I have not attempted to give this issue a theme. If there is a theme, it is surely just the perennial RRF one of how best to teach reading and writing to young children.
Tom Burkard deals with the subject of spelling, which clearly goes hand in hand with reading. Many secondary-school teachers would surely agree with him that the emphasis on invented spelling has gone too far in primary schools. Perhaps, however, there is a happy medium: there may be RRF members who do, as his final paragraph suggests, allow some invented spelling at first but nevertheless find that their pupils go on to write accurately and perform very well in standardised spelling tests. Correspondence on this would be very welcome.
The article by Debbie Hepplewhite and Lesley Drake is based on many hours spent by these two stalwarts sifting through the new National Literacy Strategy ‘Playing with sounds’ materials. First indications were that the materials might be noticeably better than previous NLS publications – unfortunately, however, Debbie and Lesley found a good deal to criticise as they probed more deeply. Yet again we have to ask why the NLS team insists on trying to reinvent the phonics wheel when several published programmes seem to be producing better results than anything from the NLS. Playing with Sounds is in itself evidence that neither the original NLS materials (1998) nor Progression in Phonics (1999) did the phonics job particularly well. We have yet to see evidence that Playing with Sounds is based on more solid research evidence than its predecessors and will produce better results.
Mona McNee provides us with an interesting account of an interview with Dr Louisa Moats which was published on the internet. Dr Moats is a highly respected USA authority on the code-based teaching of reading, though her view that teaching reading to beginners is ‘rocket science’ may strike many UK synthetic phonics teachers as rather extreme – it is arguable that she, like a number of other reading theorists, regards certain linguistic technicalities as more relevant to teaching beginners to read than they really are.
Pauline Dixon’s article tells us about the introduction of Jolly Phonics in some schools in India and whets our appetite for the information about results which she and Prof. Tooley expect to be available early in 2005. It is good to have Pam Corbyn’s article from Australia . Teachers on the lookout for decodable texts may find it useful to investigate the Beginning Reading Instruction texts available from 3Rsplus, though as Pam’s example shows, the ‘ee’ digraph is introduced from the start and this will not mesh in perfectly with programmes which start with sounds represented by single letters.
The next issue of the Newsletter is planned for March 2005. Articles and letters (let’s have some of the latter, please!) can be snail-mailed to me at The Mount, Malt Hill, Egham, Surrey TW20 9PB, or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, preferably before mid-February.