When I began my teaching career in the 1970s, children were expected to develop ‘reading readiness’ which described that developmental phase which became evident by them asking what words meant, such as the words on a can of beans, the letters to make up their name, the words on the packaging of a new toy and so on.My task as a primary teacher was to support this behaviour by planning and offering activities and experiences which scaffolded and consolidated this: games, involving matching pictures to each other or ‘snap’, tasks which encouraged the child to scan from left to right and activities where they learned to recognise the shapes of words and also the recognition of combinations of letters.
I worked hard at making learning exciting and all of the children I taught learned to read at their own pace and in their own way. This was the era of the Initial Teaching Alphabet (ITA) a system of offering reading by use of a combination of the regular letters and sounds of the alphabet plus specific symbols for complex sounds.
I submit a sample of a sentence using ITA and normal letters. (Translation of ITA sentence: The ice angel gave the owl a ring.)
This revolutionary method of teaching reading was supposed to ensure that every single child learned to read, even including those who were considered illiterate. It was invented by a relative of the man who developed the Pitman shorthand system of note-taking. A lot of children appeared to read really quickly and well. Their average reading ages soared and they were given lots of praise with great expectations for their futures. Then they went to secondary school.
Secondary schools did not continue with ITA so the children who had learned to read using that method were suddenly without their familiar sounds, words and prompts. Their reading regressed or completely stopped. They suffered untold emotional stress as a result of going from top performers to being diagnosed as being ‘educationally subnormal’ to use the parlance of the time. Some children never recovered. Others eventually managed to learn to read with a more restricted reading code but lost the excitement and joy of racing through a book.
The Rose Review was written by Sir Jim Rose, an ex-Ofsted Inspector who believes in teaching reading by one method - that of the phonic.
“The forthcoming Early Years Foundation Stage and the renewal of the Primary National Strategy framework for teaching literacy provide powerful opportunities to reinvigorate and build upon these achievements and greatly reduce arbitrary boundaries between the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1, without compromising the hard won, distinctive merits of the areas of learning and experience in the early years.
“In so doing, the new Early Years Foundation Stage and the renewed framework should make sure that best practice for beginner readers provides them with a rich curriculum that fosters all four interdependent strands of language: speaking, listening, reading and writing. The indications are that far more attention needs to be given, right from the start, to promoting speaking and listening skills to make sure that children build a good stock of words, learn to listen attentively and speak clearly and confidently. Speaking and listening, together with reading and writing, are prime communication skills that are central to children’s intellectual, social and emotional development. All these skills are drawn upon and promoted by high quality, systematic phonic work.
“Engaging young children in interesting and worthwhile pre-reading activities paves the way for the great majority to make a good start on systematic phonic work by the age of five. Indeed, for some, an earlier start may be possible and desirable. This is because it ill serves children to hold them back from starting systematic phonic work that is matched to their developing abilities and enables them to benefit from the wealth of opportunities afforded by reading from an early age. All that said, the introduction of phonic work should always be a matter for principled, professional judgement based on structured observations and assessments of children’s capabilities.” www.literacytrust.org.uk
Rose Review: Changes to the teaching of early reading
Minor changes have been made to the National Curriculum at Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 following Sir Jim Rose’s independent review of the teaching of early reading, published in 2006.
The Review recommended that for most children, high quality, systematic phonic work should start by the age of five, taking full account of professional judgments of children’s developing abilities and the need to embed this work within a broad and rich curriculum.
Following the Review, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) sought the views of a broad range of stakeholders and received positive support for the changes.
To reflect this recommendation, two changes have been made to the National Curriculum. One is to reword the Reading Strategies section of the Key Stage 1 English programme of study for reading. The requirements have not changed but have been regrouped under two headings, Word recognition and graphic knowledge and Understanding text. This change does not alter the level descriptions for reading and therefore has no implications for assessment.
The other is to reword an Early Learning Goal, ‘linking sounds and letters’, in the Foundation Stage; this has implications for the related scale points in the Foundation Stage Profile which have been revised accordingly.
Schools and settings have a legal obligation to follow the amended curriculum from the start of the school year 2007-08.
If the Secretary of State and Parliament endorse the suggested changes, they will be communicated to all Key Stage 1 schools, foundation settings and local authorities in August 2007.
For more information, see www.qca.org.uk.
There are a number of issues here:
- The Foundation Stage begins from birth.
- Foundation settings, such as nurseries and other day care, are there to enable children towards accomplishment of reading, writing and numeracy.
- Reading is not a skill. It is a natural occurrence in the development of children and young people, if opportunities to practise in their unique way is accepted and provided the environment and adults understand that sometimes there are real barriers which require specific skills on behalf of the individual and the supporting adults.
- Children and young people are already displaying alarming tendencies of ‘burn out’ where they have been coached, coerced and probably bullied to achieve a goal that was not of their making.
I applaud those settings, whether they are schools or nurseries, where children are provided with the resources and tools to make their own leaps forward. That is the skill of a practising and competent professional. Above all, I favour providing a joyous childhood for children where learning is incidental and natural. I became a teacher so that I could contribute to the pleasure of a child in an effective learning environment. I am so relieved that I do not have to spend sleepless nights wondering how I can meet targets which really have nothing to do with the children.
It is time we all stood up for what we truly believe in - a pleasurable and stimulating learning provision where the creativity and individuality of the child is prioritised above all else.
The Open Eye Campaign has really set up a storm of responses. www.childrenwebmag.com plans to host a conference on this subject. If you are interested, please contact me and I will let you know the venue and date.