Learning to read is one of the most crucial skills that a child will learn in his/her lifetime. We live in a speculative society in which proficient literacy abilities are embraced and are considered the key to success and academic achievement.
Growing up, I loved to read and it sort of came naturally as a skill for me. It was such a passion of mine and the perfect escape from reality. I can recall happy memories reading Black Beauty and the whole repertoire from Roald Dahl! The teaching of reading has changed and developed over the years yet there are still children out there who fail to pick up the basic skills and struggle with reading as a process. Why is this? Do some approaches work better than others and do different children learn in different ways? How can we better equip ourselves as teachers to help children overcome their reading struggles? Are some schemes more proficient in the teaching of reading? Do comment below!
Reading with / alongside / to children provides a plethora of opportunities for embedding the emergent literacy basics into the whole experience. We teach some skills implicitly as we enthusiastically model concepts of print, phonological awareness and making meaning from the words that we read. Speaking and listening is a big part of understanding texts, like writing. Quality discussion about characters and main events are so important and lead to enhanced comprehension skills. Like writing too, when children read and internalise an image, they create their own imaginary picture in their mind’s eye. For children with less experiences or poor vocabulary knowledge, this is much harder.
The teaching of reading requires a careful balance of various teaching strategies including a systematic approach to phonics. It is a common discussion point that phonic schemes should not be mixed yet I do not see the issue here as children are all different and some learn visually whereas some learn through aurally.
There are several approaches to teaching phonics:
Analytic phonics – Looks at whole words and then breaks them down into component parts, e.g. dog as d-og
Synthetic (systematic) phonics – Starts with individual letter sounds and some combined letter sounds to create or build up (segment and blend) the word, e.g. s-t-r-ee-t as street.
Whole-word Approach – Teaches children to read by sight and relies upon memorisation/familiarity techniques.
Success via one approach may suit one child yet, may inhibit another. High quality, rapid, early coverage of phonic knowledge and skills within those early years ensures that pupils have a robust foundation for decoding. I will focus on phonics teaching in a separate post as there is a lot to be said on this topic – I expect you agree.
Attention should be given to reading for purpose and pleasure and to introduce children to more challenging texts that they wouldn’t normally be exposed to as well as discreet focus on word reading skills. Selecting appropriate texts and choosing the best way to teach children to read depends on each individual.
Pie Corbett says:
“Great books build the imagination. The more we read aloud expressively, and the more children are able to savour, discuss and reinterpret literature through the arts, the more memorable the characters, places and events become, building an inner world.”
A school should invest in books and adult time to support reading. Teachers should be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about literature suitable for children so they can recommend and inspire their classes as well as individuals. So many schools now are part of a local English Hub where so many amazing training opportunities arise. Most audits and training is free so do make sure you look into this!
Another topical issue is book banding. Children should be able to read decodable books including words from the phonics planning that have been taught that a day/week. I was taught with Billy Blue Hat & friends! How about you? I believe that children need different types of books to read. I agree that they cannot learn to read with books that contain non-decodable words but that’s not to say that these books are band. When children are asked to read aloud books that are non-decodable, they often have to guess unknown words which then hinders and damages their development of positive reading habits.
So then. It is a positive whole-school ethos which puts reading at the heart of all you do that makes reading a success. Parents need to be on board! Reading should be a big priority for any school, not simply because of the prospect of good SATs results, but because all staff and parents want their children to become lifelong readers for pleasure. Get the phonics teaching nailed, and you will see the results in later years. Again, build those foundations at a child’s own pace and they will make those connections and will flourish at their own rate! Good phonics teaching will make sure that all children learn to read early, regardless of their background.
1) Schools should be determined that every pupil will learn to read, prioritising reading as a foundation for future learning, and enabling children to access the rest of the curriculum and avoid falling behind.
2) Particular attention will be paid to pupils who are reading below age-related expectations (the lowest 20%) to assess how well your school is teaching phonics and supporting all children to become confident, fluent readers. Inspectors will listen to several low-attaining pupils in Years 1 to 3 read from unseen books appropriate to their progress, drawing on information from your school’s reading policy, phonics assessments, phonics screening check results and lesson observations.
3) A sequential approach to the reading curriculum is expected; the sequence of reading books should demonstrate a cumulative progression in phonics knowledge, matched closely to your school’s phonics programme, followed by ongoing reading progress throughout KS2.
4) A mix of stories, poems, rhymes and non-fiction should be used to develop pupils’ vocabulary, language comprehension and continuing enjoyment of reading.
5) The ongoing assessment of pupils’ reading progress should be frequent and detailed so that it identifies any pupil who is falling behind. Any gaps should be addressed quickly and effectively, with targeted support.
Children need to read. They have a right to be taught to read. Their reading skills are vital to their growth as a person. Reading will not just give them greater access to future studies and academic success, but it will also improve how they how they interact with others and approach life itself. Reading broadens horizons and should not ever be a chore or obligation; it is a gift.
Please leave your thoughts on reading in the comments!