It has taken me a while to answer Debbie's email with her 'food for thoughts'
My comments here are just 'food for thought':
1) I suggest that a diet of only simple three letter, three sound words from the outset is not necessarily the best thing for children and such a restriction can lead to texts which are more stilted than they need to be.
Children who come from literate homes, who have had plenty of story input sitting on Mum or Dad’s knee, do not necessarily need to start at CVC level. One of my daughters was a fluent reader at the age of 5 and would have rebelled at a diet of CVC! (I have come across teachers who would not accept where a child was at, and instead of letting the child forge ahead, try to stilt the child’s progress!).
Unfortunately, in the schools I have worked in, many of the children have not had stories read to them, have a poor understanding of books and literacy, and some also have poor visual memory. Of course, children in literate families can also have poor visual memory. I speak with experience, as I am one of those. Such children can only progress in small steps, do not make analogies when looking at words because of visual stress levels, and can only progress through small incremental steps, until the brain, bless it, does it automatically. (Learning to drive is another analogy where the brain eventually takes over).
So lucky are those who can look at words, see patterns, apply them unconsciously to other words and read fluently at an early age.
The structured books are written for the latter children, and not the former. And those children exist in every classroom. Addressed in the right way from the beginning, with books which are accessible and practise what they have been taught in the classroom gives meaning to the process of learning to read.
2) Not all programmes have followed the restrictions of word length/structure - only some. This may lead to some teachers being overly concerned about word length at the expense of more natural language. Some children find it easier to decode a longer word in their oral vocabulary than a shorter word which is obscure to them. I understand, however, that children need to be able to decode the obscure/unknown words too - but the point I am making is that 'longer' does not necessarily equate to 'harder' - and a diet which includes some longer words from the outset can help children to become fearless decoders. I have also seen children get stuck in the 'three beat' word level for both blending and segmenting (the latter skill becomes one where children are not rehearsed at segmenting words longer than three sounds so they have a tendency to segment any length word into three beats because of lack of experience of segmenting longer words).
In my teaching I would go from the simple to the complex. All those 8 plus year olds who cannot read, are stuck unable to decode the sounds of vowel digraphs, and stuck on how to break up a multi-syllable word. They have to be taught to do this, and no amount of oral blending and clapping syllables will do this. Clapping syllables will help with spelling, as they learn to spell a word syllable by syllable. With reading, they need to recognise where a syllable could possibly end, and another begin. Again some children can do this with no effort, others need very precise instruction and lots of practice.
As to sentence length, 5 year olds who are struggling balk at lots of print. Having a short story with short sentences helps them on their way to decoding print.
3) For books based on an order of introduction of letter/s-sound correspondences, the order should take precedence over the word length/structure.
I agree. These books are not written for those who do not need them.
They are a resource for those who need to learn in small sequential steps, following one order – and that is at the teacher’s discretion. Once the child has had practice word-building with specific letters, how great to have a little book where the child can put into practice what he/she has learnt.
I accept that some children learn to read by osmosis. A good teacher is one who can teach the child who struggles. The ‘osmosis’ children will get there mostly on their own.
4) I also cannnot understand publishers' hang-up over very precise word length per page and word count per book. Some children need shorter 'quick' books, other children need/love meatier books - even when they are beginners.
I believe that we need variety from which teachers can select. But how much easier for the teacher if that variety is sorted for easy access. I personally have to be very organized so that I can operate effectively.
quote]Perhaps decodable books need a very clear system of showing on the front cover 'which' letter/s-sound correspondences and any tricky words which are included. [/quote]
We do provide this information either on the cover or inside the front cover of our books.
Basically, I suggest that we need variety from which teachers can select.
I agree, but a teacher needs to understand that whereas some children can teach themselves to read by osmosis, others need very structured readers and clear instruction.
Perhaps any catalogue system needs to have a separate section for the cumulative, decodable type reading books?
Catalogues do present the decodable book type reading books, in their Special Needs sections. Unfortunately, this is seen as catch up books for children who are failing. But I believe if they were taught from the beginning with those ‘Some people think boring' little decodable books, with a progression selected by the school, so that teachers always knew exactly at what level the child was at, they might take longer than your average child, but they would get there by the time they left primary school. I only took off with reading at the end of my primary schooling, and never stopped reading after that. I am a slow reader, and a slow processor of information. I left school when I was 14 and did Open University in my 20s. I was not taught the way I could learn at school, and that is why I am so committed to teaching those kiddies who have been failed by the system of ‘real book’ teaching used to date. Not all children can get there by the end of year 1. This has to be recognised. A good progression, understood by all teachers in the school, and good record keeping that moves up with the child to the next teacher, would contribute towards a successful outcome.
Children with good visual memory, can progress with any old text, supermarket boxes, etc… etc…
Length of text per page, as mentioned before, is initially kept at a minimum because those who have experienced teaching children who have difficulty learning to read, know that the amount of text on the page, has an adverse effect on the effort they will put into reading. Those children for whom reading does not come naturally, find decoding text quite an exhausting process. Having a short text at a level that they can decode is extremely beneficial and rewarding.
I have had struggling readers look up at me with shining eyes and say,’I have read a whole book!’. These are the children who have been encouraged to take any book out of the book box and made no progress at all.
But this does not mean that books with more text per page are not equally valuable for those others who are shooting ahead. Those books exist and are out there for them already. They do not have to be ‘specially written books’.
Sadly, it is very difficult to write early books which are non-fiction, because many of the context words have vowel digraphs, or are multisyllable words. So yes, early readers tend to be story books, and not as motivating as books about cars, spiders and monsters. But once the code has been mastered, dinosaur cards make a great impact on reading skills, especially with multisyllable words!
Classroom teaching of the code occurs in a distracting environment, and not all children are able to pick up what is going on. Very simple little books can help those children understand what it is all about, learning about sounds in the context of games and reading.
When you say a
teacher needs a variety of books
, nobody could possibly deny such a truism. But I put it that many teachers do not understand ‘variety’ and the needs of individual children. I get many phone calls from desperate parents which confirm my point. I believe high flyers are well catered for. It is the others we need to worry about and for whom materials need to be provided at their level.