UKLA 'Literacy', Vol. 42 No. 2

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chew8
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UKLA 'Literacy', Vol. 42 No. 2

Post by chew8 » Thu Jul 24, 2008 8:21 am

Yesterday I received the latest issue of 'Literacy', published by the UKLA. There are a couple of good articles on the 'simple view of reading'.

One rather different article that set me thinking was by Judy Lever-Chain: 'Turning boys off? Listening to what five-year-olds say about reading'. She argues that a 'skills-based approach to reading often ignores the crucial motivational elements that make a real reader and that the formality associated with this approach may be damaging reading attitudes in the youngest children in our reception classes'. The way she assessed their attitudes was by showing them pictures of children involved in various reading or non-reading activities and getting them to rate the activities as enjoyable or otherwise by using stickers with smily faces or non-smily faces. Two things that struck me, however, were 1. that the research was done in 1998-9 (i.e. in the very early days of the NLS) and 2. that all the reading activities shown in the pictures, without exception, involved BOOK-reading - children looking at books on their own or in pairs or in groups, or listening to a teacher reading from a book, or sharing books with parents, grandparents or other adults. So any negative attitudes that the children had were surely about early BOOK-reading rather than about the sort of phonics that is now being recommended.

I felt that it would be very interesting to do a similar study in 2008, replacing some of the book-reading pictures with pictures of children working with LETTERS (e.g. on magnetic boards) or reading single decodable words (i.e. decodable on the basis of what is now recommended for Reception). My hunch is that they would rate this much more positively. If so, one could argue that the real turn-off is being expected to read books without the necessary decoding skills, whereas learning about letters, sounds and decoding is something that children enjoy.

At one point, Lever-Chain quotes Michael Rosen as saying that 'There are many ways in which people learn how to read; the idea that there is one way is an outrageous fib'. Do we take it, then, that once Rosen himself, as a writer, has ideas in his head for a story or a poem, he gets the words down on paper in some way other than by applying alphabetic code knowledge?

Jenny C.

kenm
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Re: UKLA 'Literacy', Vol. 42 No. 2

Post by kenm » Thu Jul 24, 2008 8:15 pm

chew8 wrote:[...]At one point, Lever-Chain quotes Michael Rosen as saying that 'There are many ways in which people learn how to read; the idea that there is one way is an outrageous fib'. Do we take it, then, that once Rosen himself, as a writer, has ideas in his head for a story or a poem, he gets the words down on paper in some way other than by applying alphabetic code knowledge?
I think there are several ways in which people learn how to read. However, there is only one way in which they read fluently, which the lucky ones will get however reading is presented, and a lot of ways of teaching reading that fail with the unlucky ones .
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

chew8
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Post by chew8 » Fri Jul 25, 2008 1:35 pm

I should probably have given more of the quotation. What Lever-Chain says is this:

'...Michael Rosen, the current Children's Laureate, echoes the views of many of his colleagues in his passionate and controversial call for a broader approach to learning to read: "We must, must have at the heart of learning to read the pleasure that is reading. Otherwise, why bother? You could learn phonics, learn how to read and then put it behind you and watch telly - you're given no reason to read. There are many ways in which people learn how to read; the idea that there is one way is an outrageous fib".'

Lever-Chain is invoking Rosen in support of her view that we need a 'broader approach to learning to read' - presumably 'mixed methods' rather than the 'skills-based approach' which she says is 'widespread'. Rosen's own words, as quoted, suggest that 'phonics' is about learning how to read but that it regularly produces children who put reading behind them and watch telly instead - i.e. children who don't enjoy reading.

The irony, however, is that the period when Lever-Chain collected her data means that what she calls a 'skills-based approach' must be at best a 'searchlights' type of approach. Her subjects were boys entering Year 1 in Sept. 1998 and Sept. 1999: as the NLS was introduced only in Sept. 1998, her 1998 batch of subjects would have had pre-NLS teaching (overwhelmingly whole-language) - the 1999 batch might have had some searchlights-type teaching, but this would again have been multi-cueing of a largely whole-language type.

The searchlights/multicueing approach almost inevitably implies that children are expected to read books from the start, and the way Lever-Chain assessed her subjects' attitudes to reading was absolutely consistent with this - all 16 pictures of reading activities show book-reading. Many people will think that what she has proved is that early phonics teaching is a turn-off for children, whereas if it has proved anything it's that the multi-cueing approach is a turn-off - and isn't this pretty well exactly the 'broader' approach that Lever-Chain, Rosen and others favour?

Jenny C.

elsy
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Post by elsy » Fri Jul 25, 2008 2:23 pm

We must, must have at the heart of learning to read the pleasure that is reading. Otherwise, why bother?
I think the non-readers at the start of 'Can't read, can't write' might well supply reasons to bother. One that stuck with me was the satisfaction the lady felt on being able to read packets in the supermarket. Ok, being able to read packets may not be pleasurable in itself but it's what is opened up by being able to read anything at all that counts.

I began my work as a TA in 1998 in Y1. As far as I can tell (from what my own child did there and from speaking to teachers since), more systematic phonics was done before that using Letterland and BBC Words and Pictures, but there was never a link between the phonics children were learning and the texts they were expected to read. They had used 'real' books for a long while and scheme books were only just being introduced for the poorest readers.

kenm
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Post by kenm » Fri Jul 25, 2008 3:31 pm

"We must, must have at the heart of learning to read the pleasure that is reading. Otherwise, why bother?"
To be able to read the instructions on medical containers may be a life-saver. To put it another way, how many elderly and infirm illiterates take all their medications at the right time and in the right quantities?

Rosen is being elitist and unrealistic.
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

chew8
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Post by chew8 » Fri Jul 25, 2008 5:42 pm

I agree that Rosen under-estimates the importance of what we might call 'purely functional' reading - e.g. reading the labels in the supermarket and the instructions on medicines. I have always felt that even if reading were taught really well and all children could read quite competently, there would be a fair number who would not choose to do it much for pleasure and would prefer to do other things. I don't see that as a problem, but I do see an inability to read supermarket labels etc. as a serious problem. There's something badly wrong if people are so obsessed with the idea of getting all children reading books for pleasure that they leave some children unable to read at all.

Jenny C.

g.carter
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Post by g.carter » Fri Jul 25, 2008 6:08 pm

Very good points.

The irony is that with the demolishing of skills-based teaching, where appropriate, and failure to teach grammar, languages etc. schools went into free-fall in the 80s resulting in a very perscriptive regime. Unless there's a confident person at the top of a school, books, book reading, drama, poetry, music, art lose out. SATs exams together with concern for bad position in the league tables, confused and conflicting advice from Ofsted, literacy advisers and INSET providers and exhausted teachers have all left their toll. Were the elitist people who appear heedless of those at the bottom of the pile to understand why it is the right for all children to learn to read they might see that laying firm foundations can act as a catalyst for freeing up the curriculum and freeing schools from excessive bureaucracy.

But as Ruth Miskin said at the Channel 4 discussion group for Can't Read, Can't Write the government hasn't even got a simple test to show whether children have got these foundations. So until the DCSF tackles this matter and at least provides support for those Institutes prepared to give their students a good foundation in synthetic phonics massive division is here to stay.

MonaMMcNee
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Beadle

Post by MonaMMcNee » Tue Jul 29, 2008 10:04 am

If Phil Beadle had worked through my "Step by Step" with one adult, he would not be floudering about trying to find many ways to teach reading and spelling.
I am pleased that someone on this thread has brought in the word "satisfaction". You may rad books for pleasure, but there is a SATISFACTION in being able to read signs: "Stop" "Wigan" "Liverpool".
This myth of many different ways is taking the eye off the main concern, the very beginnings. I weed a flowerbed, not exactly pleasure, but at the end I feel SATISFACTION that cannot be achieved any other way.
I offered a free copy of "Step" to 20 of you and none have requested it. I am puzzled by this.

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