Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

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john walker
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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by john walker » Wed May 18, 2011 9:12 pm

Jenny, my apologies to you. I know that you know what we're saying because, from previous discussions, I know you've read the report. I was in a bit of a hurry and fired off a quick reply. Your logic is impeccable!
Frankly, I don't know whether the fact that this 18.6% ([1607 divided by 299] X 100) was intellectually ready or not. As you know, the average age of pupils at the end of YR is about 5.3/5.4, so just over 80% percent of the sample scoring at or above 5.11 is pretty good. However, from an intellectual standpoint, by which I'd be inclined to be thinking about conceptual understanding, I really don't know. Do some pupils function at a procedural level (i.e. they perform functions mechanically) for some time before they achieve cognitive understanding. (I'm also thinking about numeracy here.) How long does it take to achieve a complete cognitive understanding? I suspect that testing skills, factual (i.e. code) knowledge, and conceptual understanding (how the code works) and matching those elements with a standardised test is too problematical to enable us to draw any firm conclusions.
What I would honestly expect is that, in any population, a certain percentage will be defined, in test terms, as slow starters. And, even if we redefine the norms, we'll still have something of a Bell curve and a group of learners designated by the test as on one end of the spectrum. As Diane McGuinness once commented, this isn't necessarily pathology!
So, how would I locate the not-ready-to-start pupils? Well, retrospectively would be my first response - because they haven't appeared to have learnt what was being taught. Trained teaching practitioners teaching phonics would have a very good idea who these children were from very early on in the first term of YR. This is because, having been trained, they have a quite different expectation from those practitioners who teach an eclectic mix (which more often than not collapses back into whole language). I also answer to the lobby that says one should wait until they are ready, by saying that instruction drives development. There are limits to this of course. For example, it's not good trying to teach historical concepts when children don't understand simple time frames. That said, in the main, most pupils, by YR age, are, at that point in their development, mature enough or their functions are 'ripe' enough to respond to an apprenticeship model of learning: the teacher models the desired behaviour; the pupils are invited to participate - 'what the child is able to do in collaboration today s/he will be able to do independently tomorrow' Vygotsky); and, finally, pupils are able to function on their own.
This process is far too complex to be able to impose strict categorical boundaries on and to declare that a child is or is not ready to learn. A degree of pragmatism is required and the teaching practitioner will be factoring in a wide variety of other aspects.
That doesn't mean I won't nail my colours to the mast. In a classroom led by an experienced practitioner who teaches (in this case) our programme with fidelity, I would expect as few as two, or three at most, pupils to make a reasonable start. Those that don't are usually immediately identifiable as children who have very low mental ages when they enter YR, come from linguistically impoverished backgrounds, or have physical or psychological problems that inhibit their learning.
Interestingly, by the end of Y1, the 299 have shrunk (now aged 6.3/6.4) to 43 still not hitting the 5.11 benchmark. This has to be seen as some achievement. I'm sure you'll say yes but the group as a whole is now only eleven months ahead (as opposed to the 14.8 in YR). That's true but, from a spelling perspective the code is now much more complicated - and we're still talking about spelling here, so there's a big difference between being able to spell 'mat' and being able to spell 'soup'. (Which kind of 'oo' spelling do we require here?)
By the time we get to the end of Y2, only nine percent of the sample is scoring more than six months below their chronological age, a figure well within the range of test norms. Neither have we hidden behind averages: in minute detail, the stats are there for all to see - Dave Philpot, now retired from S-W, did a very honest job of this.
I don't claim that we've solved the problem. In fact, what I'm saying is Rumsfeldian: I don't know what we don't know. I suspect that whatever we, as a collective, do in terms of improving our practice and in the process re-norming the tests, we'll still have a group that leaves us scratching our heads asking why they're still on the wrong end of the spectrum.
John Walker
Sounds-Write
www.sounds-write.co.uk
http://literacyblog.blogspot.com

chew8
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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by chew8 » Thu May 19, 2011 8:15 am

Thanks, John.

Your feeling that there may be two or three in a Reception class who appear not to have 'learnt what they have been taught' tallies with my experience of working voluntarily with such a class. As I said in the opening message in this thread, 'I've found that however hard I work on sounding out and blending, there are some children who go right through Reception without catching on'.

As I also said, though, the régime was less than ideal: for one thing I started working with the children only in January and only for a few minutes every second week on the whole, though when I realised that three out of the thirty were not catching on I started trying to see those three every week if possible; for another thing, although I used only decodable books with them, the school continued to give them non-decodables for home reading and to encourage guessing from pictures. Nevertheless, other children were catching on to what I was teaching them, whereas these three weren't. They did catch on early in Year 1, but I'll probably never know whether they'd have 'got it' earlier if what the school had been doing had been more consistent with what I was doing.

I'm hoping to continue working with this class in Year 2, and I may be able to follow at least one of the three slow-to-start children right through Key Stage 2, as she will probably move on to the KS2 school where I also help. This will be fascinating.

Jenny C.

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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by JAC » Thu May 19, 2011 8:34 am

Jenny, at my school, where I am part-time, the teacher gave the strugglers those predictables on the days I was not there, with predictable results. :cry:
I seem to have resolved it to some extent by calling my decodables the 'sounding out books", so guessing has dropped off with the decodables and we are back on track with learning to blend. Out of the 9 Y1 children , one is already a fluent reader, one could already blend quite well. 7 could not. We do not have any systematic reading or spelling instruction, all very whole language. The only phonemic instruction is through the daily reading with the BRI books, and writing, usually with an adult close at hand to help. Nevertheless they can all now blend, some a lot faster and smoother than others. We got a new child from another school this week who had no idea how to blend at all. This is after 3 months in Y1. All the children have had a full time year in the equivalent of YR, which is not compulsory here so many schools do not begin reading instruction until Y1, and the typical instruction would resemble what was commonplace in UK before the Rose Report.

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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by john walker » Thu May 19, 2011 9:22 am

As an afterthought: when I piloted the S-W prog. at St Thomas Aquinas, there was a reception child who was quite obviously to all simply not ready to take part. She would sit on the teacher's knee and watch the other children taking part in the lessons until she got bored and wandered off to play in the sand pit or whatever. This went on for most of the two terms until the end of the summer. When she entered Y1, she suddenly started to participate and made quite good strides in catching up a bit. Now, I won't pretend that this child will ever go to university and get a degree (although who knows). The school gave her lots of support and she's now coping reasonably adequately with a secondary curriculum because she can read and write.
I can't prove this, but the experience would seem to chime with the research that is now taking place on what happens in the brain when someone merely watches an activity being performed. Apparently the neurons in areas of the brain that are active in the person actually physically executing the movements are also active in the onlooker. If this is indeed the case, then pupils who are not 'ready' because they are too immature may well benefit from sitting (seemingly) passively looking on. This may account for the child in question suddenly being able to take part in the phonics activities.
John Walker
Sounds-Write
www.sounds-write.co.uk
http://literacyblog.blogspot.com

chew8
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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by chew8 » Thu May 19, 2011 9:46 am

Very interesting, John

Re your message, JAC: at the junior school where I help, we have had a new boy in Y3 in the past month who is a virtual non-reader.

By contrast, my daughter has just 'phoned to say that my grandson, aged 17 months, has just picked up the letter 'm' from a set of foam letters that stick on to the side of the bath and said /m/! We began showing him 'p' a little while ago when he started, off his own bat, popping his lips in a /p/ sound, but he didn't really show obvious signs of associating the letter-shape with the sound. More recently we added /m/ at random. I was lookng after him on Monday and had taken him to a playground where letters of the alphabet are printed on the ground. I asked him 'Where's /m/?' and he went and pointed to 'm', but I wasn't sure that it wasn't by chance. What has happened this morning, however, suggests that he does now recognise the 'm' shape and associate it with the /m/ sound.

Jenny C.

JIM CURRAN
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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by JIM CURRAN » Thu May 19, 2011 10:17 am

This has been a very interesting and informative thread. Thank you to Jenny for initiating it and thank you to Debbie, John and Annie for their responses. This sort of information is invaluable.

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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by JIM CURRAN » Thu May 19, 2011 12:18 pm

Sorry Jac, I meant to include your name in the above list.

Elizabeth
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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by Elizabeth » Thu May 19, 2011 3:03 pm

A few years ago, I worked for one summer term voluntarily at a local school. Nearly every day, for 45 minutes, I took a group of 6 children from the reception class, so they were nearly 5 or 5 years old. The class had been taught using Jolly Phonics for two terms, but I didn’t find out how rigorously they had been taught. The children in the group had been chosen because they could not read simple words independently. I found that they knew some letter-sound correspondences, but not as many as they should have by this stage, and that none of them could blend sounds independently.

At each session, we worked on blending sounds to read words (as well as other aspects of reading, writing, speaking and listening). After about ten weeks, all the children could read simple words by blending sounds. What is more, they were very proud that they could read words, so it’s good for self-esteem to get going with extra help early.

I do believe, from this and from other experience, that it is vital that children who are slow to start are given intensive regular practice. I’ve spoken to teachers who have told me about children have been taught phonics for around two years, but just can’t get it. When I’ve asked them if these children were given practice in blending every day for the past year, they admit they don’t know or don’t think so.

This doesn’t prove that it can be done with all children and I’m ready to believe there are some who have more extreme difficulty. However, it has made me think that it is likely that most five year olds can learn to read words by blending sounds, if they are given enough practice.
Elizabeth

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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by Hammered » Mon May 30, 2011 11:26 am

Sorry to wade into this discussion a bit late, must be half term :-)

I just wanted to add my experiences in to the previous posters. I am a Reception teacher in a single form entry school and I teach SP from day one, using decodable resources from the start. I would echo others' experiences in saying we tend to have 1/2 children each year who struggle with blending. We also have the problem that we have had 3 points of entry over the year so that some children only enter in January or even April in to class. That means that often the summer borns, who can be the most immature, have the least exposure to SP teaching. It will be interesting to see next year when they all arrive in September instead.

We have never had a child who joined in September leave unable to blend, but do have summer borns who have been in since Christmas still struggling. Invariably these are the 'young' children who take longest to settle into school and have shortest attention spans. We have interventions for them in Y1/2 to develop their blending skills. Only once has a child joined Y2 unable to blend.

As mentioned in another thread it is memory and fluency which are often the bigger concerns for me even in Reception. I have 5 children who are receiving daily support for this - they can blend but not remember the word the next time. This is the first time we have given such intensive support in this area and the most progress our weakest readers have made.

For me this emphasises the importance of cumulative vocabulary in reading books for the majority of children when they start reading. As much as l like many of the new phonic reading schemes, there often isn't a chance for the weaker readers to keep meeting the same words regularly enough to become fluent.

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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by JIM CURRAN » Mon May 30, 2011 12:18 pm

Hammered wrote : "For me this emphasises the importance of cumulative vocabulary in reading books for the majority of children when they start reading. As much as l like many of the new phonic reading schemes, there often isn't a chance for the weaker readers to keep meeting the same words regularly enough to become fluent."

That's an interesting criticism Phil.

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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by Elizabeth » Mon May 30, 2011 1:12 pm

I agree.

If a child is able to decode the words in a book, but sounds and blends many words out loud, including words that have appeared before in the book, I ask the child to read it again, sometime a few times, not straight away - possibly to a parent, then to me again and then again to me or/and parents a few weeks later. Reading it again a few weeks later can be good for self-esteem, because by then the 'old' book is much easier to read than more recent ones.

BRI stories are excellent for providing very small steps and lots of repetition for children like this.
Elizabeth

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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by maizie » Mon May 30, 2011 2:17 pm

Elizabeth wrote:For me this emphasises the importance of cumulative vocabulary in reading books for the majority of children when they start reading. As much as l like many of the new phonic reading schemes, there often isn't a chance for the weaker readers to keep meeting the same words regularly enough to become fluent.
I thought that was interesting ,too.

On the other hand, I have worked with one or two children who, in KS3, still need to decode words such as 'and' and 'the', which they must have read hundreds of times. I think that in these cases there is something significant going on which no-one can explain, or seems to to think needs explaining. Yet these are the children I find have the most difficulties.

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palisadesk
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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by palisadesk » Mon May 30, 2011 7:34 pm

maizie wrote:

On the other hand, I have worked with one or two children who, in KS3, still need to decode words such as 'and' and 'the', which they must have read hundreds of times. I think that in these cases there is something significant going on which no-one can explain, or seems to to think needs explaining. Yet these are the children I find have the most difficulties.

There was a study done in the 1960’s (replicated at least twice IIRC) , with control and experimental groups, which included students ranging from average and above to those with fairly severe intellectual disabilities. The study measured how much repetition it took for individual children to learn paired associations (GPC’s) on the one hand, and how many repetitions it took for them to learn words to automaticity so that they no longer needed to be “sounded out.”

The results were sobering. The general range is familiar to most of us, I’m sure – some children learn GPC’s or sight words or other paired associations with a single or very few repetitions; more commonly, the range is between 25-50, with several hundred being not rare. However, the most extreme cases (and these did not correlate closely with intellectual disability – IQ was not a reliable predictor of who would readily master paired associations quickly, although there is some correlation) required more than eleven thousand repetitions before the item in question became “automatic” and readily retrieved from memory.

Yikes.

I heard about one of these studies early in my teaching career (have since tried to find a hard copy, but the journals in question have been out of print for decades), and it stuck in my mind. There was a “good news” side to it: those students who required 11 000 reps for the first items to be learned showed a learning curve that roughly approximated a factor of 2: the next items taught required half as many repetitions, and so on till the number gradually resembled, if not a “normal” pattern, at least a workable number – in the hundreds or dozens, not thousands. For the challenged learners, additional practice was provided and I believe (may be wrong on exact details) that learners were encouraged to set aims and given incentives to meet their improved targets.

The take-away, for me, was that every student could learn the required material given enough time and practice – both massed practice, and distributed practice. For the most challenged kids, they will simply not get enough of this practice “in context,” and they must be provided with opportunities (engaging and fun if possible) to practice these skills discretely to get to that point of automaticity and easy retrieval.

Providing that time and practice during school hours may not always be feasible under current conditions. I’m not sure what the answer is in such cases, when family or afterschool programs or tutoring cannot pick up the slack. I’ve had very few students over the years who needed thousands of repetitions to learn their first correspondences, but I have some now, and the amount of practice they can get in one period daily at school is simply totally inadequate. The study’s results suggested that getting over that first hurdle, so that the learning curve started to kick in, is critical.

Susan S.

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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by Hammered » Wed Jun 01, 2011 5:13 pm

That's really interesting Susan. I agree 'in context' would not be enough for these children and discrete teaching needs to take place. I have found that to be the case this year, but obviously not to the extent mentioned in the study.

I had two children really struggling with fluency despite being able to blend, who we put on a daily programme to recognise words automatically. It was slow going to start, but a term later they came off the programme as they were starting to not need the support and could sound out and remember new words with much less practice (i.e. in reading books).

The interesting question is why? Did it help them to pick up the concept of reading words as units? Was there some kind of memory training occurring? I find it interesting that remembering words got so much easier for them so quickly. Whichever, I believe these are the children most susceptible to finding reading hard at this early stage, even more so you could argue if phonics is used as opposed to teaching 'sight words' (at least initially). If these children fail to make the step from sounding out to fluency, they will struggle to progress or resort to guessing. Models of reading comprehension would also suggest so much mental energy is needed for decoding, that these children would also struggle to be competent comprehenders.

Phil

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Re: Children who are slow to catch on in Reception

Post by maizie » Wed Jun 01, 2011 5:20 pm

Hammered wrote: Models of reading comprehension would also suggest so much mental energy is needed for decoding, that these children would also struggle to be competent comprehenders.
But are these models correct? Is the concept of a limited capacity resource available for decoding/comprehension, in which too much attention to one takes capacity from the other, actually a valid one? I have very slow decoders who comprehend instantly and perfectly.

I think your daily practice model is excellent. If you don't use it you lose it and these children lose it extremely fast. The only way forward I can ever see for them is automatisation...(is there such a word :?: )

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