http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-netw ... ading-list
Sue Cowley's blog piece has now hit the media with admiration it seems.
Questioning phonics teaching
One of the best blog posts I read this week on teaching methods was from author and trainer Sue Cowley.
The piece begins with her setting the record straight for anyone who thinks she is anti-phonics:
"I refuse to let anyone label me as a 'phonics denier'. For the avoidance of doubt: Phonics is a very effective method for teaching the majority of children to decode written language and all teachers should know how to use it properly.
"However, I do have concerns and questions about the current policy of mandatory systematic synthetic phonics. I refuse to be silenced in expressing these concerns and questions, no matter how vociferous my critics."
She then goes through her argument in detail, sparking each point with quotes ranging from Mahatma Gandhi to John McCarthy.
It's a thorough piece that raises lots of questions and food for thought.
What strikes me as truly extraordinary and distinctly lacking in logic and humanity (but not unsurprising considering the history of the reading debate) is that all these begrudging blog posters and journalists choose to write from the point of view that the government is so wrong to strongly promote the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics for beginners (that is, the alphabetic code of our language comprehensively and the phonics skills required for reading and spelling) instead of taking the opposite tack which is to say 'about time' that governments promoted something which 'of course' beginners should be taught well and 'how could it be' that teachers were not 'always' expected to teach the alphabetic code and phonics skills required for our written language.
So, what is it that truly bothers them?
They now ALL seem to say they are in agreement with phonics teaching. Well, thank goodness for that although it's truly hard to get that impression is it not!
But they ALL seem to say they don't agree with the government promotion or expectation that teachers should teach SSP.
And they ALL seem to be saying that some children should not be taught phonics if it doesn't suit them in some way or if they struggle with phonics they must need 'something else' (but it's the SAME alphabetic code they need to know for their lifelong reading and spelling skills).
It is a very, very rare beginner who seemingly has a gift to lift any and all words off the page with total ease and who can ALSO spell well with a photographic memory of word-by-word.
And if a learner is a struggler
of one description or another, then that learner still needs to have the knowledge and tools to be able to lift the words off the page in large numbers - including words not known in oral vocabulary - all the more reason to teach the code and skills well.
So, the indignation of the detractors is somewhat multifold but appears largely to be based on:
Not wanting government to tell them what to do.
Not wanting government to tell the teaching profession what should be taught in beginners' classrooms (and let's not forget that the teaching profession abandoned phonics altogether through various approaches - or minimised phonics to a great degree - even demonised phonics in some cases - we had to lobby long and hard to get phonics on the agenda).
Not wanting to think that they, or teachers, got it wrong previously to have to be told, more or less, what they should teach - or how they should teach it - and equally for the lecturers in our universities who promoted (and still do in many cases) methods which research HAS shown damages at least some children in their reading capacity when this amounts to a lot of guessing the words.
And let's not forget that the phonics battle continues throughout the English-speaking countries so still needs strong lobbyists to draw attention to this fact.
And very worryingly but often painfully obvious, is the people who make the biggest fuss in the media about the 'imposition' (as they call it) of phonics provision frequently show their very limited knowledge of the alphabetic code and how it is possible to unpick it and teach it very well for virtually ALL the children.
When you consider much of what they write DESPITE their protest that they DO agree with phonics teaching, you don't really get that impression - and it seems apparent that what they think children receive should be a pick-and-mix approach dependent on the individual teachers' views and experiences of what they think works (perhaps influenced by the training they have received and the trainers' views - or indeed their lack of training) - and perhaps what they have always provided in their
classrooms, or for their
children - or that children need different approaches because of their individuality.
And so incensed are all these adults about these various issues, instead of being so very pleased that our young children are now being supported by government to get the best possible education in the alphabetic code and phonics skills (the code of our language) - in the form of teacher-education and financial support - that they go to extraordinary lengths to discredit the prevailing research and classroom practice.
And then when a simple word-reading check is introduced, instead of thinking what a GOOD IDEA to help us evaluate the effectiveness of infant teaching and learning within our individual settings and compared to other settings across the country in different circumstances, and what a GOOD IDEA to use some simple nonsense words so that the children are more likely to be on a level playing field as the words are more likely to be new to all of them - they attack the 'imposition' of the check and the thinking behind the check making a huge BIG DEAL about the use of nonsense words.
And yet surely ANY dedicated infant teacher or any other educationalist WOULD WANT TO KNOW whether they are being a really effective teacher in something so fundamentally important - that children can lift the words off the page relatively readily to SET THEM UP for lifelong technical reading skills.
It all rather beggars belief doesn't it.