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Above average readers fail phonics screening test!

Discussion in 'Primary' started by ginger22, Jul 5, 2012.

  1. Speaking as someone who works with struggling readers at KS3 I would say that age 6 is far too early to tell if a child is a 'good reader' or not. The 'other strategies' tend to fail children once texts become more complex and what appears to be 'good reading' at 6, if it is not based on a firm foundation of knowledge of all the common letter/sound correspondences and automatic decoding and blending of unfamiliar words, can become 'poor reading' if children continue to depend on pictures, context or someone 'telling' them unknown words.
    I think that, until you have actually listened to 12 & 13y olds merrily deviating from the words written on the page, staring helplessly at unfamiliar words without a clue how to work out what they say, trying to turn unknown words into 'known' words, or decoding the start of a multisyllable word and 'blurghing the rest, you can't judge how successful their initial teaching has been.
    I think that the argument is more about whether there actually is a mixture of techniques and skills necessary for skilled reading or whether this is just an entrenched belief that has little foundation in reality. There are plenty of teachers around who use only SP for the initial teaching of reading and would not dream of encouraging the use of context, pictures or guessing for working out what words 'say'. They get excellent results, Msz is just one example. This being so it rather begs the question 'Are the 'other strategies' actually necessary to produce skilled readers?'
    To be honest, I think that you have to actually try it before making a final judgement.
    We don't know that all of us use every single one of them. I don't for a start. Perhaps the people who do use them use them because that is how they were taught to read. As 'mixed methods' has been the norm for several decades now it is likely that a very significant number of people do read like that. But I am sure that an equally significant number of people don't. Certainly, research on skilled readers (which is what the current exchange has been about) shows that skilled readers use decoding and blending as their prime strategy for working out what unfamiliar words 'say'.
  2. Does the research say that, Maizie? Or does it say that once readers reach a stage of automatically recognising words they no longer decode using phonics or need supplementary context cues, and only return to either of these strategies when faced with a new and difficult word?
  3. Okay, that's fair enough. You don't use all of them. But I do.
    So I was wrong to say that all of us use every single one of those methods. But the fact that some of us do is surely enough to justify allowing them in the classroom? If it's wrong to force left-handers to write right-handed, and wrong to insist on maths problems being worked out 'teacher's way', then why is it okay to suggest that children 'aren't allowed' to use context or sight-reading?
    As for me trying it, I'm not sure about that. I've had a part in teaching all of my children to read, and I've been reading 'with' children for so long they they are now serving me in the supermarket [​IMG]. Presumably you're suggesting that I try a phonics-only approach. As I said, I have used phonics with many children as a 'booster' and I think it works just fine. It should be the first thing children learn when they start reading. But I genuinely don't think it's possible to use phonics only, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. You can no more force a child to use a single strategy than you can tell them what to think. I'm looking forward to developing my own phonics knowledge so that I can help children to read, but I'll use any strategy that suits them, because IMO what suits them is where it all starts from.
    (And I still think reading is being conflated with decoding! The phonics-only argument always talks about words in isolation. It's fine for that, but there is more to reading!)

  4. It is wrong to force lefthanders to use their right hand becasue they were born that way. It is natural to them.
    Reading is not natural. When reading is researched what is being studied is what the readers have been taught. Of course they will use the strategies they have been taught.
    Well, if you won't believe what other people say the only way left to be sure that you are right is to do it yourself and prove it to your own satisfaction. You won't hurt any children while you do it.
    In wnich case, why did you bother to ask the question in the first place? I responded to what I thought was a genuine request for information about SP teaching. You're the one who said you didn't want a debate, then off you go saying that SP with no other strategies can''t possibly work.
    Go and have a little chat with thumbie. I'm sure you will get on like a house on fire. She'll tell you all the things you really want to hear.

  5. I was trained to deliver the test and i completed the screening on all 6o yr ones in our cohort. All year one teachers had the opportunity to go on the training and see exactly what would be expected in the screening, and advised on how to prepare for the screening (for example letting parents know, and practising the pseudo words)
    These training courses were as far back as march, so as teachers you could then practice all the blending skills needed with the children, including reading pseudo words.
    I would question that the teachers here as if your daughter is reading at a high level, it must have been the pseudo word that caught her out, meaning she had not been prepared to read them. I would question how he could be a 2b without being able to decode these words, as they were fairly simple. All our good and average readers passed the screening, and only our sen and la readers, who we had thought, didn't.
    I wouldn't worry too much we the most important thing is that she is able to read and will be successful at reason throughout school. This screening only means that if needed she will be offered focused help in year 2!
  6. "When reading is researched what is being studied is what the readers have been taught. "
    I am very heavily into research and that strikes me as a classic piece of dogma with no basis in reality whatsoever - an assumption presented as a fact. When reading is researched what is being studied is what children have 'learned' which may be (and thankfully very often is) very different from what they have been taught.
    "But I genuinely don't think it's possible to use phonics only,
    It is indeed possible to teach reading by phonics only - it is done in a very large and increasing number of schools - but because only phonics are taught in these schools that does not mean that only phonics are used by the children. Most children are far too astute to make that mistake.

  7. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

    Where do you get the idea that is what is expected when teaching phonics?

  8. That's exactly what I'm trying to say. You can tell yourself you're teaching phonics only, but in the real world phonics-only is not what children use. And I can't (and don't want to) get my head round the idea that ignoring how people actually learn, is the way forward.
  9. Because if you aim to teach 'phonics only', and argue against using other methods (making them 'mixed'), then presumably you have to restrain the children from using those other methods. And since those other methods are going to be used quite naturally by many people - because you can't stop them 'working things out', as I suggested earlier - then unless you keep them away from real books, the phonics-only method will be 'contaminated' by those other strategies. In which case you can't say that those children have learnt using phonics only. Even if phonics is the only thing you have personally 'taught' them.

  11. If you had bothered to look at the links you were given, instead of telling us how SP can't possibly work, you would have found the answer to your question. However, it is completely irrelevant because you don't intend to teach SP and it won't help you to any greater 'understanding'. It will just give you one more thing to argue against.

  12. I believe that since we have an alphabet based orthography, commonsense dictates that we should teach the sounds these letters make but science, in the form of decades of objective data, contradicts this belief by proving conclusively that despite the almost universal use of phonics strategies, 20% of children still leave school unable to read or write confidently.
    The same science also conclusively proves that these children can be readily identified in the Early Years and to fail to intervene with an alternative strategy when the existing one is proving, for whatever reason to be unproductive, is a failure of teaching. A school which routinely achieves 100% English at KS 2 has no need of any literacy interventions.
    Schools which routinely have one or two children who fail to achieve Level 4 frequently also fail to recognise that each of these children represents about a 3.5 percentage point contribution to the national 20% total of illiteracy. Had an appropriate time-limited intervention been introduced in the Early Years, these children’s competence in literacy skills may have been secured.

    Such interventions do not replace the need to teach phonics but they are anathema to a small proportion of phonics dogmatists who it would appear would prefer to see these children consigned to the dustbin of illiteracy rather than concede that in a minority of cases, ritual phonics teaching may need to be appropriately supported

  13. That is the most outrageusly untrue statement you have made yet, eddie.
    Where is your proof that your strange belief that all schools have been teaching phonic strategies ( I note you are careful not to say SP, because you know that isn't true) for decades is actually true? A link to the scientific research, perhaps? Or the 'objective data?
    How do you define objective data, eddie? Is it just data that you believe, as opposed to data do don't want to believe in?

    Where are you getting this 'scientifically proven' figure of 20% of children leaving school unable to read or write confidently? Can you give us a reference please?
    Otherwise people might just think that you are making it all up as you go along.

  14. mystery10

    mystery10 Occasional commenter

    Nerllybird, this is just my own personal experience with my own child. She learned the single letter graphemes at nursery school where they did the early stages of Jolly Phonics, and sh, th, ng, nk, qu, oo, oo. I think it was pretty lighthearted and just done for a few minutes at registration time each day. I didn't make any particular effort at home. When I was reading aloud to her (real books, anything) she would quite often point out to me graphemes that she recognised and make the correct sounds.
    She enjoyed playing oral games on car journeys - splitting up words into their constituent sounds, or putting words together from their constituent sounds (oral blending). She then did this herself one day while my DH was reading to her (she was still at pre-school but they did not do blending at pre-school) - she pointed at a simple word on the page (can't remember what it is), e.g. cat, said c a t (sounds) while pointing at the letters, and then stuck them together into a word (it wasn't cat, some less common word). It wasn't a fluke as she then did it for many others.
    I bought her the RWI story books as they introduce the graphemes at quite a gentle pace. The early ones were enjoyable for a three year old. We worked our way through quite a few before she started school as she was keen.
    I didn't have a problem using decodable phonics story books - a lot of them were more interesting than the limited vocabulary in a whole-word based reading scheme. Ginn 360, for example, looks dreadful to me.
    At the same time I still read loads to her of course, and she loved listening to stories on CD.
    Then when she started school it became a bit of a problem for a while as the GPCs she as being taught at school lagged behind what she already knew, and lagged behind the (wholeword) reading scheme books which they sent home, which were a very uninteresting mish mash. Additionally she was tired at aged 4 after a full day at school ...... so everything slowed down somewhat. After a few weeks I decided to ignore the school reading scheme books and ploughed on through RWI when she was in the mood.
    It really didn't take very long before she could tackle real children's age appropriate storybooks for herself. She always found reading very pleasurable.
    I bodged around the "tricky word" problem like this ..... e.g. child sounds out /th/ /e/ ( /e/ like in egg) ... I say yes you said theh, which is sensible, in this word the letter e makes a uh sound .... try that word again. Might have done this loads of times until the was automatically read correctly - I don't really remember - but as it's such a common word in all kinds of books it automatically gets practiced loads of times while reading so it's not a big deal. Similarly for other "tricky" words - and considering other words that follow the same pattern unless it really is a one-off.
    It's just a personal anecdote, but it worked much better for me than with DD1 who was kind of expected to learn to read by osmosis, working words out from context etc. DD2 has always enjoyed reading more and read more accurately than DD1. Of course this anecdote is no proof that this method would always be the better one, but it's an example of where placing emphasis on phonics as the first and primary method of decoding can have a good end result - a happy reader, who now at just 6, reads very widely for her own pleasure, and has done for quite some time now.
    Yes, I was probably the same at 6, and I was not taught using phonics. But I'm pretty sure I kind of deduced it for myself -- I do remember someone once sticking up some flashcards at school and asking me for the sounds of the letters --- I distinctly remember someone holding up a p and asking me, feeling a bit puzzled and saying, what do you mean, it depends if there's an h after it or not. Also I don't remember anyone ever telling me to look at pictures if I was stuck, or to guess from the first letter, or to read the whole sentence and then think what the word might be. I have seen literacy co-ordinators doing this e.g. with the word piece. The child was perfectly capable of being taught that ie makes an ee sound, and that c makes a sss sound when there is an e after it. Instead he was being taught to guess from the first letter and the context. I find that pointless teaching, or worse still, unhelpful teaching as it sets up an unnecessary habit in a child who hasn't worked out that they could just have an educated guess if they don't have the knowledge or the patience to work it out.
    Yes of course there are still some "exception words" -------- if you look through a really detailed phonics course though you'll find that a lot of the words that some people think are "exception words" are in fact not, and that there can be a logical way of teaching quite a few of them really quite young.
  15. Where are you getting this 'scientifically proven' figure of 20% of children leaving school unable to read or write confidently? Can you give us a reference please?

    I would not dignify that question with a direct response, particularly to a teaching assistant.
    I wish SP were rigorously taught in every classroom. If that were the case, there might be no need for any additional literacy interventions but that is of course, merely an assumption . . . and even if that assumption were true, it would change nothing because in the real world 20% of children, for whatever reason are failing to learn to read and write confidently and there nothing in the data to suggest that is going to change any time soon.
    In the execution of any significant new idea such as SP, normal distribution dictates that there will always be small number of extremists whose narrow vision and closed minds do a disproportionately large amount of damage to the main thesis of the idea. It is their narrowness of vision, more than the complexity of our orthography that sustains our high levels of illiteracy.
    May God forgive them. .
  16. That sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I've said repeatedly that using phonics as the 'main' approach to learning to read seems like a good idea; it's common sense, it works. Whilst I've only worked at one school, and volunteered at another, I do know lots of other parents and have colleagues from a wide range of schools, and they all use phonics. None of them, thank goodness, uses the method which appears to have been foisted on your older daughter.
    All I'm saying - and it doesn't seem particularly outrageous - is that I am reluctant to try and force any child down a narrow path of my own choosing. If, once they have been introduced to phonics and are developing their decoding skills, a child uses additional strategies which they find helpful in reading a text rather than single words one at a time , how is that a problem? As far as I'm aware, no-one has said that that there are difficulties with children who can decode words phonically and like to use some contextual clues or sight-reading. After all, those children would presumably be strong readers and sail through a phonics screening.
    Nothing that has been said in this thread has convinced me that there is a case for attempting to block out all other strategies, nor that it is possible. Unfortunately, there is in addition a tendency towards bad-temperedness in those who are unable to produce any better argument for phonics-only than 'because ___ said so', or something along the lines of 'Oh you're stupid, I can't be bothered to talk to you any more, go away and stop asking me for answers'.
    If I were a HT who knew nothing about either of these viewpoints, this thread would have me employing 'mixed methods'. Those who have argued against the exclusive use of phonics have come across as level-headed, objective and capable of sustaining a balanced argument, whilst acknowledging the value of phonics-based teaching.

  17. ...Apart from the person who wrote that, obviously.

  18. I would not agree that context is a strategy that is necessarily over-used by the beginner reader. I believe it is a compensatory and supplementary strategy used when the reader cannot decode the word easily. It is used less frequently by more skilled readers because they do not need it. It can be over-used or used ineffectively, as can all strategies including phonics, but of itself it is not a 'bad' strategy. After all, is it a bad thing for children to access meaning and enjoy reading books which would otherwise be beyond them? So I would say, it is part of developing good reading skills.To go back to the main thrust of the discussion-good readers not reading the nonwords accurately- I cannot claim to know why this is, but have a few ideas.Obviously human beings make meaning of visual data. They recognise objects. And they even see images of some objects where they do not in fact exist. For instance, faces. I have an alarm clock which my granddaughter sees as a face -two small speakers are eyes and the control panel a mouth. I remember, as a child, a bit of carving on my wardrobe door which I saw as a cat's face (wearing glasses and reading a book). We can see faces everywhere, to the extent that it seems as if we are primed to see them. Learning to read primes us to see words. Experienced readers of english recognise that a random string of consonants eg 'cfdw' is not a word and do not attempt to read it, and also recognise words despite minor misprints, sometimes not even noticing that there is a misprint, eg 'strom' for 'storm'. As an adult coming across 'strom' while reading text one might not even notice the misprint. We are primed to see words which we already know, and a child who has learnt the word 'storm' is perhaps primed to read that word when seeing 'strom'.This is how I would explain the inaccurate reading of nonwords if they were embedded in text, but I still find it surprising that children did not recognise that 'strom' was not 'storm' when faced with it as an isolated word. Either the child is not a good phonic decoder, but a sort of haphazard decoder ie only pays attention to some letters, or the child expects the word to be a real word and therefore disregards the anomaly (perhaps not even noticing it). If the child was a haphazard decoder but had taken on board that the words were nonsense words you would expect some inaccuracy, but not necessarily in the direction of real words (eg misreading 'strom' as 'stom' or 'stram'). So it would seem that these children had the expectation that the word would be a real word, and this instinct overcame all the information given by the teacher about nonsense words.If this is the case, these 'good' readers who read inaccurately can be forgiven. And next year, teachers who experienced this perhaps need to do more practice with 'mock' tests, if they want to get good results for their decoding test.... or not bother. You asked about research to date, and I would refer you to 'Reading in the Brain' by Stanislas Deheane, who hypothesises that neutrons code for bigrams. These neurons fire for pairs of letters. To quote: "So the word 'badge' is coded by a list of ten bigrams: BA, BD, BG, BE, AD, G, AE, DG, DE, and GE. If two consecutive letters are switched, as in "bagde" only one of the bigrams is changed (DG becomes GD) and 90% of the code remains unchanged. This similarity explains why we can still read the word "bagde" [as "badge"] when two of its letters are inverted." Deheane was basing this hypothesis on his own research and research done by Grainger and Whitney.
  19. Sorry - a 'misprint' [​IMG]The bigrams Deheane cites for 'badge' are BA, BD, BG, BE, AD, AG, AE, DG, DE and GE.
  20. We can see faces everywhere, to the extent that it seems as if we are primed to see them.
    Recognizing faces has such high survival priority that the brain has an area dedicated to this exclusive purpose - its fundamental pattern-seeking imperative explains why we frequently perceive faces in clouds, fires etc. We are indeed 'primed' to see faces.
    So it would seem that these children had the expectation that the word would be a real word, and this instinct overcame all the information given by the teacher about nonsense words.
    As a consequence of thousands of successful encounters, it would be wholly natural for a good reader to expect that groups of letters bound by a space represented words. Conversely, since poor readers have incomplete and poorly practised decoding skills and have had a much lower number of successful textword encounters and more limited actual reading experience, it would be wholly natural for them to perceive these groups of letters as decoding challenges - just as they perceive the text in a book. Teachers who 'teach to the test' could certainly have full class decoding sessions which would mean that all childen performed better in the tests but as in all 'teaching to the test' it would make little of no contribution to the child's education.
    The phonics test is a simple test devised I suspect by those with only a very superficial understanding of the reading process. It may have a place in assessing individual readers with reading difficulties perhaps in some cases, in conjunction with other information, providing a clue as to the nature of child's difficulty but I suspect its value as a scatter-gun approach to assessing reading skills is very limited.

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