Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Embedded phonics? What embedded phonics?

Last week I criticised the reporting in the TES of the government-commissioned Tickell report for its zeal in attempting to discredit phonics as an approach to teaching young children to read.
The latest offering from the TES (Friday 8th April) is more subtle in its disingenuousness. It plays cleverly on what it senses - I say ‘senses’ because it is obvious from what they print that they haven’t a clue what a properly thought-out phonics programme looks like – to be the true state of affairs: that people such as Clare Tickell have no more idea of what good phonics teaching is than they do! That’s because it is a specialised job requiring specialised knowledge and experience.
Apparently, the review has recommended that ‘separate assessments of phonics should be scrapped’. What separate assessments are these that teachers across the country are implementing? I see no evidence for this. Teachers should also be using ‘a wide variety of techniques to help prepare children for reading’. This is code for talking about meaning, extending vocabulary, and so on. Can there possibly be a teacher in the whole country that doesn’t already do this? Well, there might be one or two, but you get my drift. The TES also claims that the review says that ‘children’s attainment in phonics has improved’. How would we know this when, at present, there is no mechanism in place to collect such information? Even more ludicrously, it is claimed that ‘many children can grasp the theory of phonics’. This assertion is truly laughable when hardly a teacher I have met - and we’ve trained nearly eight thousand of them at Sounds-Write - has come to our courses with a clear conceptual understanding of the way in which the writing system and the sounds of the language are related to one another.
The TES and the so-called experts it trots out to stigmatise phonics pretend, like the last government, that phonics is a well understood method for teaching children to read and that it has been widely implemented. It hasn’t! Eclecticism is still firmly in the saddle.
As Geraldine Carter of the Reading Reform Foundation points out: 
"only a small percentage of schools teach rigorous phonics to their early years children - most add some 'mixed methods' teaching or haven't quite grasped how to teach SP."
Until the training of teachers and teaching assistants in how to teach phonics properly begins in earnest, the teaching of reading and spelling will continue to be the rag bag assemblage of mixed methods it has been for more years than I care to remember.


Anonymous said...

I trained two years ago and literally had the Letters and Sounds pack thrown at me by an English lecturer who didn't support the synthetic teaching of phonics. We had no training whatsoever on the teaching of phonics.

John said...

Why am I not surprised, Anon? In training after training, whenever we have an NQT or recently-trained practitioner on our courses, we ask them what if anything they got in the way of training in phonics. The answer is always nothing, or next to nothing.
What's more, many lecturers in the teacher training institutions are actively hostile to phonics teaching.
I'm thinking of conducting some interviews with recently (within the last two to three years) trained teachers to publish on the Sounds-Write website.
If you're interested, you can reach me privately at: john@sounds-write.co.uk

Michelle said...

It is very sad that children are left to learn phonics and letter to sound relationships on their own.

I was trained with Balanced Literacy. While taking time off to raise my children I began researching best practices to teach reading. The National Reading Panel's 2000 report opened my eyes. I can not believe teaching phonics and sounding out is not the focus of early reading. My children's school focuses on sight words. It caused my daughter some problems. http://beginningreadinghelp.blogspot.com/2010/02/my-daughters-path-to-reading.html
Thanks for pushing phonics. Hopefully we can get our education system on track someday.

John said...

Hi Michelle and thanks for your comment.
It beggars belief that, years after a major report (conducted by Sir Jim Rose)stating that the most effective way of teaching children to read is through a good quality phonics programme, many schools are even now using sight word recognition strategies.
Still, we've now trained getting on for nine thousand teachers in Sounds-Write and, with the UK government now providing funding for phonics training, we hope to greatly increase that number this year.
Best wishes,