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RRF Newsletter 45 back to contents
The ‘Searchlight Reading Strategies’ An evaluation of LEA training and the ‘Reading Searchlights Model’


  1. DO YOU RECOGNISE ANY PART OF THE WORD? Look at the word closely. Do you remember what sound these letters make? Look at the end of the word. Can you see any parts of the word you recognise? .

  2.  Read on to the end of the sentence, go back  to the start of the sentence and see which word would fit. (Go on, go back and guess) DOES THAT SOUND RIGHT?

  3. DOES THAT MAKE SENSE? What has happened so far in the story? What can you see in this illustration? What might the word say?



Editor’s comment: Here are my notes, word for word as written during LEA training for the NLS. This model gives no mention to the most important strategy for all reading, which involves AUTOMATIC letter/sound recognition and SOUNDING OUT AND BLENDING. It gives no indication which, if any, of the strategies should be taught first, or whether any of the methods should be dominant, or a ‘last resort’. There was no reference to different reading philosophies or to the findings of research. All trainees accepted the instructions without question.

The ‘searchlight reading strategies’ as advocated in the National Literacy Strategy are not supported by experimental research. They are part of an eclectic approach, which comprises mutually contradictory strategies. The late Dr. Charles Walcutt, author of ‘Teaching Reading’ (1974), succinctly describes the inadequacies of the eclectic method as:

 ….a battery of behavioral objectives that are mutually contradictory and that reflect conflicting ideas about the nature of reading. If a child looks at a picture to guess the idea of an unfamiliar word, he is responding as if the printed word were a symbol of a meaning, whereas in fact it is a symbol of a sound. If he studies the context in order to deduce the meaning, he probably is not going to look at the letters and try to identify the sound presented by them, for the two approaches depend on such different ideas of what reading is that they will not be natural responses for the same child. If the child has been taught to look at a word as a shape or configuration, he will not look at it from left to right as a sequence of sounds. If he looks at parts of words, he may see father as fat plus her – and there is certainly no future in this for him. When we seek to equip a child to “attack” a new word with this entire battery of clues and concepts, we are throwing him into a state of total confusion unless perchance he picks out the one right method and forgets the others as some children will occasionally do. (Extract from ‘Retarding America: The Imprisonment of Potential’ by Michael S. Bruner, ISBN 0 89420 292 8)

Editor’s comment: There are many professionals who know the Reading Searchlights Strategies to be a flawed model for learning to read. Such an eclectic approach has already failed this and other English-speaking countries for the best part of this century, leading to the current high rates of illiteracy. Surely professionals should promote what they promote in schools because it is based on research and not because they are under duress to follow national directives. The look and say, whole language and real books philosophies were never supported by scientific evidence, and yet were readily adopted by training colleges and subsequently delivered in schools by the teachers. It is time we learnt from the mistakes of the past.

An increased emphasis on literacy with the additional training, resources and greater structure in our schools will inevitably raise standards to some extent, but we all need to ensure the National Literacy Strategy does not serve to suppress this alternative method, which is increasingly supported by reputable scientific research.        




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