Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Research on reading

I don't know whether you saw the recent Horizon programme, in which David Baddiel asked the question 'Who Do You Want Your Child to Be'. A somewhat bemused Baddiel was seen asking Usha Goswami, a Cambridge professor, what reading is about and was amazed to learn that reading is much about the sounds of the language rather than the visual. 'The words and letters on the page,' says Goswami, 'are speech written down. It's not the individual differences in visual learning that determine how well or how poorly a child learns to read. It's the individual differences in the language system and it's to do with the sound structure of words.'
The programme goes on to inform us that 'to be able to read you first have to recognise the individual sounds that make up our language. These are then put together to make words.'
This would seem to support the kind of approach used by any phonics programme that has a sound-to-print orientation. otherwise known as linguistic phonics. In this approach, children are taught that the sounds in their language can be represented by spellings, which of course makes perfect sense. So where you need to start the learning to read and write process is by recognising that written language is a representation of spoken language.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Teaching reading and spelling: time to change course

According to the OECD (1997), more than 100 years of universal education in the UK has resulted in less than half of the UK adult population becoming literate: less than 50% of children grow up to become accurate and fluent readers. What's more, only half of those who do learn to read can spell accurately enough to become fluent writers. These appalling figures have been replicated across the world in other English speaking countries such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The sad thing is that the whole structure of education from top to bottom, whether we're talking about the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the teacher training institutions, or the schools, seems to support practices based on belief systems rather than high quality evidence-based research. For a system this large, employing and involving millions of people in English speaking countries throughout the world, to fail so spectacularly in its basic goal of teaching literacy requires something to be very wrong with those generally accepted belief systems. It is time for a proper discussion to challenge those widely held beliefs to try to determine what is fundamentally wrong with them and to suggest ways in which present practices can be changed to ensure that all those who are capable of becoming literate (98% of the population) receive the appropriate and necessary tuition to do so.