|Guest Post - Rob Randel|
Does #CfW Leave Reading to Chance? (Part 1)
As we edge ever closer to implementing Curriculum for Wales, are we fully aware of what early reading instruction should look like in our schools? Are current approaches used in schools aligned with the science of reading? Are all teachers trained in the science of reading?
With regards to reading and spelling, Curriculum for Wales is a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the ugly. For example, these LLC descriptions of learning are particularly problematic:
1. "I am beginning to discriminate phonemes aurally in different positions."
Having children do this aurally without including the letter(s) (grapheme) that represents the sound (phoneme) is completely illogical and unhelpful. Our invented writing system is based on how the individual sounds are represented by letters. It isn't necessary to discriminate between individual phonemes in speech unless the word is going to be written down or read. The problem with this statement is that schools may delay introducing letters based on this unnecessary statement. Introducing children to the phonemes and their corresponding grapheme right from the start is logical; it is less abstract; and helps them to understand how our writing system works from the beginning.
2. "I can use units of sound of varying sizes to learn to read."
This is incorrect. The only unit of sound needed to begin early reading and writing is the phoneme. Our invented writing system works by having the individual phonemes represented using an alphabetic code. Children do not learn to recognise phonemes by first beginning with larger sound units such as syllables or onset and rime. Our writing system is not based on these larger units.
3. "I am beginning to recognise and read high-frequency words."
This needs to be clarified. Children should not learn high-frequency words as whole or 'sight' words. Teaching words as a whole is problematic and can be detrimental for some children learning to read. High-frequency words are not a special list of words that need to be memorised. They occur more frequently, but they all follow the same decodable logic of our writing system and children should be taught to segment and blend all through the word to read them.
4. "I can use a range of strategies to read with increasing fluency."
This is a concern as 'range of strategies' gives schools remit to use multi-cueing approaches which encourage children to guess words based on the picture, context, or just the initial letter sound. Again, this is not how our writing system works. With this approach children pick up poor reading habits that are very difficult to correct later on when they struggle to read and write at the level required to access their secondary school curriculums.
Wales needs to ensure that Systematic Synthetic Phonics is taught well in our schools. Curriculum for Wales falls short in guaranteeing this approach and we continue to leave children's learning to read to chance. We have no idea about what methods are being used to teach reading across our schools, and we have no idea about the decoding abilities of our pupils. Internationally we are seeing changes: New South Wales, South Australia, and Tasmania are all mandating the teaching of Systematic Synthetic Phonics and introducing a Phonics Screening Check to make sure all children benefit from the best, evidence-informed approaches for learning how to read. What is preventing Wales from embracing this too?
In 2008, the National Behaviour and Attendance Review's core recommendation 1 was, "The Welsh Assembly Government should, through implementing the revised curriculum and assessment arrangements from September 2008 in schools in Wales, provide a clear lead that no child (within the mainstream ability range) should leave primary school without the functional ability to read and write."
13 years later and we are still waiting for that clear lead from Welsh Government and our Education Ministers past and present. We still have children leaving primary school unable to read. Welsh Government rejected the main findings of the Rose Review (Independent review of the teaching of early reading) in 2006 and this continues to be at the detriment of our pupils today.
Wales is already 15 years too late in ensuring that Systematic Synthetic Phonics is taught in all our primary schools and that we have a reliable way of assessing which schools are doing it well.
There needs to be urgency on this: children have one shot at going through the school system, and reading is the most important thing we need to get right.