Monday, 19 November 2007

Learning to read

The current labour government is criticising the Tory party for their pronouncement that testing should ensure all children have learnt to read to an acceptable basic standard by the age of six or seven. There is of course the utterly correct supposition that not all kids thrive on testing. But the really big point I am finding difficult to get past is: Six is so very bloody old to learn to read, let alone seven!
I'll happily admit that this may come across as idealist snobbery, but children should should be reading a round about three or four. I personally think that teachers should be expecting that all kids should arrive at school with reading as a skill. Now I don't think that this needs to be an empty politicians promise, it surely would save money to catch those that need extra help reading early and give them a little help before they arrive at school behind. I would like to see the statistics on how many children learn to read by when and any research on why. I would like to know if my knee-jerk reaction that there is a significant cadre of children who arrive at school without having had any proper guidance in reading is correct. I say guidance rather than "being taught" because there is a big body of evidence that suggests children don't benefit from early formal learning (this is the line that the teaching unions are using) but my personal experience is that children want to learn to read, they want to be in the club of deciphering those enigmatic runes. The problem is it takes time and effort, reading stories, sounding out words, playing with phonetics, being willing to spend the time and effort all day every day to help the children in your life to do that sounding out and answer the questions. This is why I may go looking for research in this area, to see how many hours each week an ordinary parent spends helping their child to read and how many parents in this day and age have the extended family or support network of friends to give their ankle-biters the best start in life.
Recently many conversations I have had with new acquaintances have been about the contrasts between the old concept of right and left and how the political compass gives the whole thing another dimension, well this is an issue I am firmly in the authoritarian camp on, the state should do its utmost to ensure parents are kept in line and help their children to read, with any learning difficulties identified early and appropriate assistance rendered. Any parent deliberately not engaging with encouraging this most fundamental of skills, far more so than understanding science or mathematics as hugely valuable as they are as building blocks, is tantamount to child abuse and should lead to the same amount of scrutiny from social services.

8 comments:

Joe Otten said...

I hear that on much of the continent they don't bother teaching reading until about 6, and the children then surpass ours very quickly.

It may have something to do with English spelling, which is ripe for reform IMHO.

Anonymous said...

B can't read - and she is almost 4. She recognises letters, loves stories and books - but she can't read. We are probably bad parents :)

Tony Kennick said...

unfortunatly I can't do the looking up of research on the internet I wanted to do until I escape the jury suite. Might bring my laptop tomorrow.
So I can't say how realistic having a level of reading for every child before school is.

Anonymous said...

Well - I guess I'll have to let you off then :)

Also it depends on what you define 'reading' as - letter recognition - basic phonics - short words - several short words - sentance recognition [I'm not an expert in primary edu :) ]

I would *love* B to learn to read, but as we do the nursery thing 3 days a week - at the mo - we tend to follow the curriculum they set and re-inforce that at home.

I'm very much against 'testing' - by all means collect indicative data to show... but testing *shudder*

Anonymous said...

I could read (to, say, a Famous Five level) before I went to primary school. I could read Ladybird books about dinosaurs (including all the long classicalist names) before I went to nursery. By age seven, I was onto the Hobbit and Day of the Triffids.

However my mum was a qualified primary school teacher who had a complete set of textbooks from see-spot-run upwards, and she dedicated a significant amount of time to forcing a grumpy toddler to do work. I'm not sure I could do the same for my putative children.

R.

Anonymous said...

Our kids have been in nursery from age 4 months - so very little chance of being able to read before that! :D

Anonymous said...

Our kids have been in nursery from age 4 months - so very little chance of being able to read before that! :D

Louise said...

I teach in primary education and am personally very worried about the levels of children's reading skills. When I taught reception class (the year after nursery) only 2 out of my 30 children were able to 'read' by word recognition and sound-blending. Very few children in the class knew their alphabet, so it meant that I was starting teaching at a very basic level. (The government do not take this into account when they tell you the levels expected by certain ages!)
Some children in my class had never held a book before, so had to be taught how to hold a book, turn the pages etc.
On leaving my reception class and moving to Year 1, all children could recognise their letter sounds (alphabet) and about half were able to read simple books with some fluency. The remainder of the children varied from being able to blend the sounds together to make words and a small percentage who still failed to grasp this concept and relied upon telling the story through pictures. Some of these children were then highlighted as having special needs.
I feel that ideally all children entering school should recognise letters and know the corresponding sound. This would give a firm foundation for building upon in terms of reading and writing. This means time spent at home which many parents simply don't seem to have (or some feel it's not their job!)
It has a knock-on effect through school as we are expected to teach specific skills at specific ages, and if the early skills are lacking, then this means the new skills are lost on a large number of children. As teachers we are foced to move on so quickly and the poorer children are often left behind.
I became very fed up of parents coming to school to complain about a lack of progress by their children, when they spent no time with their children at home. They saw it as a teacher's job to ensure their children read fluently. We can only do so much and parents need to take responsibility.
I feel it important that children should develop a love of books and I would find lots of times throughout the day to share story books with my class. I think I probably read about five on average through the course of a day. Management frowned upon this as a waste of time, but I stood by it. I know a lot of teachers caved under pressure and were lucky if they shared a book once every few days.
Seems that people want results quickly these days but don't want to put in the effort to get there.