Michael Rosen's Reading Revolution

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Elizabeth
Posts: 993
Joined: Sat Nov 20, 2004 8:47 pm

Michael Rosen's Reading Revolution

Post by Elizabeth » Thu Sep 28, 2017 3:59 pm

On 23rd November (2017) I went to the conference, “Michael Rosen’s Reading Revolution” at Goldsmith’s University. I forgot to check the numbers of people attending, but I guess it was in the low hundreds. Francis Gilbert introduced each speaker and we were told he was the driving force behind the conference.

The talks were mainly about the joy of reading books.

I felt Michael Rosen twisted things. He began by criticising and praising different ways of teaching in a way that almost everyone would agree with. Then he used that to condemn the teaching of phonics and grammar. As usual, he made derogatory comments about the National Curriculum in England, getting laughs out of mocking the politicians, Michael Gove and Nick Gibb, for their parts in the NC and national assessment. He went to great lengths to criticise the way comprehension is promoted in the NC, making it appear terrible to say children should be:

- checking that the text makes sense to them, discussing their understanding and explaining the meaning of words in context
- asking questions to improve their understanding of a text
- drawing inferences such as inferring characters’ feelings, thoughts and motives from their actions, and justifying inferences with evidence
- predicting what might happen from details stated and implied
- identifying main ideas drawn from more than one paragraph and summarising these
- identifying how language, structure, and presentation contribute to meaning
- ask questions to improve understanding

After that he went into detail about the importance of concepts he had worked out, many of which seemed pretty meaningless to me, but apparently sounded convincing to his fans: intertextual, intratextual, interrogative, semantic, structural, selective analogy, reflective, narratology, evaluative, eureka moments, effects.

Then he criticised the national testing regime. I asked if he would like to improve assessment or get rid of it altogether. I was genuinely curious about that. He repeated his criticism of how it is now in England, before saying that formative assessment is okay and there should be no summative assessment until the age of 18.

When we had a choice of talks, I went to one with Francis Gilbert about mindfulness. Much of it was not directly related to literacy, although we read some poems in the end and he said that students who practise mindfulness start to read in a different way. I enjoyed it and felt wonderfully relaxed afterwards.

The first afternoon talk was by Teresa Cremin from the Open University. It was about reading for pleasure and the importance of teachers being knowledgeable about children’s literature. It was fine until she threw in a comment saying that children were insulted by being asked to read rubbish by the Phonics Screening Check. It was really irrelevant to the rest of her talk, but showed the antagonism felt by many. She also made the odd and illogical statement: “We’re not teachers and pupils. We’re all people.”

The next speaker was the children’s author, SF Said. Again, most of what he said was fine – lots of enthusiastic talk about introducing children to literature and the power of literature for imagination about how the world might look to someone else. But he said twice that as a child he had learned to read “as if by osmosis” (his words), without mentioning that some children can’t do that. He said, “choice is the most crucial” and “just communicate your enthusiasm”, as though teaching is unnecessary.

Next there was an opportunity for questions. There were a couple of other questions and then I was chosen. As Michael R pointed out on Twitter, I had been preparing what to say (since Teresa’s comment about the Phonics Check).

This is approximately what I said:
I agree that we want a relaxed environment where children are not asked to predict, summarise, and so on, and we want time for independent reading and reading aloud to children, and recommending books and letting children choose and the importance of libraries.

I understand that Teresa thinks the Phonics Check is insulting children by asking them to read nonsense words and that it should be stopped, but it’s just a simple check to make sure children can read words easily. The idea that they are insulted by it is putting adult ideas onto children and the nonsense words are just for assessment. In my experience children who struggle to read words – familiar and unfamiliar – don’t like reading. So the Phonics Check is about making sure children can read words easily so that they are free to enjoy reading without struggling.

SF Said said he learned to read by osmosis. The Phonics Check is helping to make sure all children can read his books, whether or not they are able to learn to read words by osmosis.
Then I got genuinely emotional and said, without much preparation:
My question is, why are so many people who passionately want children to enjoy reading, against the Phonics Check?
Teresa answered briefly and politely. Although she didn’t put it like this, most of her concerns seemed to be about the responses of teachers and parents who do not understand the purpose of the Phonics Check and publishers who produce resources with nonsense words. Then, as SF Said stepped forward to speak, Michael Rosen came running down from the back of the conference hall, with his hand in the air, stepped in front of Said and began a speech that seemed about ten minutes long about how bad the Phonics Check is, twice repeating statistics comparing the Phonics Check and SATs. I am going to write something about his statistics in a following message.

After that the programme was behind time, so Francis Gilbert moved it straight on to the last talk, which involved Michael Rosen interviewing a young and enthusiastic teacher who had done some qualitative research about getting Year 1 children to read for pleasure, instead of concentrating on just phonics.

Afterwards, one of the delegates came up to me to tell me that I was right, because her daughter struggled with reading until someone taught her with Sounds-Write, and that transformed her.
Elizabeth

Elizabeth
Posts: 993
Joined: Sat Nov 20, 2004 8:47 pm

Re: Michael Rosen's Reading Revolution

Post by Elizabeth » Thu Sep 28, 2017 4:21 pm

About Michael Rosen’s statistics. I didn’t note exactly what he said at the conference, so I have copied from his blog at http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk/ ... t-not.html
Here are some raw stats about the present year 3 children in state schools in England: At the end of Year 1, 91% of those children reached expected level in the Phonics Screening Check. At the end of Year 2, 74% of those children reached expected level in Reading. In other words, 17% of the cohort were good at phonics but not good enough at reading.
I haven’t checked the source of Michael’s figures, but whether or not they are accurate makes no difference. It is an illogical argument. The Phonics Check is a simple check of children’s ability to decode written words. The Y2 reading assessment Michael is talking about is the SATs English paper which is a test of reading comprehension. Decoding is essential for reading comprehension, because no-one can comprehend the squiggles on a page if they don’t know what words the squiggles represent.

I have tried to think of an analogy. This isn’t perfect and they’re not real statistics, but here’s my attempt:
Here are some raw stats about the present English Literature graduates from an (imaginary) prestigious university: At the end of Year 13, 90% of those students were awarded Grade A in English Language at A-Level. After three years only 30% were awarded a first class degree in English Literature. In other words, 60% of the cohort were good at English language but not good at English Literature.
Is that a logical conclusion?
Elizabeth

chew8
Posts: 4137
Joined: Sun Nov 02, 2003 6:26 pm

Re: Michael Rosen's Reading Revolution

Post by chew8 » Fri Sep 29, 2017 9:34 am

Did you mean 23 September, Elizabeth?

Some of Rosen’s ‘intertextual, intratextual...etc.’ points strike me as covering the same sort of ground as is covered in the National Curriculum – e.g. ‘interrogative’ (the NC mentions ‘asking questions’), ‘semantic’ (the NC has points about understanding meaning). Both lists cover things that kick in when children can read fairly fluently, but phonics is about getting them to that point.

Jenny C.

chew8
Posts: 4137
Joined: Sun Nov 02, 2003 6:26 pm

Re: Michael Rosen's Reading Revolution

Post by chew8 » Sat Sep 30, 2017 10:14 am

I’m a bit uneasy about the A Level English Language/Literature analogy. The point of early phonics teaching (the ‘language’ side of things) is to equip children for ‘real reading’ (the ‘literature’ side of things), so we may have a problem if it’s really true that substantial numbers are good at phonics but not good at ‘real reading’.

But is it really true? I’ve had another look at the NFER’s final report on its evaluation of the Phonics Screening Check:

https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/YOPC03/YOPC03.pdf

It’s stated on p. 21 that ‘Pupils are unlikely to reach the expected standard in reading and writing at the end of key stage 1 without being able to demonstrate the phonics skills measured by the PSC’. It’s also worth looking at pp. 25-6, which show almost all children reaching the expected standard in the Year 2 Key Stage 1 assessment if they had reached the expected standard in the PSC in Year 1 or Year 2. I would rather trust this analysis than Rosen’s.

Jenny C.

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