Once again reading experts are questioning the way many of our children are taught reading.Pamela Snow, associate Professor of Psychology at Monash University and Speech Pathologist Alison Clarke say that the way we teach most children to read sets them up to fail. They explain why in a recent article in theconversation.com.
A decade has now passed since the 2005 Australian National Enquiry into Teaching of Literacy recommended that the whole language method of teaching reading be replaced by a phonics approach. In that time nothing has changed.
Key points from their article include:
- There are two main schools of thought about how to teach children to read and write, one focused on meaning (whole language) and one focused on word structure (phonics).
- There is convincing evidence that the phonics approach works best.
- The whole language approach seems to work when children start school and they learn to guess or memorise words without sounding them out (as in the phonics approach).
- But by year three they can start to fail as the words that they need to learn become more complex.
- Children who don’t learn to read and spell are much more likely to drop out of school early, be unemployed, suffer ill health and get on the wrong side of the law.
- Children who can’t read much by age nine are in serious trouble. By then, teachers expect them to have finished learning to read and to start seriously reading to learn.
- Few teachers are trained to systematically teach phonics, which can be viewed by university academics as old-fashioned, reactionary and teacher-centred.
- The Reading Recovery program, about 80% whole language and 20% phonics, often fails to provide the boost struggling readers need.
- The vast majority of children will only learn to read and spell when teachers are equipped with the best available methods, based on the evidence.
What can you do if you have students who are struggling to learn to read?
Firstly, if you are a parent, understand that your child’s teachers are doing the best they can with what they have been taught at university.
Secondly, it seems that how reading is taught is not about to change soon. Despite the recommendations from the Australian government’s 2005 National Enquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, teacher training in universities still largely focusses on whole language.
One option is to consider the Fast ForWord programs which intensively develop not only phonics, but all the other skills necessary for reading success.