I see the UK Literacy Association have intervened in the debate about the use of non-words in the government’s proposed new reading test for six-year-olds in England.
Testing children on non-words, the proviso being that it is made clear to the child that the words being presented are NOT real words, is a very good way of making sure that children are not using their visual memories alone and that they are using their decoding skills: i.e. their ability to transform what they see to into what they hear, put the sounds together and produce the word. Such a test also presents the teacher with a clear idea of how good a child’s code knowledge is.
Sounds-Write have been using the Nonsense Word Sound Swap game with children from YR upwards for years and, in all that time, not a single one of the nearly eight thousand trained teaching practitioners has ever got back to us to say that it confuses children or that they can’t do it. In actual fact, both teachers and children love the game, and, used in the right way, it is regarded as being great fun.
The game improves children’s skills in blending, segmenting and manipulating sound-spelling correspondences in words extremely well. Research shows that the combination of these skills correlates very highly to good reading and spelling. I wonder if colleagues at the UKLA have ever conducted a non-word assessment or played a sound swap-type game?
David Reedy from the UKLA is quoted as saying: "The test is trying to control all the different variables so that things like meaning don't get in the way. We think that seems a bit bonkers when the whole purpose of reading is to understand words.”
He’s right, of course: the purpose of reading is to understand words. However, in order to understand words, one must first be able to decode them - something that an appallingly high number of children in this country are unable to do.
The UKLA are always and quite rightly banging on about promoting a love of reading. We agree! Phonics advocates are just as passionate that children should develop a love of reading. But, you can’t love reading if you can’t read!