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E801: Week 1: Action 1.1: Politics of Teaching Reading

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Edited by Lynn Hunt, Tuesday, 5 Oct 2010, 16:37

Week 1: Activity 1.1 Politics of Teaching Reading

Soler, J. & Openshaw, R. (2009) ''To Be or Not to Be?': The Politics of Teaching Phonics in England and New Zealand' in Soler, J., Fletcher-Campbell, F. & Reid, G. (eds.) Understanding Difficulties in Literacy Development: Issues and Concepts, London, Sage.

'All initiatives related to teaching reading and early literacy arise from pressures, tensions and crises embedded in the particular national and regional contexts.' p.162

Key differences between early literacy instruction

The UK uses a method of synthetic phonics with prescribed and structured methods to teach children
New Zealand uses a whole language method
Synthetic phonics - children taught a few individual letter sounds and then blends before introduced to books

What has shaped and led to differences in viewpoints and practices?

<1990 No set national method for teaching reading but whole language/real book method favoured
1991 key tests results showed 28% 7yr olds could not read - crisis BUT only 5% teachers actually used method
1992 'Three Wise Men Report' - traditional methods/less diversity
Literacy teaching as regulation, performance, technical skill
1996 Back to basics drive inc. Phonics
1997 Literacy Task Force emphasised phonics (Searchlight method)
2002 Synthetic phonics advocated by OFSTED/Reading Reform Foundation
2006 Synthetic phonics advocated by Rose Report and structured teaching methods prescribed

Late 1960s-early 1970s Reading Recovery starts (based on whole language approach) said to be more suitable for indigenous population
Late 1970s unease over low attainment rates for Maoris
1976 Dept. Of Ed. invests in Reading Recovery
1989 NZ held up as example of high literacy standards from whole language approach
1989 Administrative change reinforces strength of RR
1993 Chamberlain said reading was big business - people visiting NZ to investigate success and buying books - persuaded people to ignore statistics
1995 Breach widening between research and teaching
1997 Report confirmed poor results; public concern
1998 Two reports recommend moving away from whole language; gov. ignores for political reasons
2004 Differences in ethnic achievements blamed on teacher expectation

The way history has influenced my practice and context

Local schools in the late 1980s used a whole books method where there were coloured stickers on the books to indicate which ones they could choose from in their 'free reading' hour. I could not see the logic in this as many of the children were bored in 'free reading' as they could not understand the books and my friends were investing in private tuition or teaching their children to read at home in the evenings. I loved the idea of children choosing their own books and reading what they liked but I was really concerned about the perception of failure that went with sitting for an hour with a book that you could not read. I investigated what was available and decided that 'look and say' was the way forward but I was not certain because of all the rhetoric in published papers and in the press. I decided to go with my instincts and trust the children.

From birth I read to my children and they made up stories to go with pictures in the books. When my eldest daughter was 3 years old, severely deaf with unclear speech which mainly consisted of nouns and a few verbs, I introduced her to the Ladybird series 'Peter and Jane'. She loved the first book and started reading rapidly by 'look and say' methods and her speech increased at the same rate. By books 3a/b she was still progressing rapidly but wanted to write these words too so I tentatively introduced phonics which she loved and this further speeded her reading progress. By the age of 4 she was reading fluently and loving Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton; by 5 years she had taught her 2 year old sister the basics of reading; and her reading age was assessed to be 15+ at the age of 7 years.

Her brother was clearly having sequencing and short term memory problems by the age of three. He loved books and making up stories but could not recognise words at all although he was desperate to read like his sisters. I introduced him to 'Letterland' which he immediately fell in love with and we spent years using not only the initial letter sounds but the blends etc. Once he had learnt to recognise the phonemes from the written graphemes, his reading progressed at speed. He still had short term memory problems but I never allowed him to struggle. If he could not work out a word, I told him immediately. I introduced him to audio books and continued to read to him and his sisters. His later diagnosis was that he was severely dyslexic but his assessor was amazed at his spoken vocabulary which was several years in advance of his age. He never went to school so most learning was done without much writing at all. He was later diagnosed with Asperger syndrome as well as the dyslexia which can complicate the situation in school. He got a C for English GCSE at 14 years old. He is now at university studying BSc Computer Networks and Security.

As all three children were not in school, they were not affected by government changes in literacy strategy. My eldest would have been initially taught by a whole books method; then some phonics added in. She is severely deaf and has Asperger syndrome. The mixture of methods would have caused her great stress and she would not have heard much of what was going on anyway. Her friend of the same age who went through the system was eventually taught at home for 6 months in order that her mother, a primary teacher, could teach her to read properly before she went to middle school.

History has affected my practice as it influenced me to home educate my children and taught me to trust their instincts as to what they needed at the time. I have also taught basic literacy skills to adults and those experiences have allowed me to trust them and go with their instincts. All the books say that adults should be given adult reading material to read but the 60 year old man I taught, wanted to read children's books as his aim was to read to his grandchild when they were born.


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