Exclusive teaching methods deny children a full opportunity to develop all necessary reading concepts and skills

Judith Williams, Specialist Teacher and Diagnostic Assessor DipSLD, BEd with distinction in practical teaching

July 23rd 2013 by Judith Williams, Specialist Teacher and Diagnostic Assessor DipSLD, BEd with distinction in practical teaching

Fundamentally, literacy is to provide meaning

I have read your new Reading Street Report with interest, and would like to offer these comments.

Firstly, having now become a Specialist Teacher/Diagnostic Assessor of all age groups, with a diploma in Specific Learning Difficulties, I must stress that what works with dyslexic children will work with all students, which helps in the inclusive system imposed upon modern teachers. Additionally, I spent more than thirty years as a classroom teacher and as such experienced the introduction of the National Curriculum and the National Literacy Strategy and various approaches to the teaching of reading.

My own experience, firmly supported by on-going research, tells me that a multi-sensory approach is the most effective. No single method of teaching reading and writing works for all children. To select ‘real reading’ or ‘phonics’ or ‘look and say’ as an exclusive teaching method would deny children a full opportunity to develop all the necessary literacy concepts and skills that lead into the development of higher reading ability necessary for the successful transition to secondary school.

The three areas of meaning, phonics, and fluency are not merely added together: they have a multiplying effect upon one another. Knowledge in one area interacts with and supports knowledge in other areas, making subsequent learning easier; and literacy, primarily, is to provide meaning. Whilst sympathising with over-stretched teachers having to teach synthetic phonics, I would suggest that this should not preclude the use of whole books like the hilarious Mr Gum, the endearing Owl that was Afraid of the Dark, the popular The Gruffalo and the classic Winnie-the-Pooh. Alliterative, amusing rhymes can be used to reinforce phonics and spellings, and most children love the repetitions and rhythms in the ‘hums’ of Pooh and in fairy tales. They also love the afternoon story.

At junior school level, one should not assume children are all proficient readers. When I was in the classroom, we used a period after afternoon registration for the children to read individually and for group reading of age-appropriate books upon which we would set one comprehension a week. Other teachers would set a creative writing topic based on one area of the curriculum termly, either science, history or English. The school, deemed outstanding by Ofsted, adopted a whole school policy in support of reading for pleasure. Children also kept home reading records.

In all this, I read with my own children until well after they began secondary school. But I must end with a note of caution, I emphasise I read with my children. They should never be placed in a testing situation as this actively discourages reading for pleasure. Children are tired when they come home – as are their parents. Fifteen minutes of shared reading a day is sufficient. Enjoy it!