TES letter: ''Why the Year 1 phonics check must stay''

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Susan Godsland
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TES letter: ''Why the Year 1 phonics check must stay''

Post by Susan Godsland » Wed Jul 30, 2014 4:49 pm

Thank you to all those who signed the following open letter to Nicky Morgan.

If you would have liked to have signed the letter but we didn't get round to asking you, sorry, but you can add your name now on this thread :)

http://news.tes.co.uk/b/opinion/2014/07 ... ay-39.aspx

A group of leading teachers, educationalists and campaigners, including the Reading Reform Committee, writes:
Dear secretary of state:

The recent open letter from "a coalition of leading educationalists" calls for the Year 1 phonics screening check to be abolished. We strongly disagree.

We believe the check is helping to remedy a situation which is longstanding and unsatisfactory. Too many children struggle with reading and writing because phonics has been under-emphasised. They have been led to believe that they should learn many words as unanalysed wholes or guess them using cues from pictures or context – strategies which fail as texts become harder.

We agree that readers sometimes need context in order to know, for example, whether “row” rhymes with “cow” or with “crow”, but such words are infrequent in normal text and good readers use context to supplement letter-sound knowledge, not as a substitute for it. If “row”-type words occurred in the check, either pronunciation would surely be accepted. But have many occurred so far?

Surveys conducted by the United Kingdom Literacy Association and the National Association for the Teaching of English may suggest that the check is undermining the confidence of good readers, but experienced teachers of decoding do not find this, or that their pupils often turn pseudowords into real words, such as “proom” into “groom”.

The “leading educationalists” are also concerned about evidence from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) that many schools are now giving children practice in reading pseudowords. The NFER report does not say that this is happening at the expense of practice in decoding real unfamiliar words, however.

We agree that teachers should not spend a lot of time on pseudowords, but some limited practice can help children to be confident about tackling unfamiliar words in their reading of texts. Moreover, researchers recognise the value of pseudowords for assessment purposes, and the check is an assessment tool.

It is claimed the phonics check “is negatively impacting on how reading is taught”. Since it was introduced in 2012, however, results have improved not only in the check itself but also in the national key stage 1 assessment of comprehension and writing (not isolated word reading) completed a year later. This does not seem like evidence of a negative impact.

It is claimed, too, that “teachers of early reading can assess whether 6-year-olds can ‘decode’ in a few seconds, at no extra cost, by listening to them read aloud from an appropriate text”. This kind of assessment is also important, but it surely takes more than a few seconds and there are no agreed criteria for what is appropriate in terms of unfamiliarity and difficulty.

We support the Year 1 phonics check, the provision of extra help for children who do not reach the threshold and the re-check for those children in Year 2.

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