Recommended links for student teachers
and NQTs X
The failure to ensure that all children in early primary are taught from the
outset to use
the sole mechanism for decoding print, rather
than multi-cue word-guessing, has had
serious long-term, negative consequences for vast numbers of secondary
students. This includes many who are articulate and academically able,
scoring above the
expected standard in the 'end of primary' Reading
test. Secondary teacher (now Ofsted HMI) 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.''
(underline added. Heather Fearn)
Heather Fearn: Reading failure? What reading failure?
''It's my observation that too many of the top students who ace
every benchmark and state test can't handle multisyllabic words. The issue
of illiteracy in secondary school flies so under the radar and that must
Part 1. Jacqui Moller-Butcher's
important findings regarding ‘look-alike reading’ in KS3:
''The sheer extent of guess-reading and the number of students reading
aloud at sub 150 wpm was a shock to us when we introduced 1:1 testing in
September – for us it’s nearly 30% of our KS3 students''
Part 2. The harmful legacy of
multi-cueing and its evolution into look-alike reading – a secondary school
''The multi-cueing strategy which may seem to work very nicely, quickly
building self-esteem in Year 1 or 2 or even 3, where comparatively little
vocabulary is needed to read age-appropriate books, where sentences are
largely simple and short, and where pictures abound, creates a harmful
legacy for over a third of students in our school, and has a devastating
impact on their secondary school experience, an experience that is extremely
difficult to navigate as a struggling reader.''
''Most high school students rarely read aloud so get labelled as
having 'comprehension problems' when, really, they don't know how to decode''
(Tricia Millar. TRT author)
''As a HS principal we tested all freshman [England.Y10] to note
30% reading at a 2nd/3rd grade level & one
student reading at pre primary level. I hired an elementary reading
specialist who focused on phonics, decoding, word patterns and etc. We
witnessed rapid success''
(underline added. Veronica Trujillo Kunschik. USA. Twitter)
The KS2 Reading SAT, taken in the final term of primary school, tests
English language comprehension (general knowlege). A primary
SENCo pointed out that both the old (pre-2016, SATs were graded using
levels) and the new Reading SATs, ''focus heavily on vocabulary knowledge and
inference, not accurate word reading''.
''What our data shows us is that the SAT reading level is in reality no
reliable indicator of reading ability. In other words, transferring to
secondary school at the expected level 4b [now a
of 100] does not mean that you are a competent reader''. Furthermore,
''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)
''In the same way that we need to be able to walk before we can run,
we need to be accurate before we can become fluent.''
''The DfE estimate that 20% of children leave primary school unable to
fluently decode and are, therefore, unable to access an academic curriculum.
But because almost no schools measure reading fluency, they have no idea
whether students are capable of being academically successful.''
(underline added. David Didau)
“A student cannot understand a text that he cannot accurately
decode.” (Liana Loewus. Education Week)
Statistics in this paper show the lack of phonics decoding /
ability in US pupils, grades 1-10.
''Yet, poor reading achievement in the
United States continues to be a persistent problem. Numerous
research findings have suggested that too few children are
acquiring the decoding and fluent reading skills necessary to
become competent readers. We propose that one reason for these
poor outcomes is the preponderance of initial reading programs
that fail to provide students with adequate phonics knowledge''
In Australia, ''At the start of , 17,000 ญญ12- and
13-year-olds walked into high school classrooms all across
the country unable to read even at a minimal level. They
achieved scores below the minimum standard in the Year 7
National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy reading
test. A further 35,000 students achieved only the minimum
standard, in which they can barely find basic information in
simple written text''
Jennifer Buckingham. The Australian. May 23rd 2020)
''A teacher trainer in Australia was telling me the
other day that his secondary cohort were amazed to go back
and find that many of their students couldn't segment and
blend CVCC, CCVC and CCVCC words, such as 'mist', 'stop' and
'grand'' (John Walker.Twitter
Every year a significant percentage of children start at one of
England's state secondary schools with, at best, the reading skills of an average seven-year-old**. ''At the age of 14, 63% of white working-class
boys (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 an evidence-based phonics
intervention 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).
**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.
Michaela Community School (http://mcsbrent.co.uk/)
is a state secondary free school in Wembley (an area of high
deprivation), London. In 2017 it received its first Ofsted inspection and
was awarded 'Outstanding' in every category. About a third of their pupils
start in Y7 with reading ages below chronological age, some by 4 or 5 years. By Y9 not a single
child reads below their chronological age. This remarkable turnaround is
achieved by the combination of a synthetic phonics intervention (Ruth
Miskin's Fresh Start), lots of reading in class (for example: each science
lesson, pupils encounter over 1,000 words of scientific prose pitched to
GCSE, A Level and beyond), and the least able readers stay for 30 minutes
after school every day for
Reading Club. The SENCo does not use the dyslexia label,
saying that it is unscientific and reduces potential.
Michaela school's SENCo describes in detail how the school gets all of
its pupils reading at or above chronological age by Y9:
you have your reading age results, get all the pupils with a reading age
below their chronological age to do a decoding test''
''If students do not leave school reading well, it is not because of
their genes, their social and economic background, or the 'bell curve'; it
is because we, the teaching profession, have failed to deliver''
(Murphy. Thinking Reading p30)
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''
English teacher and author Phil Beadle once won a Teacher of the Year
award. 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)
''There is often an expectation in secondary schools that if
students haven't learned to read well by the time they begin Year 7, it's
probably indicative of a lack of ability, or a disability'' (Murphy. Thinking Reading p72)
''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''
(Harriet Sergeant. Sunday Times. 08/02/09)
''The secondary curriculum isn't made up of high frequency words.
A year 8 who can't decode, even one with a decent sight vocabulary, is
likely to flounder'' (Tricia Millar. Twitter)
When a secondary school lacks staff with expertise in teaching phonics
decoding, students with word decoding and spelling difficulties may be set to
work on computers with 'remedial phonics' software installed (see Resources:
Room 101). Using a
computer as a phonics 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
phonics 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.
Disregard anyone (or any *organisation) who suggests that
children will have been ''phonicked up to the eyeballs'' by the time they
enter secondary school and therefore, if they are still struggling to decode
and spell, they ''need something completely different (from synthetic
phonics)''. Most primary schools are still teaching children to use a range
of multi-cue word-guessing strategies for decoding (NFER
2013. DfE 2018) outside their daily phonics lesson,
and in any intervention.
* For example: the government funded EEF advises that,
''For older readers who are still struggling to develop reading skills,
phonics approaches may be less successful than other approaches such as
Reading comprehension strategies and Meta-cognition and self-regulation. The
difference may indicate that children aged 10 or above who have not
succeeded using phonics approaches previously require a different
''Isn’t it shocking that anyone in the teaching profession has
the misguided notion that ‘phonics doesn’t work for some children’. What
else do they think will ‘work’?'' (Debbie
*Greg Ashman examines the EEF's claim above re. older readers. He asks,
''Can age tell us what kind of reading instruction a child needs?''...
''This seems to assume that older struggling readers have previously been
exposed to a high quality systematic phonics program. I don’t think we can
assume that at all...these two different sources perhaps demonstrate the
emergence of a worrying fallacy that age is a guide to what kind of reading
instruction a child needs. This is false. As ever, the instruction a child
needs is determined by an assessment of what they know and can do now''
''Phonics is the
only game in town''
Down to practicalities: if you are the desperate parent, carer or teacher
of a teenager struggling with decoding 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, their alphabet code knowledge
and spelling -use the
free tests here (scroll down). The vast
majority of poor readers of all ages have big gaps in their knowledge of the
alphabet code, especially the advanced code, and struggle with reading and
spelling multi-syllable words. 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 approaches and need to be replaced by a phonics
only, left to right, all-through-the-word decoding reflex. An intensive,
remedial programme 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 phonics
tutor who uses an advanced synthetic/linguistic phonics intervention programme could be the answer
- see Choosing a remedial tutor.
Older Teens and Adults:
Back in 2008, 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,
with advice from 'dyslexia' and primary reading specialists. He was scathing about the government's
then 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 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” (RRF newsletter 61)
''Don't teach adults as if they are babies, with wooden letters.
This is dark ages dyslexic teaching'' (Debbie
**2019. The Education and Training Foundation now offers 'proper' Adult
Post-16 Entry Level Phonics Approaches
for improving spelling and basic reading
The almost universal assumption that older teenagers and adults would find phonics-based literacy classes
'infantile' 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' 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 phonics programme for KS1, was used (see Resources for programmes,
and training 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)
''Phonics isn't just baby stuff'' (Debbie
X The Bridge Over the Reading Gap
Dianne Murphy answers questions on 'dyslexia' &
other labels, phonics & decoding, training for secondary teachers, & Reading
X ''If a student
leaves secondary school unable to read it is the school’s
X 5 things every new (secondary) teacher should
know about reading
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''
Why can’t children read… Dickens?
X Phonics at secondary school is not just for
intervention: How to help secondary pupils with reading and writing complex words:
X 7 Misconceptions About Teaching Adolescents to Read
I haven’t got my glasses: the adult
Why phonics for older teens and adults?
Phonics for adult
functional skills. Six pitfalls and how to avoid them
23% of 16-18 year olds and 17% of 19-24 year olds are
at the lowest levels (Entry Levels 1-3 -> Level 1) of literacy: Entry Level 1
= NC 5-7 yr.olds. Entry Level 3 = NC 11 yr.olds. Level 1 =GCSE grades D to G
WASTED: The betrayal of white working class and black Caribbean boys. READ IT and weep.