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Precocious readers 'held back' by phonics?

Discussion in 'Early Years' started by mandala1, Dec 1, 2011.

  1. mandala1

    mandala1 Occasional commenter

    From various comments on here, and from my own experience really, I was just wondering what clever phonikers perspectives on this are. Me - I don't remember learning to read, suspect I taught myself (no-one else would've) and was reading Mallory Towers when I was 5. I was way ahead of my peers. But I'd never heard of phonics until about 10 years ago. I struggle with the concept that I was in some way 'held back' by a lack of knowledge and understanding of phonics. (I was certainly held back by teachers who didn't realise my reading ability!!!) I am a passionate phoniker and have seen amazing results in my FS2 classroom. But with the very very occasional precocious reader I do wonder. (I don't want to start a fight btw...)
  2. This is a really valid question and worth discussing.
    The first thing I point out during talks and training events is that the very teaching profession, generally, consist of the children who managed to become literate 'no matter what' their experience in school as youngsters. They often cannot even remember what happened to make them literate.
    It is a very rare teacher who actually received a rigorous systematic synthetic phonics teaching approach such as is now being advocated.
    This means that teachers, understandably, might question the 'phonics for everyone' approach.
    There's a number of points to address here:
    Whilst we were busy becoming 'literate', many of our contempories at primary school were not - or not nearly to our levels.
    That even good readers are not necessarily good spellers.
    That it makes no sense not to teach the alphabetic code of our language's writing system - for both reading and writing - why wouldn't we?
    That research on reading shows the efficacy of systematic synthetic phonics - and leading-edge practice.
    I suggest that there is a deep, hidden problem amongst learners that is not fully understood nor investigated of just how many people 'skip' or 'blurgh' many of the words in texts which are new or challenging to them - or not within their oral vocabularies. They may still gain the gist of the text, but not read it accurately.
    Equally, phonics for reading and phonics for spelling are the skills of the vast majority of proficient adult readers and spellers - but not even the teaching profession fully appreciate this - and, instead, associate phonics with the teaching of young beginners - or, in some cases, for catch up or special needs.
    The question at the heart of this thread is, what do we do with the children who come to us reading already?
    Well - how are they reading? By lots of intelligent guesses, remembering the whole words, remembering the sentences and storyline?
    By competent decoding in the main?
    I suggest that even if children come to us as good readers, they ALSO need to take part in the phonics teaching.
    The phonics teaching should soon address quite a comprehensive range of letter/s-sound correspondences - and teaching existing readers this will help them to see letters and letter groups with crystal clarity rather than be natural DEDUCING.
    Also, our current method of phonics teaching is so intertwined between the skills of reading and spelling (and I always include 'handwriting' as a third core skill) that advanced 'readers' still need the basics for spelling and handwriting.
    The worry for me, however, is that teachers don't necessarily know how to address individually advanced children in terms of teaching complex code. I build into my guidance and programmes' resources the notion of 'two-pronged' phonics teaching as I have just mentioned on the Alan Davies THRASS thread. This means that teachers can teach children as individuals alphabetic code as required -and ahead of others in the class if necessary.
    In terms of reading material, once again this depends on the profile of the actual child. If the child has to guess through advanced text, then we really don't want to encourage this otherwise the long-term default reading habit may well be the 'skipping and blurghing' that I mentioned before.
    There really are children, however, with virtually photographic memories who have an unbelievable capacity to read very early on. There is a case for them choosing their own reading material - perhaps in addition to a more structured phonics book which will also support spelling if the text is not too overwhelming.
    Sometimes, young advanced readers don't even want sophisticated, heavy print books - they just want little children's books!
    I do think that we must not patronise children or their parents - and we need to make sure that all children ARE catered for. I would still include all children in the systematic phonics lessons - but make sure that the quicker-to-learn children have plenty of material at their level in school and at home.
    I'm promoting the 'book bag plus 2' idea. Put in the book bag a cumulative, decodable reading book for children and allow them 2 other books 'of their choice (storybooks, information books from the class or school library?).
    Also, I think we go a long way just by being sympathetic and supportive of parents with children who appear to be ahead of their peers. There's a lot of unhappiness expressed by parents on 'mumsnet' for feeling left out of what is going on at school - or perhaps the parents don't understand well enough about phonics - or the need to teach it when 'they' didn't have it as children.
    Equally, there are parents who get the feeling that the schools are not teaching the phonics well enough.
    Interesting times![​IMG]
  3. So what do you do with children who enter YR already able to read?
  4. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    I read at three - my mother (primary trained but many years ago) said I went through a few levels of Peter and Jane, mainly on look-and-say, but then appeared to have worked out the code for myself. (Knowing her, there would probably have been some discussion when I came across unfamiliar patterns, though.)
    My daughter also read at three, but started very much phonically - she knew all the letter sounds and some digraphs at 2, and I checked out JP once I realised she was going to be an early reader. Her friend read at three, but it sounds as if she just started for herself without any particular guidance other than seeing older brother going through the process - again it looks like she worked out much of the code for herself. Her mum said she didn't know anything about phonics.
    I suspect the early readers vary in their initial approach, and it's probably difficult to tell how they've learnt when you first meet them - my daughter was reading many words by sight by the time she got to school, so it would not have been obvious that she'd pieced them together originally. She also started to get lazy about decoding new words, although she could do it once she knew her guess was wrong!
    There are three in my daughter's class who were reading (fluently enough for chapter books) on entry to school - a rather unusual class, I suspect. They skipped the reading scheme, but did the whole class phonics stuff. I don't think that held them back in any way - and my daughter's motor skills lagged behind, so she still needed to learn to form the letters. It hopefully also picked up any gaps in phonics knowledge. They were lucky in being together, which meant that the teacher could work with them as a group.
    I suspect the main thing with the early readers is that they're likely to be generally very able, and so if they have gaps, they're likely to plug them easily.
  5. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    Debbiehep - I like your post.
    I agree about them needing the picture books - at five, my daughter reads anything from simple picture books to Horrid Henry. It took quite a while for her to start choosing the simple chapter books - they demanded more than her usual concentration span. In the summer holidays, she was rejecting anything without colour illustrations - I think Horrid Henry (which now comes in shorter colour versions as well as paperbacks) helped break that barrier! But it's fine with me when she brings picture books - especially as many of them are such good stories - arguably rather better than many of the paperbacks.
  6. Charly27

    Charly27 New commenter

    I agree with lots of what has been said by DebbieHep and fustrum. I suspect I could also read before I started school and so could my daughter. But . . .phonics isn't just for teaching to read by blending but also fantastic for teaching to write -both the spelling and the handwriting. I've always had at least one child who came into Reception reading and I encouraged them to keep doing it and enjoying it whilst taking a holistic approach and bolstering skills in other areas.
    I wish my daughter had been taught phonics for spelling because at 15 it sometimes remains a bit of a mystery to her!
    Having finished my PGCE in the 80's when the apprenticeship approach was advocated, I've learnt a huge amount about teaching children to read -especially in the last 10 years. Can't all be bad!

  7. mandala1

    mandala1 Occasional commenter

    I am not working in school any more.

    I'm not sure I did the right thing by these few children. I'm baffled as to why you are being so confrontational - can we not just discuss and debate????
  8. mandala1

    mandala1 Occasional commenter

    Thanks to other contributions - interesting perspectives.
  9. InkyP

    InkyP Star commenter

    I have a child in my class now who started school reading fluently. I fast tracked him through the reading scheme to find the level that challenged him. His writing, however, is not at the the same standard as his reading so he still benefits from phonics albeit working with a Year 1 group.
    Other children who started school not reading are now beginning to read and are better writers than him.

    I don't find it a problem catering for the needs of the very able or less able, we should be meeting the needs of each child whatever methods we are using.
  10. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

    As the mother of a precocious reader (able to read books at 18 months by age 3 he loved reading the Financial Times, Repair manuals and Encyclopeadias) able to read anything when he arrived in reception I feel he was held back in his writing by never being taught phonics.
    In 20 years I've encountered only 4 or 5 children who I would describe as precocious readers and don't feel any were held back by learning an important skill but believe they would have been held back had they not joined their peers for phonics which after all encompasses much more than learning letter /sound relationships.
  11. mandala1

    mandala1 Occasional commenter

    That makes sense.
    In my 25 years teaching (not all in FS though) I'd agree - similar numbers.
  12. I am sorry, mandala. I didn't mean to be confrontational, it is just that I was irritated by the idiocy of the THRASS postings which I had just read and this topic seemed to be leading from it.
    (If my confrontational post was made in the morning I might add that, sadly, I am not at my best before midday[​IMG] )
  13. Leapyearbaby64

    Leapyearbaby64 New commenter

    I've posted before about a boy in my class last year who came into R with an 8+ reading age. He had worked out much of the alphabetic code himself and read many words by sight. He was given appropriate books and guided reading sessions. However, he did benefit from phonics teaching which improved his writing a great deal. I have a child this year who has an amazing memory. He can memorise whole books by sight and does not forget them. His parents say they taught him to "read" by reading the books to him 3-4 times and then finding he could read them back. However, he cannot read simple CVC books fluently when they are new to him and did not register a reading age. So is he really a reader? Probably not. His parents probably think he is being "held back" - but they have not done the school or child any favours by buying the whole reading scheme for home and helping him memorise the books. He has taken part in all phonics lessons and his writing too is improving rapidly as he is now willing to have a go. I think the beauty of phonics (when all the correct resources are in place) is that reading and writing are so closely linked together and children "get" this.
  14. madenglishgirl

    madenglishgirl New commenter

    I'm finding this thread interesting - as a mother of a 3 year old with a reading age of 9 - I often panic that she has skipped through phonics. He teacher doesn't seem too concerned and has just told me to let her carry on reading whatever she wants, but has given me some phonics stuff to do with her at home because she is now interested in HOW words are spelt.
  15. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Star commenter

    We won't really know the answer to any of the questions about the advantages and disadvantages of a phonics based approach to teaching reading for about ten years. And then only if some proper research is done to compare standards ofchildren taught in different ways. And then only if schools that have taught phonics 'properly' can be identified.
    I'm glad mine weren't at school when phonics was in vogue. They all learnt to read and write with minimal effort and were all able to spell without ever learning spellings. They would, I'm sure, have been part of the possibly small minority for whom phonics is not appropriate. In Maths they were never given appropriate work, nor were they allowed to spend the time they didn't need to spend on Maths doing something they did need to improve. It would be foolish to think that one way of teaching is going to be perfect for every child. I think the real question is, can a system with relatively large classes do anything except teach the majority in the probably best way, leaving a few children to struggle at either end?
  16. I feel very sad to hear views about phonics such as this.
    The alphabetic code of our language is very important to learn about - even as a concept.
    It is a tremendously challenging 'code' but even a small amount of code knowledge along with the skills of blending for reading and segmenting for spelling enables children to become 'readers' and 'spellers/writers' no less than adults.
    It also enables young readers to read and spell amazingly independently words which consist of the letter/s-sound correspondences taught even without prior exposure of any description to those words.
    I think these amazing skills that we are giving children across the board are incredible and sometimes I suspect that whilst we talk about the advantages - or not - of phonics teaching, it's all too easy to lose sight of exactly what is being taught and why.
    It is extremely illogical, at the very least, to consider that we should teach children to read word by word and through guessing and common sense.
    I would suggest, however, that even those children who have remarkable capacity to learn to read through self-deduction of the code are well-served by the kind of phonics teaching we do now which includes not only teaching reading but teaching spelling as pretty much reversible processes.
    I can't see any reason at all why 'phonics is not appropriate' for any children - even the self-deducers and naturally talented at reading and spelling.
    I say this as someone who also has a child who taught herself to read at the age of 3 and was a remarkable child speller. Indeed she herself recognises the importance of learning our language's alphabetic code and the associated skills and does not argue a case for suggesting it is not appropriate in any way for any child.
    I would not suggest for one second that it would have been 'inappropriate' for her to have been taught phonics - far from it.
    And who is to predict the long-term reading or spelling profile of precocious readers and spellers? What if they hit a ceiling unbeknown to anyone? Would the child/young person even understand if that ceiling was reached?
    I also suggest that it is intellectually of great value to know and understand about the alphabetic code and associated skills.
    I think it's quite shocking that the teaching profession have been left in the dark about it, in the main, for so long.
  17. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Star commenter

    Our 'alphabetic code' sounds very scientific and logical but it's another of those things that lots of us will work out for ourselves at a later date and if we don't well, what matters is that we can read and write. If phonics helps some children to do this better then it's a good thing.Phonics is only of fairly limited use in spelling more unusual words. I, in common with a lot of people, remember whole words having seen them. I don't need a system and by the time I was about ten I'd read so much that I had pretty well encountered most words I was going to need, and I had a good vocabulary so I could read words I wsn't familiar with by, presumably, matching them with a word i knew by sound.
    There is rarely one best way of doing things in the practical world. For example, my son's cello teacher was telling me the other day how strongly different teachers believe that their way of holding the bow is the best. They all have excellent reasons for supporting their view and often believe everyone else is wrong. Our cello teacher is more pragmatic and recognises that while she has a favoured bow hold the fact that Tortellier held his bow in what many people would see as as extremely unfavourable way suggests that different things can work for different people. I worry that teachers semm to lurch from one thing to another, always believeing the current trend is the only and right way of doing something. Life just isn't like this.
    Maybe you don't think phonics was wrong for your child. Well good. If your child had worked out lots of higher Maths for itself would you also be delighted that they had to sit through learning it all again 'the teacher's way'? My sons begged me to teach them at home so they could learn something they didn't already know. If they'd had to be taught phonics when they could already read and write they would have been bored senseless. I KNOW it's good for lots of children but that doesn't mean they all need it. Do you think I should be taught phonics, as I wasn't at school ( I learnt to read the incorrect and old fashioned way with a reading scheme and no phonics so obviously I haven't a clue about any of it...) and must therefore be unable to read unfamiliar words? Clearly there is a point at which a person doesn't need to be taught phonics - they've either bypassed it or worked it out for themselves unconsiously. Why should a child like this have to do soemthing I would consider absurd for myself?
  18. I'm totally sympathetic towards your perspective. I myself had to accept long ago that my children some, or all, of the time would be seriously coasting and potentially bored at school - as many other children may be across a range of subjects.
    I remember witnessing the level of a local judo club where children from the school where I taught at the time were undertaking levels of activity and fitness which were far beyond the diet that they received at school. It's not just about the academic subjects by any stretch of the imagination.
    I always ascertain how the attendees at training events spell an unknown multi-syllable word that I provide for them to spell. In the vast majority of cases, they say that they do syllable chunking and think of the 'sounds' when they write the unknown word. They also report that they 'say the sounds' in their heads when they write at least longer words or more challenging words.
    Equally, they note that to read longer unknown words such as Latin plant names or Greek mythological names and so on, that they apply their 'phonics' in their attempt to 'read' it. In other words, most people use phonics as adult skills for both reading and spelling new and unknown words.
    Many of the words that our children read in literature are new and unknown to the children - particulary if they have impoverished spoken language or English is a new or additional language. So, they really are served well by phonics - including as they get older.
    Your point, however, is that why should those individual children be subjected to phonics when they don't 'need' it. Well - who is to ascertain what they 'need' and when they might need it? Who would take the decision to NOT teach them the alphabetic code of the language and the skills of blending and segmenting when we DO know that this is such an empowering and effective method of teaching reading and spelling - of course it is - however could people have thought it was not?
    This does not mean that people don't ALSO have to look at the spellings of individual words. I agree that this is a real challenge - but, as a teaching profession, we need to work really hard at it - and how can we preclude any children in that teaching - the raising of awareness of spelling alternatives, the need to note the spellings and group words according to their spellings in our minds - something most of us in the teaching profession have achieved subconsciously - but as teachers we now, surely, have a duty to teach these things thoroughly.
    With very quick learners and very natural and advanced learners in mind, I suggest that teachers use a giant Alphabetic Code Chart in their classrooms right from Reception. Whereas it may be above the heads of most of the children - at least at first - it provides a fantastic tool for adults to understand the concepts and for the adults to refer to it to teach extended alphabetic code right from the outset as appropriate.
    'As appropriate' would no doubt include children such as you have described with that natural propensity to deduce the code - even without knowing that is what they are doing. I woud certainly not advocate children being held back.
    What I also suggest is that children can undertake their phonics activities at their own speed, that there are different levels of difficulty from the outset and that all children have 'extension activities' at the ready to progress to at their own speed.
    This does not mean that such children won't have to be patient at times whilst the class teacher goes through vocabulary and the routines with the whole class - but then that is the nature of our teaching system where one adult is in charge of very large numbers of children - what can anyone expect in such circumstances - they are CLASS teachers and NOT tutors.
    It isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, to exercise patience, to take turns, and to appreciate that not everyone can learn so easily or quickly - a lesson in counting one's blessings - although many a parent of very gifted children have speculated as to how much this might be considered a blessing as every scenario presents challenges of one kind or another.
    The bottom line, however, is that adults are charged with teaching up to 30 children in a Reception class. Let me repeat - 30! It's a huge number. And, nowadays, we know that we can produce miracles of learning to read, spell and write under these circumstances.
    We must celebrate that fact and not begrudge it - or skew what teachers should or not teach because some individuals come to school reading already - and some teachers didn't 'need' such a phonics diet.
    Who knows how much more easily they might have read and written with the kind of wonderful start we are giving all children now!
  19. mandala1

    mandala1 Occasional commenter

    I really hope you don't include me in that. This is a genuine question that has and still does challenge me. I don't see why an exchange of views should threaten. I'm still trying to rationalise my own school experience, which, for various reasons, was pretty disasterous.
  20. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Star commenter

    My recent experience of home education has certainly showed me that for some children a lot of what goes on in primary school doesn't offer them much. We did very little formal 'work' for two years yet my son is finding at high school that he's level with or slightly ahead of his peers. His school think he's gifted in English, which he's certainly not, but instead of the grad-grind of primary school SATs preparation he's done what I woulds call proper English, writing with minimal guidance and working out for himself what works and what doesn't. I went to fully open plan do what you like primary school and I'm sure this has coloured my view. Although my peers and I lacked a bit of formal structure when we went to secondary school we were great problem solvers and independent in our working. We missed out on a lot of what goes on now but filled mst of the top groups at our secondary school. I'm inclined to believe that we lost very little from schooling ourselves for four years but gained quite a lot. But to be fair, we'd come from an infant school where not a single child left unable to read.
    I'd like to bet that a lot of children would learn to read a lot more easily if they didn't start until quite a bit later. How can you read a word if you've never heard it before? I'm sure a lot of early readers will have the advantage of a good vocabulary behind them. If early schooling could focus on vocabulary and talking rather than reading then wouldn't the reading be a lot easier for everyone? I've listened to children attempting to read even quite simple words that they just didn't know.They must be completely perplexed.
    I fully appreciate that a reception class of 30 is a mammoth thing to organise and teach. What i found frustrating was that my independent minded children couldn't just read or do something else when the class was being taught things they already knew (which in the upper yeasr of primary was most of the time!). I can see that brings it's own problems but I don't see why brighter (am I allowed to use that word?!) can't do their own thing ifthey do it quietly. It can't be worse than having to be taught what you already know.

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