading skills leads to faster rates
of skill improvement with the result that the disparity between
more skilled and less skilled readers widens over time.
X What are these Matthew Effects in reading?
Ignore anyone who suggests that children have been ''phonicked up to the
eyeballs'' by the time they enter secondary school and therefore, if they
are still struggling to read, they need ''something completely different as phonics hasn't worked''.
Most primary schools are still using mixed methods in the classroom and non-systematic, multi-cueing
programmes for intervention - see primary school options
X Gordon Askew writes about the role of phonics in 'catch up'.
Don't rely on a school-based or independent 'specialist dyslexia teacher' to get your teenager reading effectively either. The majority of dyslexia specialists are trained, solely, in programmes which use the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach. For many decades OG was the leading remedial reading intervention with far more phonics content than would have been encountered in the average classroom, and for that it should be given credit. Unfortunately, it remains mired in the theories and beliefs from the time it was first devised, early in the 20th century.
The OG programmes have failed to incorporate the best of recent, research-based practice or eliminated content which is now known to be unnecessary, ineffective and possibly detrimental- see 'What not to do'.
Phil Beadle taught a class of illiterate adults for the Channel 4 TV programme series, 'Can't Read Can't Write', using a self-devised phonics programme. He is scathing about the government's adult literacy provision; “At present, the provision for people who can’t read at all is a series of activities for the mentally deficient; they say it’s all about balance. Speaking and listening doesn’t help you decode the building blocks. They don’t need speaking and listening. They need the code. These people have huge barriers to overcome just to get to the class. The Entry 1 materials [*example below] are designed for people who can only read a tiny bit. In the first module, phonics appears on page 14 and teaches the “sh” sound. It appears 16 times before they reach that point. The materials are illogical and incompetent. A proper Adult Literacy programme desperately needs to be written, and made statutory, but the adult literacy ‘professionals’, and I use this in inverted commas, have too much invested in it, to admit that well-taught phonics is the answer; and that they have been swallowing and producing b*llsh*t for their whole adult lives” (RRF newsletter 61)
On the subject of adult literacy, the Director of the National Literacy Trust (NLT) wrote,
''…there are still 15% of adults at or below entry level 3 (the equivalent of the level expected in the National Curriculum of 11 year olds). Worryingly, the number with entry level 1 (the equivalent of the National Curriculum’s 5-7 year old) has grown slightly between 2003 and 2011, from 3.4% to 5%. The research estimates this group to be 1.7 million.. “Low hanging fruit” is an ugly term, but the statistics do suggest that the approaches of the last decade have been successful in improving the literacy skills of adults who have already mastered the basics, whilst not impacting significantly on the 1 in 6 for whom the issues are more complex''
Tricia Millar is creator of 'That Reading Thing', a linguistic phonics intervention programme for older students. She responded to the NLT Director's message of despair, saying,''In the past 10 years I’ve met a few older strugglers who will always find decoding difficult due to a learning difficulty. However, many of those '1 in 6', with or without a diagnosed learning difficulty, simply don’t know that the squiggles on the page represent the sounds that we say out loud. Instead, they have memorised loads of little words by sight and they guess (badly) at the longer content words'' (TRT blog 12.11)
The almost universal assumption that older teenagers and adults would find phonics-based literacy classes 'babyish' and boring was tested back in 2008. A small project, using synthetic phonics with adults, was set up by the National Research and Development Council for Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC) because, as they acknowledged,
''the research base for knowing how to improve the teaching of adult literacy is markedly deficient'' (Burton et al intro.) Despite the fact that the project was done with small groups, rather than one-to-one, and the DfE's programme for the Foundation Stage (4-7yr.olds), Letters and Sounds, was used, due to the lack of a government-produced synthetic phonics programme for adults (see Resources for commercial programmes suitable for adults), synthetic phonics proved to be a huge success with teachers and learners alike. ''The learners (mainly Entry 1-3) made significant progress in reading comprehension and spelling'', and ''This progress was achieved in a very short time (on average..between five and six sessions)'' (Burton et al p9)
Educational psychologist and secondary SEN teacher Jim Curran says, ''As far as using a synthetic phonics approach to teach older weak readers is concerned it’s the best system that I have used in over thirty five years of teaching. It’s not a magic bullet but before I discovered this method I was lost and so were the children I tried to help. The magic of synthetic phonics is not just that it teaches the children to read but equally important it empowers teachers and gives them a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, things can be different for these children'' (RRF message board 10/21/09).
Down to practicalities:
if you are the desperate parent or teacher of a teenager struggling with reading and spelling
and you want to
do something effective about it (assuming that
the teenager is willing), first assess
their ability to accurately decode pseudo-words and their alphabet code knowledge -use the
free tests here (scroll down). The vast majority of poor readers
have big gaps in their knowledge of the alphabet
code, especially the advanced code. In addition, struggling readers are prone to guessing whilst reading, using a mixture of inefficient strategies. These unhelpful strategies are the result of past teaching methods (see- mixed methods) and need to be replaced by a phonic-based, left to right, all-through-the-word decoding reflex. An intensive,
remedial programme given one-to-one, which rapidly and systematically teaches the English Alphabet Code, along with decoding and encoding skills, is likely to
be necessary. You may decide to take this on yourself: use
a programme suitable for older children/teenagers from Resources. If the task seems overwhelming then a specialist reading
tutor who uses an advanced synthetic/linguistic phonics intervention programme could be the answer
- see Choosing a remedial tutor. Even when students have achieved adequate levels of code knowledge and phonics skills, work on fluency and language comprehension (vocabulary) may need to continue.
On Reading: ''The great scandal continues, and our multi-billion pound education system continues to churn out tens of thousands of students every year who cannot read or write adequately. What the educators and the sponsors, by and large, do not seem to understand is what it is like to be fourteen and unable to read''
X How can we increase a secondary pupil's vocabulary?
7 Misconceptions About Teaching Adolescents to Read
X I haven’t got my glasses: the adult
**Dec. 2010: One in 11 boys in England - one in seven in some areas - starts secondary school with, at best, the reading skills of an average seven-year-old.
Stanovich: Romance and Reality extracts
Hempenstall: Vocabulary/Oral Language/Comprehension: Some research findings.
''E D Hirsch describes how several recent studies have conclusively shown
that background knowledge is the number one factor in reading ability,
trumping academic ability and IQ in pupils, and complexity in texts''
Willingham: Decoding, knowledge and reading comprehension.
Report: Using Phonics International as an intervention in a secondary school.
Why phonics for adults?
What are these Matthew Effects in reading?
Hempenstall -Older students' reading problems
*Independently produced 'scheme of work' to support the government's Adult Literacy Entry level 1. curriculum :-(
Jim Curran's conference talk on using synthetic phonics at secondary level.
“Wasted Lives” - Jim Curran
A view of Education in Northern Ireland
A new study proposes to show how phonics can help adults too.
Sept. 2011. Ten years and £9bn later and still 5 million can't read
23% of 16-18 year olds, 17% of 19-24 year olds are at the
lowest level of literacy (L1 or below)
Fixing broken Britain
X Literacy and behaviour
WASTED: The betrayal of white working class and black Caribbean boys. READ IT and weep.
Many secondary school textbooks have been simplified in terms of text complexity to make them more accessible for struggling decoders.