Friday, October 28, 2011

Down with high-frequency words!

Recently, I’ve been posting on a thread on the RRF forum. The subject turned to questions about high-frequency words and, if you’re interested, you can follow what was being argued (here).
However, my main point was that there are thousands of teaching practitioners across the country who haven’t a clue how the writing system works in relation to the sounds of the language and, what’s more, have no idea how to teach it. The corollary of this is that many of them then resort to teaching the 100, 200 or 300 high-frequency words laid down in Letters and Sounds as 'sight' words. In other words, they present the words as words that have to be 'remembered'.
Here’s one example of what’s going on: today, my neighbour’s daughter, now in Y1, showed me the spelling list she had brought home to learn. It contains 198 high-frequency words. The only order in which they have been presented is alphabetical (!), which immediately undermines the logic of the code and serves only to confuse children. In YR the child was taught ‘some’ phonics of the one sound/one letter kind (but without any rigorous teaching of the necessary skills of blending, segmenting or manipulating sounds in words), plus the usual diet of ORT books. Now, in Y1, she’s being asked to supplement this with a list of HFWs to be learnt. The default mechanism by which the child is expected to ‘learn’ them is by sight.
My question is: in what way does this approach represent any sort of progress on what was being taught ten or fifteen years ago? The question is of course rhetorical because in my opinion it isn’t any sort of progress.
So, after sticking L&S (or other early years resources) into the hands of teachers, such as the KS1 team in the particular Buckingham school attended by my neighbour’s daughter, and not training them in how to teach it, those responsible for these things would find – if they only looked – that many teachers are doing what they always did. In fact, if you have a look at page 2 of the thread on the RRF, Susan Godsland has posted links to other forums on which there are examples of three teaching practitioners, all of whom are struggling in one way or another with the task of how to teach their pupils to read. All three ask for help in finding ‘resources’ and/or ‘ideas’.
The message we at Sounds-Write have been shouting from the rooftops is that it’s the training. No amount of resources or ‘ideas’ will on their own enable teachers to teach the pupils in question how to read and spell. Teachers need to be trained! Which is also why is was a massive blunder by the government to offer up to £3000 for resources and/or training in their match-funding initiative. When the argument has not been made for training, many schools spend money on resources without the teachers being trained in how to use them.
That list!

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