Why Are Children Still Guessing and Not Decoding?

Reports are coming back from schools that despite Synthetic Phonics being taught in Reception classes, many children are failing to learn to decode.  This has been reflected in the results of the Y1 Phonics Check with 58% reading 32 out of 40 words correctly.  Why is this happening?

Here are some possible reasons:

1.       Not enough experience and practice of ‘blending’

Teachers are teaching children to recognise the graphemes.  Children are learning the Phonic Code.  But do they know what to do with this knowledge?  The underlying skill they need is ‘blending’.  Are children being taught to blend?  Do teachers know how to teach children to blend sounds into words?

2.       Books that are not decodable

Children need to practise using the phonic knowledge and skills they have been taught.  Initially, the best way to do this is by providing them with exercises in the form of texts which are decodable.  If the teacher offers the child a text that is not decodable , she/he is encouraging  the child to guess.  How else can the child access the text?  Are children being offered decodable texts to practice their reading skills?

3.       Pace is too fast

Is the pace of teaching matched to the children?  If the pace is too fast some children will not retain what has been taught.  The fundamental building blocks of reading are essential.  Gaps that are created will need to be revisited and filled in.  It is better to work at a slower, steadier pace, building the child’s confidence at each stage.

4.       Not enough practice at each stage

Is enough practice included in the programme so that the new knowledge can be internalised and absorbed?

5.       Inadequate teacher training

Good teacher training would solve all the above.  Have we invested enough in teacher training?   Are our teachers confident and skilled in teaching the most important life skill a child needs to learn in school?

Tami Reis-Frankfort – Author of the Phonic Books series

What is the Difference Between a ‘Reluctant Reader’ and a ‘Struggling Reader’?

One often hears the term ‘reluctant reader’ and ‘struggling reader’.  Is there a difference between these terms?

A reluctant reader is a child who is reluctant to read books.  He/she can be an able reader who is switched off from reading for a variety of reasons: boredom or disinterest in the reading materials offered, poor attention span, and a general disinterest in the medium of books and the benefits of reading. These pupils do not read for pleasure.  Many reluctant readers do not see reading as a ‘cool’ activity in this day and age of visual stimulation of TV, video games and You Tube.

Do we need to worry about reluctant readers?  Yes, we do.  If children stop reading once they can read, this can have a detrimental impact on their education.  Pupils who are not exposed to texts with increasing richness in vocabulary and grammatical sentence structures, will not develop their receptive and expressive language beyond the limited language used in conversation.  Limited language then limits comprehension. This can impact their access to more difficult and demanding texts throughout their education. Limited comprehension can become a barrier to future learning in any subject they may wish to pursue.  Limited vocabulary also limits their ability to articulate thoughts and ideas in speech and in writing.  Also, pupils who are not repeatedly exposed to print are often poor spellers.

What to do?  It is up to the teachers to try to engage these pupils in reading which is relevant to their interests, through a variety of genres.  Many new reading books include non fiction literature with fantastic illustrations and the internet offers a huge mine of texts that can capture the imagination of young people.

 A struggling reader is a child who experiences difficulty learning to read.  This may be due to: speech and language problems, specific learning difficulties, English as a second language acquired at a later age, poor reading instruction when they were learning to read or a combination of the above.  Many struggling readers are also reluctant readers because they find it difficult, fear failure and are aware that they are falling behind their peers.  Many of these pupils experience low self esteem.

What to do? These pupils need a highly structured phonics reading programme to ensure that the missing gaps in phonic knowledge and skills are filled.  Then they need lots of reading practice at each level to develop reading fluency and confidence. It is important that at every stage struggling readers are offered age-appropriate reading materials so that their self esteem grows with their reading progress.