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Thank you

Posted: Mon Feb 01, 2016 10:11 pm
by StuartLock
I'm no reading expert, but I've immersed myself in the evidence over the last few years. As a result, we've taught our daughter to read at home and challenged her school.
We've recently moved. She started a new school. They didn't assess her reading for a while, but when they finally did, they offered "Reading Recovery" as she was sounding out well but "not comprehending".
Shocked that she must be behind, but also more shocked that they were using RR to catch up, we asked for a meeting. I deliberately didn't get involved as I work at a nearby secondary.
However, my partner did a lot of research, directed to this forum and others by some of your moderators. As a result, today, she sent me this email (edited to remove names):

"So just got back from the school and thought I would write down what I can remember. I have definitely upset the reading recovery teacher!

The Headteacher apologised for how long it took to get A assessed, which was unacceptable in her eyes. Especially as she had chased this information from the class teacher. A had been put at blue level which she queried and that's why she sent the reading recovery teacher in to do another assessment. She was then at Gold level. This is nothing like blue level. The HT went on to explain that they didn't want to put A in reading recovery but to put her in reading discovery which was for children who knew their phonics but weren't getting the comprehension side or using other tools and were unable to piece together words they didn't know. I raised how this goes against the national curriculum and I don't agree with it and then she called in the reading recovery teacher.

The RR teacher sat and explained her background and what reading recovery does for results and what she learnt about A. She told me that A wasn't sounding things out and guessing words and how she had gone through the books with her, etc, etc. With her method A could be at the stage of a year 2 reader.

I said that I agree that comprehension is where A needs to develop now however I don't want her looking at pictures to tell her words that can be sounded out. I gave the example of "panic" from yesterday. After a LONG discussion she said that 20% of our language is "non phonetical". I explained how I want A taught and how we teach her and she said that is a long way of doing it. I asked her to name a word that can't be sounded out and she couldn't (despite there being 20%). She said that she (the teacher) is really into dressage and that if she gave the book to anyone else and said read chapter two, they wouldn't understand it. She struggles with some of the French words. I said talking about reading a different language now and you could probably still sound the words out. I said I probably would not understand the context but I would be able to read it and that is why we give age appropriate books to children so they understand context.

I said that I'm sure that results do go up because they are having additional intensive reading lessons and not from the methods used necessarily. I quoted research papers that dismissed RR entirely, which went down well. She said that A could plateau and I said that if she does I will be questioning the teaching inside of her normal lessons. She said that she thought that A would benefit hugely from her expertise and I asked what level would you expect a child to be at the end of year 1, she said level 19. I asked what level is A and she said level 22. I said I completely disagree with your methods and I don't want A taught like that and the Headteacher stepped in and said that's fine, she doesn't have to be. The RR teacher walked out in a bit of a huff and the HT said she would speak to the class teacher and ensure that she is taught phonetically only.

The HT said we are a reading recovery school and I said we understand that and it gave us concerns but we figured that it wouldn't affect us as A is not behind (which she isn't)

These are just the highlights, I've missed bits but you get the idea. I think having the curriculum open in front of me was a nice touch!

I thanked the HT for her time and said that A had really been enjoying her lessons and the homework was excellent."

Apart from the blue/ gold thing (which is weird), basically I wanted to say thanks for all your help as the research my OH used is basically down to you lot. The confidence to know that there are no words that can't be sounded out (and hence the confidence to challenge the RR teacher) came from you. Thanks.

Re: Thank you

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 12:13 am
by Debbie Hepplewhite
Thank you so much for going to the trouble to describe your personal scenario and how the RRF information has helped you.

That is our intent!

If increasing numbers of parents become knowledgeable through the information provided here, and elsewhere on the internet, and therefore more parents approached their children's schools sharing conversations as you have described, this will help to raise awareness of PARENTS' awareness and raise questions within 'Reading Recovery' schools about methodology.

It is also a matter of professional understanding - and demonstrates how teachers simply don't share a professional understanding when it comes to the teaching of reading.

RRF folk, and others, have worked long and hard in an endeavour to bring evidence-based information to the public domain for the sake of the teachers themselves, of children and their parents.

It is very gratifying to hear a first-hand consequence of our efforts over the years.

Sadly, however, what happens to the weaker readers in the 'Reading Recovery' school when teachers think that the English language is 20% non-decodable.

And of course for a child, the language is only as decodable as the alphabetic code and blending skill they have been taught and acquired.

Many thanks for your message.

Re: Thank you

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:39 am
by chew8
This kind of line on comprehension is something I’ve encountered in my voluntary work. I suspect that it’s a sort of mantra that has spread among teachers now that decoding is better taught in schools – they assume that this must be at the expense of comprehension and they may therefore be raising more doubts about comprehension than they would have done in the past.

Jenny C.

Re: Thank you

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 12:05 pm
by volunteer
Fascinating to hear from you Stuart. I'm a fellow suffering parent. It sounds though that your school is pleasant to discuss things with and does listen in some way - ours does not. I have encountered similar problems and many more too. Ours is not a reading recovery school, just a very confused one that relies on parents to provide the main backbone of reading progress while they provide a smattering of badly taught phonics. They do not want to hear or recognise the fact that their "reading success" is mostly down to home.

It's a tiny school in a very prosperous part of the country and tutoring is rife - even from an early age - in a selective school area. In 2015 they can boast that they are one of the fewer than 200 schools that achieved 100% level 4b and above for all pupils in all KS2 tests. Several children left over the years for various reasons who would not have achieved this under their tutelage and the last one left two weeks before the KS2 tests. This was not a family that had the time or wherewithal to provide the kind of methodical teaching he needed, nor did they have the money to afford tutoring even if the right kind of teaching was available in the read. I had been allowed to teach him to read daily (voluntarily) for a period of time when he entered KS2 at barely level 1 in reading. He made a startling ratio gain during this period but then it was stopped. He was very disillusioned with this school by year 6 and was ashamed that his much younger siblings could read better than him.

His parents asked school if I could help again. School said no. He left school two weeks before the KS2 tests as he was so unhappy about how he was going to do relative to the others in the class. And how good was the other children's reading I wonder in reality - a lot of the children asked for maths questions to be read to them during the KS2 tests and this was done for them. All these children achieved level 4b and above in everything.

I also received the "her comprehension need to improve" line with both my children in KS1. It was generally used as an excuse to foist more terrible books out of the school random book boxes upon my children which I was supposed to force them to read to me at home - and then repeat if the teacher decided there was something wrong with their comprehension. I did ask one teacher at the start of year 2 who wanted my daughter to re-read a whole set of purple level books she had read early in year 1 why this was. She said it was because there were some words that she didn't understand. I asked which words they were. She said they had been having a class discussion and my daughter had not understood the word "employment". I said I was not sure that I would have done at that age (she was under 6 and a half at the time). I also asked if the books she was asking her to read again included the word employment, and if they did, did they explain what it meant. She said no but it would still do my daughter good to re-read them.

I gave up and went to see the head who finally took my daughter out of class and gave her a very old free reading age test they have a photocopy of at school and finally found her a very funny chapter book she said would be suitable as my daughter's reading age was about 8 years 6 months at the time. My daughter was pleased with the book - she recalls it even now as it was the only book she brought home from school that she enjoyed over a period of about six years. She did find a good one in the school library in year 6.

Not long after this though, all kinds of disasters started being heaped upon us by school including by the head, I presume because I had dared to try and have a discussion of equals about my child's reading rather than just agree with the rubbish I was being told.

I am sure I have had an extreme experience over the years at this particular school. However, the notions upon which judgements about a child's comprehension seem to be made can certainly be very flimsy at times. I've experienced this in other schools as a volunteer too. It is often based on some snap judgement e.g. child does not guess what comes next accurately (why should they) or won't guess what comes next at all.

It would be lovely to hear what happens next.

There are some lovely books written at "gold" level by Oxford University Press. This business of book-banding is pretty dubious but gold books generally contain all aspects of complex code and a good number of polysyllabic words and some good descriptive language. It's a nice length for a children's author and illustrator to work with, and very pleasing for a child to read one in a day or two as they build up their reading speed and stamina.

You're definitely there! The problems I encountered with school with number two child at this stage was her being sent home with very dull and poorly written old reading scheme books which she was not interested in but was supposed to read out loud to me every day. In the holidays reading was a pleasure - she picked what she wanted off our shelves and read it. Reading took a nosedive during term-time. It was in the first term of year 1 that I finally had to write in and ask them please not to send her home with any school books after trying for many weeks to solve this problem!

Good luck.

Re: Thank you

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 12:20 pm
by Debbie Hepplewhite
As time marches on, and the body of teachers becomes increasingly trained in a more phonics-promoted arena, there will be an increasing number of teachers who have never experienced the consequence of no phonics or really ad-hoc phonics.

Thus, phonics provision could become increasingly under-estimated, or taken for granted, because the new teachers cannot compare with the era of entirely multi-cueing guessing strategies and whole language.

I suggest that these are the times when we need to distinguish, in broad terms, four categories of teaching:

1) weak phonics provision with multi-cueing guessing-words strategies

2) strong phonics provision with multi-cueing guessing-words strategies

3) weak SSP phonics provision - no belief in and promotion of multi-cueing guessing-words strategies

4) strong SSP phonics provision - no belief in and promotion of multi-cueing guessing-words strategies

On the one hand, it is a good thing that all schools will be providing some level of systematic phonics provision.

On the other hand, if this is rather weak and alongside a persistent belief in multi-cueing guessing-words strategies (and possibly poor book provision), there will arguably be many children who continue to struggle and then the emphasis will be placed (is placed) on the 'within child' issues and not the teaching itself.

So, we are truly in the era of fighting for those weaker and slower learners as teachers will say, 'But we do do phonics' and 'that child has been phonicked to death and now needs something different'.

And the Reading Recovery schools and RR teachers will benefit from the mainstream phonics teaching but be providing the weaker children with the 'something different' (multi-cueing guessing) and some of those children will not benefit nearly as much as with stronger phonics teaching and an understanding that this is not detrimental to comprehension.

There is a caveat to this scenario, however, in that I have observed schools where systematic phonics provision does not include nearly enough practice for the children themselves (limited by the '20 minutes' notion, plus the choice of children's activities), and there is no, or insufficient, vocabulary discussion and comprehension involved within the phonics provision itself.

Back to really observing the difference in 'phonics provision' between schools and how we can learn from the most effective schools.

Re: Thank you

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 12:26 pm
by Debbie Hepplewhite
As we're including children's reading habits/profiles on this thread, I thought it would be relevant to draw attention to Jacqui Moller-Butcher's description of 'lookaliking' reading to see if parents recognise this type of reading habit in their children: ... ?f=8&t=518

I think 'lookaliking reading' is well worth coining as a phrase as it describes a state of affairs that is not at all uncommon when children read.

Perhaps the 'catchiness' of the phrase will draw attention to this distinctive, but undesirable, feature of reading.

When I first went into infant teaching in a serious way (following a focus on junior and middle-school teaching), even the most intelligent, articulate, free-flowing readers in my Y1/2 infant class would manifest much of this 'lookaliking' reading but also they would make up many bits of sentences and phrases based on the flow or their spoken language - it was seriously worrying.

But, to all intents and purposes, they were 'fluent' readers with excellent comprehension.

The question for me, was it really acceptable for such 'fluent' excellent readers to make up so many words - which really meant they were not accurate readers - far from it.

They were the consequence of articulate children with a whole language experience - not systematic phonics - and would do really well in any language comprehension assessment.

But you should see their free, independent writing and spelling - dreadful in comparison - and it really was not acceptable the degree to which their spoken language got them through their infant-level reading books.

So - what happened to these children as books became more challenging?

Generally-speaking, when they encountered the longer words which were not in their spoken language, they had nothing to 'help them' to guess what these words 'were'. They would skip them, fudge over them, mumble, make up their own word - and, yes, they could often still get the gist of the text.

Sometimes, such children would get really frustrated and angry when asked to read or do something that they could not do quite easily or naturally because they got by in schools from a natural propensity with language and natural intelligence - therefore sometimes their behaviour left something to be desired and they had no resilience to work at something that did not come easily to them.

There was often a mis-match between their reading ability of a book with an obvious story-line and the need to read the question for a maths problem.

In contrast, when Y1/2 children were introduced to a systematic synthetic phonics approach, even the weakest reader in Y2 refused to have anyone read her maths questions on the Y2 national maths tests!

Years later when I joined an upper key stage 2 team in another school (whole language, definitely not SSP), I was truly shocked to find that one third of the Y6 children needed an adult 'reader' to read their national Y6 maths questions.

Re: Thank you

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 12:50 pm
by volunteer
Yes, I like those different categories. They can of course, all exist in the same school and a child can pass through those 4 different types of teaching as they pass through the primary years. Add in different types of help at home and different book provision at school and home and there are many more different experiences to categorise.

The lookalike reading is a fair description too. Worryingly, my year 5 daughter definitely does a bit of this despite me having focused on SSP at home in the early years.

Thankfully, it's a relief that many people do learn to read accurately and with good comprehension despite the poor instruction or lack of instruction they may have received. But that makes it even tougher for those who don't.

I am fascinated by the notion of some schools being able to afford a full-trained reading recovery teacher on top of each class having a class teacher. How does that add up these days? How many schools have this (dubious) luxury?

Re: Thank you

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 1:44 pm
by chew8
Debbie has referred again to the '20 minutes' notion, and she often associates this with Letters and Sounds, the government programme published in 2007. We need to be clear about what Letters and Sounds actually says:

'It is recommended that this [i.e. systematic phonics teaching] is done for a discrete period of time - around 20 minutes - on a daily basis, as the prime approach to teaching children how to read and spell words. Good practice also shows that children benefit from encouragement to apply their phonic skills as opportunities arise across the curriculum throughout the day' (Letters and Sounds Notes of Guidance, p. 10 - emphasis added).

Jenny C.

Re: Thank you

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 2:15 pm
by Debbie Hepplewhite
Thanks Jenny.

Sadly, 'throughout the day' can look like many things - and, arguably, does not necessarily guarantee enough very focused phonics skills' practice sufficient for every child with a body of work.

I often refer to the 'maths of the phonics' meaning that if you track any child, how many new cumulative graphemes and words has each child decoded and encoded and written as new letter/s-sound correspondences are introduced, and have they had opportunities to apply their phonics skills in cumulative texts with many examples of previously taught letter/s-sound correspondences.

'Throughout the day' could well be interpreted as applying phonics skills to wider reading and writing - which is great and important - but not necessarily guaranteed on a daily basis for sufficient embedding and consolidation for every child's needs.

For some children, phonics introduction and generalised application may well be sufficient.

Re: Thank you

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 3:22 pm
by Debbie Hepplewhite
This is an interesting piece to add to this thread to illustrate the variety of views and experiences on the topic of teaching children to read and providing opportunities for children to practise reading independently and aloud:
Schools shoudn't be relying on parents to teach reading ... h-reading/

Re: Thank you

Posted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 7:40 pm
by chew8
The issue of how time is used is important, but the issue I was addressing was just that of whether Letters and Sounds recommends that only 20 minutes a day should be spent on phonics - it doesn't.

Jenny C.

Re: Thank you

Posted: Wed Feb 03, 2016 2:35 pm
by Meraud
The misplaced insistence that comprehension is weak, and the repeating of books read (as school reading books) over a year before, is something that we have come across as well.

I do worry that without better training of teachers, and a focus on the transition from good early phonics to free and more analytical reading, this stage may turn out to be a car crash in many schools.

Re: Thank you

Posted: Wed Feb 03, 2016 3:44 pm
by volunteer
Hopefully we are in the minority.

Re: Thank you

Posted: Tue Feb 09, 2016 4:51 pm
by geraldinecarter
How admirable Stuart, of your wife to tackle the school so firmly (+ I'm also in awe that she has any mental space for this not long after birth of your youngest...!). What is sad is that we can't find the space/time to make this+ Volunteer's and other similar criticisms of Reading Recovery into a powerful document that can have some impact and be a challenge to gov. via education correspondents.

Re: Thank you

Posted: Thu Feb 25, 2016 10:55 pm
by Papermover
Gosh, I'm a bit late to this, but well done Stuart and family.

I am also a parent with a child at "Reading Revovery" school, I have also had run ins with the Headteacher and Reading Revovery teachers. They are documented on this board and didn't end as well as your story I am afraid.

Geraldine, I am interested in the powerful document idea. What would it look like and where would it go, be seen? I've got a bit of space and time ( well I will have, and I can make it) but I'm not a writer or an academic...