Are student teachers missing out on skills that are essential to teach reading?
An article in Sydney's Daily Telegraph on 14 July, 2014 claims that student teachers in New South Wales are arriving in classrooms without the phonics skills needed to teach reading. The article says, “Schools principals and executives are aghast to find many student teachers favour methods of teaching such as whole language or drama – despite phonics being embedded in the curriculum”.
I don’t know if current teacher training includes sufficient phonics education to equip teachers for the vital job of teaching reading in the most effective way or whether new teachers are just not aware of the importance of phonics.
However, every year speech pathologists help many children who have struggled to learn to read in our schools. This would suggest that emphasis on “whole language” and neglect of phonics instruction is widespread and, as the Telegraph implies, could have happened because teacher training has not focussed on phonics for many years.
Children & teachers have been let down by the teacher training system
I am a speech pathologist who has specialised in remedial reading and literacy since 1991. We see the devastating impact on children and their families when a child struggles to learn to read at school.
All the elements of good reading including reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension start with students developing phonemic awareness.
Every day in my Sydney clinic we work with children who have been let down by the system.
Teachers do their best. They are dedicated, hardworking professionals who seek the best outcomes for their students. But they too have been let down by the system that trains our teachers.
National Enquiry into the Teaching of Literacy
Way back in 2005, the Commonwealth Government’s “National Enquiry into the Teaching of Literacy” recommended:
“…the use of a phonics-based teaching method – founded on proven and evidence-based strategies – to give students the best possible opportunity to learn to read and write in the early years of schooling.”
The Report cautioned against the exclusive use of the whole-language approach to the teaching of reading and found it to be:
“...not in the best interests of children, particularly those experiencing reading difficulties”.
The Report also recommended changes to teacher training to incorporate explicit phonics instruction in the teaching of reading.
Along with hundreds of others, I made a submission to the Enquiry. I detailed the limitations of whole language reading instruction for the children presenting in our clinic with reading difficulties.
The Daily Telegraph article highlights that, unfortunately, despite the findings of the Enquiry, teachers continue to teach in whole language, and we are seeing the results in a generation of Australians whose reading and literacy skills are below where they would have been if the Report’s recommendations had been implemented.