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What to say when Parents say their child doesn't learn phonetically

Discussion in 'Primary' started by Dalian Daisy, Nov 15, 2010.

  1. Learning phonics is learning by rote and then applying. Most brains see and remember patterns whether learning through phonics, by sight or a mixture of both. The children who get into trouble are those that struggle to see the patterns and recall the rote learning. Learning sight words has the advantage that you are learning something which can be supported by prior knowledge and context, learning by phonics has the advantage that if learnt efficiently the patterns are explicit, but it is still baffling for some children who struggle with remembering all the different phonemes that can be symbolised by a letter or common letter group, or who find it difficult to distinguish certain graphemes (b/d very common). The step from single sounds to blending is also a sticking point - children sometimes don't make that leap of understanding easily.

  2. Andy_91

    Andy_91 New commenter

    I'm sorry but this is breathtakingly cavalier and potentially dangerous.
    Do you think other professions such as medicine would take this approach? "It's OK minister, the drug worked on the mice; bound to be OK on the humans; besides it'll be a nice lttle earner."

    Debbie Hepplewhite:
    No-one needs training in synthetic phonics if they take the time to read up on it through information which is freely provided on the internet - including through my own work. It is not a secret - I believe it is a public entitlement to know about one's country's writing and reading system (the alphabetic code if the country has one).
    On the contrary, I have worked very hard for many years to provide the information and guidance that some people, at least, seek and are pleased to learn about.
    Or in other words, "It's OK minister, the drug worked on the mice; bound to be OK on the humans; besides it'll be a nice lttle earner."
    The evidence base is scant, and government are gullible idiots looking for 'the' magic cure that they can make everyone do.
    The tone of Debbie Hepplewhite's post and web-site is evangelical and cultist; it is not the language (nor methodological approach) of rigorous scientific research.
    Moreover Debbie Hepplewhite acts unethically and unprofessionally. She certainly breaches the Terms and Conditions of this site by self-promoting her materials and services in the guise of argument. If you follow her advice by entering her name in Google, you are one click away from a purchase.
    The appropriate place for this is through advertising.
    I would add that I am not against SP, merely against Synthetic Phondamentalists, who exhibit all the tolerance of the Taliban when faced with Western scientific scepticism. Oh and I note that Ofsted (cited in yesterday's TES) used the heretical words 'pick and mix'.
  3. I would like to add into this whole debate perhaps a child's perspective. A debate in which there are secondary teachers -teejay, -reading specialists debbie hep, parents and passionate teachers-thumbie, maizie, mz and which show the breadth of interest that this topic generates. Just because at 3 and 4 they can be taught anything, doesn't mean they should. I say let the children breathe. There is so much that gets thrown out with the rush for early achievment. The child psychotherpaist Bruno Bettleheim once said 'what is the point of learning to read when learning what one reads adds nothing to one's life'. I am amazed to see the motivation of a child between it's fourth and fifth birthdays attempting to translate into written code the idiosyncratic speech of its every day life ; my four year old daughter wrote 'filadalfia' amongst a whole host of other family words yesterday. She walks around the house from morning to night at the moment like a 3 foot high typewriter, tapping out in staccatto speech letters and their phonetic sounds into words. The point for me is the motivation is internal, it seems to be as natural as were her efforts between one and two years old to bring the sounds of her ear together into speech.

    The point I want to make is that she is approaching this like the scientist a yong child is, she is looking for similarities and differences and exploring them, there is no over-riding emphasis on correct form. She is writing-deciphering in an active way, she is not passively learning and parroting letters and sounds, if she can continue like this until 6/7 she will have mastered this process. If this process and these discoveries that she -as typical- of her age is making are shared with other children in her group by a teacher who has provided materials to allow the exploration to proceed, and knows how to interpret the results to encourage even greater efforts,( with an insistence that all children have the same entitlement to develop trough these stages) then I would suggest we could see a transformed picture of what early langauge and literacy education can be. It is the active engagement from within.

    She doesn't want to read stories or texts by herself- unless they strike her- such as the text in reverse on the tram window as we go to school. Not really read by herself, because for her stories and reading are still part of the great bond that links herself to infinity of the stars and the world outside the family and within to her parents and to the world of magic and story. She doesn't yet want to wander there alone, she wants adults to hold her hand and guide her,, and read to her, read with her.

    What interest at all do any children have in being able to read for a reading assessment or worse to read a SAT's test paper at six years of age? NONE. Beware all of us that the new government seems hell bent on deciding this should be further intrenched into a reading test by 6 (read 5 for many children in the cohort). So just when this process should be taking root and flowering we will once more suffocate it, starve it of light and air and insist on a school agenda so full that by the age of four and five we have weary, worn looking children who feel thay have to jump through phonics hoops - and not just at school but at home with the dreaded home-school agreements and homework.

    PLEASE NOTE I am not advocating leaving children to find out for themselves I am advocating a much DEEPER understanding of how and what young children learn. However active we might make jolly phonics, it is still instructing them too early in carpet session and guided group work etc. The same dangerous over-simplification of their needs then results in assemblies, playtimes, literacy and numeacy sessions and before you know it there is no time in school for children to unpack and make sense of their experiences in personally meaningful ways. Things just don't settle and integrate. As a result they get separated off, quarantined into a safe place in the memory but never really cured and made healthy, so that the skills and meaning and magic of reading are lost to the growing and maturing self

    What I see in reception classes and year 1 is the sacrificing of children's rich metaphoricaly capacity, their pictures, their cuting, sticking, model-making and role play games - all being starved because they fall under the direction of a goal, an aim, a target or a plan. I think we are literally starving the roots of children and because many teachers really don't know how to work from young children using steps into literacy which are based on the rich oracy which children need to have developed before any symbolic system makes sense. The dearth of drawing,can be seen in the spindly, undeveloped over-directed results - or only in art given some limited over-directed exercise. A too tight school teaching - read instructing- agenda means that the time and space, the backtracking, the sideways looking, the reversing, the turning upside down that children do naturally with anything, cannot happen. INstead they have to give a standard response too early on. So yes they learn to do this but at the expense of a far greater, more important capacity, their own natural synthesising intelligence. Perhaps too many of the children that are not succeeding in the early years of secondary are those whose roots have been starved and no matter what weights we hang on their spindly branches the results will be pale and lacklustre because those vital opportunities in the early years were missed.
  4. I think you have a point about children learning too young, when they are not developmentally ready for sitting down still.
    Most of the things that are advocated in phase 1 phonics are things that will happen in any quality learning environment, because children's curiosity will mean that they explore sounds and making sounds. We only need to give them good resources and interact with them (only - did I write that, when so much teaching procedure ignores this simple resource of meaningful interaction) . I for one feel patronised by 'Letters and Sounds' and the way it categorises learning. This strikes me as utterly redundant. It's also dangerous to box up children's learning at young ages (stifling everybody's - child and adult - natural abilities to find out).
    I also see that children have their own ways of learning and most children will start to be curious about mark making and reading if it is part of their everyday environment. It is our job to make children curious by providing that environment, which may be missing in their home lives.
    Then reading can be meaningful for those children and they will come to it with some of the skills already in place - knowing that words 'say' something, and that the something can be deciphered and is worth deciphering. That is when they would be ready to learn phonics.Starting later would mean fewer strugglers and faster progress.

  5. nomad

    nomad Star commenter

    Your point being?
    You wouldn't, perhaps, be attempting to divert the thread away from the discussion about the scant research on which you and the other phonics evangelists who have a commercial interest in the promotion of your own materials rely, would you?
  6. nomad

    nomad Star commenter


  7. thanks thumbie, I think we agree, but what I was also trying to draw attention to is the hijacking of play. Too many people from OFSTED through to SMT and EYFS leaders have taken play as a mechanism to instruct. Whether that be the establishing of a role play post-office, or cafe or whatever with proudly detailed accounts of the type of language that children use etc. However any observer of children involved in such play sees that it quickly progresses-naturally evolves- into a free-flow enquiry into the themes and pre-occupations of the children where they begin to really apply things they know. My simple observation is a bit King Canute like in its vanity and probably as preposterous in light of current times, but I want at least to hold the door open against the certainties that at the moment are straining to close any real attempt to discuss questions as to how children learn in their earliest years.

    The nursery schools, the playgroups and the world of early education pre- the EYFS for me curiously had greater vitality, energy, flexibility and knowledge although not widely shared. The rise of the EYFS has maybe extended certain knowledge but not perhaps the understanding which guides the application of that knowledge. We historically suffer from a division of family and child by early schooling, I don't know whether we can ever really overcome that, but I do think that teachers need to be aware of just what young children need to do in order to make sense of their own experience. The school agenda seeks so often to impose itself before children have had yet a chance to establish their foundations. That school agenda is then so fraught with changes and discontinuities; new teachers each year, changes of style and content, imposition of testing and factual knowledge that whilst some children can cope those whom I think suffer most later are those for whom not that there was insufficient phonics, - although that would be an essential teaching at at the right time- but that there was insufficient opportunity to process the emotions and contradictions, the puzzling inconsistencies of 'schooling'. Tizard and Hughes and Pestalozzi echo each other through the ages when they have counselled us to listen to children, and talk WITH them not to them. I observe daily the type of self-fulfilling prophecy that over-structured regimes propagate. I feel the roots of underachievement are far more complex than a simple phonics treatment will suffice - in fact it will probably mask any further identification. We react to a tabloid rash, with a government prescription for a pill that is hoped will hit the target, without perhaps considering the elephant in the room at all, that maybe it is the schooling system itself which produces the supposed symptoms, which squeezes out the real time and space for a child to be achild and so confined to its bed we see it as weak and sickly and prescribe unecessary medicine.. It is a waste of our capacities as teachers to focus solely on the medicine, any technically competent person can administer a prescription, but I would argue that only with the right tools and sufficient time can the roots of the malaise be really uncovered. Those tools are the understanding of child development and the time is the first 6/7 years of life, after that the show hits the road and we can only watch its progress from a distance.
  8. I find myself incredulous on the one hand, but not surprised on the other, because of my breadth of life and professional experience, that some people bring such vitriole to the forum and make sweeping statements and personal judgements on me and my efforts to inform and support people in the business of the nature of our complex alphabetic code and the three core skills for very basic, but important, step by step teaching. (And they make judgement upon other people like Ruth Miskin whose training and programme is TURNING THE RESULTS in many schools around).
    I also find it very worrying that such people can sweepingly refer to 'lack of evidence' when others, such as Yvonne, have put up information saying, in effect, there's this research, there's that research - here is the evidence for you to look up yourselves'. People are invited and encouraged to suggest their evidence saying something different - that there is a more effective way to raise standards of literacy.
    None of us say 'there is only one way to learn' - it is very doubtful whether any of us have had the level of detail about the alphabetic code and the level of emphasis on the blending and segmenting skills which constitute modern-day synthetic phonics programmes - and yet, yes, we all learned to read and write.
    But what about all those who, very clearly, have not. What about those kids, students, adults, who have been MISERABLY FAILED by the teaching methods over the years?
    So, what do we do? Pay regard to the research and longitudinal studies? Do we pay regard to the high percentage of illiteracy or weak literacy of so many people in English-speaking scenarios? Do we pay regard to the fact that resources and training, such as Ruth's, has turned levels of literacy around? Or not.
    Do we pay regard to the international scenarios where some children are given large numbers of words to learn as wholes day after day - by a huge expectation that they can recall these words to builid up their reading and writing skills?
    If anyone had looked up those things which I DO give away for NOTHING, they would see that at no point are we providing a diet of just phonics with no literacy and language enrichment. This is simply not the case. It is just 'basic skills' stuff.
    If our English writing/reading system is clearly based on an alphabetic code, albeit a complex one, do we provide teaching which is code-based and simplified in the practices, and yet detailed in its information - or not?
    "Evangelical" One definition: 'to advocate a cause with the object of making converts'.
    Too right I try to be persuasive. But I do this through providing information whenever I can - and largely through the internet. Then people can make up their own minds.
    But I have seen, and see, too much failure in our schools. I'm alright Jack. I can read and spell relatively well. But I'm a teacher by profession - and I cannot bear to see the number of children who are not taught well enough and who suffer needlessly.
    Be as vitriolic and as personal as you like. No-one knows my thought-processes or reasons for doing things.
    If anyone really thinks I'm in this for 'the money', huh, then they know me not. In any event, my personal finances are absolutely nobody's business.

  9. Milgod

    Milgod Established commenter

    Nobody has answered the question about how to decode the word 'who'.
    I'm not looking for a fight, just interested is all. I don't teach phonics so I'm not sure on the answer.

    Debbie/anyone, can you help?
  10. I think you've put your finger on some very important points, yohanalicante. Children to acquire certain skills and knowledge and expecting these to be picked up by osmosis is hopeful in the extreme. On the other hand, the education system is currently driven by other some unfounded assumptions, such as the idea that all children have the same potential, therefore any variability must be attributable to poor teaching, poor parenting or economic or social deprivation; that the earlier children start 'learning' the better the outcome; the longer children are learning the better (the 10 hour school day); that more homework will lead to improved performance in tests; that the curriculum is something that can be 'delivered'; and that education can be treated like an industrial batch-process, with quality control ensuring consistent output.
    SP is an important part of a broad, rich, flexible curriculum, but I don't want to see it become yet another part of an education-machine that can't cope with children that differ from the norm.

  11. Children 'need' to acquire certain skills and knowledge....[​IMG]
  12. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

    "wh" can represent two phonemes /w/ (as in when) or /h/ (as in whole and whose) and "o"represents /oo/ (as in to)
  13. In terms of decoding 'who' or working out any other word to decode, here is a tip on how to do it:
    Say the word slowly to work out the sounds of the word: In the case of 'who', the sounds are /h/ + long /oo/.
    This suggests that 'wh' is code for /h/ and 'o' is code for long /oo/.
    There are a number of routes you could take to teach this word, and any other words, which don't sit with early phonics teaching of a 'basic code'.
    As the word is very useful for early reading and writing, this word, and others, are certainly worth introducing - even as part of your 'incidental' teaching.
    The expression, 'In this word (any word), those letters (point to the grapheme the child doesn't know yet) ARE CODE FOR.....' enables children to apply their blending skill for any word in wider reading that they would like to read. This is one way to supplement your systematic planned teaching programme with 'incidental' teaching. It is a form of extension, revision, and of applying phonics teaching to wider reading.
    Or you could simply tell the child the word if you don't want to stop their general flow of reading to you.
    However, as I said earlier, it is sensible to group a tricky word with similar words rather than just treat it as an isolated word. Thus, I would group 'who' with 'whose' and 'whole'. I might not introduce 'whom' for the youngest children but I would with slightly older children.
    Then, I would build in this by pointing out the word 'whole' with 'hole' - noting their difference in meaning and demonstrating how sometimes different spellings help us to understand different meanings.
    It's a fallacy to say that phonics is anti 'meaning'. The bank of cumulative words that we introduce as part of phonics teaching provides a wonderful opportunity to expand on oral vocabularies and grammar and speaking and listening. They're all interlinked - it's not a case of 'either/or'.
    So, the word 'who' brings up the opportunity to look at words with the same code of 'wh' as code for /h/ with words like 'whose' and 'whole' but it also brings up the opportunity to look at other common words where the letter 'o' is code for long /oo/ such as 'to', 'do', 'move', 'prove' and so on.
    This means that we are constantly bringing in common sense opportunities to show that there are patterns of spelling - which is reinforcing both the reading skill and the spelling skill.
    Teaching spelling is something we need to work very hard at and attention to the details of words is very helpful indeed. There are always a few children in our classes who seem to have a natural propensity to both read and spell, but there are many more who struggle with reading - and particularly with spelling.
    Words like 'who' should not be considered to be a big deal, and I find it very sad that picking on a few unusual words which are commonly used but with more rare spelling alternatives are used as some kind of argument to be 'anti synthetic phonics' teaching. They seem to be used in a never-ending 'ah but...' type of argument and it doesn't need to be this way.
    If I was class teaching now, I would bang up some A4 posters with 'who', 'whose', 'whole' on and/or 'who', 'to', 'do' or perhaps 'who, move, prove' or similar - and keep doing this for any words that crop up which seem tricky at the time.
    I would also want to be able to say to the children, "And Mr/Mrs/Miss So-and-so will be teaching you more about this later".
    Meaning that I could rely on my colleagues teaching in the follow-on years to then be looking at more words where letter 'o' is code for long /oo/ for both reading and spelling. We really need whole school understanding and building on what each of us teaches from one year to the next.
    I would also be providing a poster which has on it: when, who, where, why, what happened?
    In other words, looking at the question word triggers for recount writing. We could note the spelling of all of these words starting with 'wh' and note that 'who' does not start with the same sound, but actually we are providing a lost of triggers for the order of recount writing.
    On Saturday,/ Mr and Mrs Brown and their children,/ went to MacDonald's/ to celebrate Mark's fourth birthday./ Whilst they were there, a clown arrived.........
    In terms of learning it as a 'whole' - sure - that would be fine too because it is in the context of lots of phonics teaching going on. So, as a teacher I may well want a very small bank of word flash cards to pick out the most unusual spellings of very helpful early words. I would ALSO look at the phonics of the words, but I would acknowledge that the words are trickier and could do with an emphasis on looking at those words more than others.
    This is different, however, from an approach of taking loads of common words made up as flash cards where the overall shape is the main teaching and learning approach. If a word can be readily decoded from its graphemes all through a word, it certainly does not need a flash card approach or over-emphasis.

  14. OK Andy. Where are the longitudinal studies which validate the whole language, look and say methods of teaching reading which have prevailed for the past few decades? Why is is fine to continue with those methods while SP has to fight every inch of the way?
    The elements which comprise SP teaching have all been shown, by research, to be the most effective in teaching most children to learn to read. This is not unevidenced 'theory'.

    If you care to search the archives you will find that Debbie Hepplewhite was giving support and advice on SP teaching long before she wrote her own programme.
  15. I have no problem with evidence, debbiehep. But what I have noticed is that when one draws attention to what the evidence actually shows, one can come in for some vitriole [sic] oneself.
    On another thread, https://community.tes.co.uk/forums/t/439799.aspx
    Yvonne cited some evidence from the American Academy of Pediatrics and then denied that it said what it said - even thought I quoted it saying it and gave the page number. Then there is a discrepancy between the anecdotal evidence cited by SP specialists and peer-reviewed/large scale studies. As I have said a number of times, I don't dispute the anecdotal evidence, but the peer-reviewed/large-scale studies paint a different picture and I am interested in why some children don't appear to benefit from SP. I'm interested because I have a son for whom SP didn't appear to work.

    I got involved with this debate only because I had the temerity to suggest that my son's difficulties with SP might have been due to an auditory processing problem coupled with eye movement abnormalities. I was told these are Scotch mist, that I subscribe to philosophies that I don't, the suggestion is made that I would only take notice of research by people I have never heard of, and my son is pronounced ‘doomed'.

    I can quite understand why SP proponents are angry about children being failed by inadequate teaching methods, but making sweeping generalizations in respect of anyone who questions the evidence, or even points out what it actually says, is hardly doing the SP cause any good.

  16. I think in the past that "who" perhaps did start with the same sound, as it was more like "hwo" in Old and Middle English. Not that that's relevant to small children or helpful in trying to decode it, but it may interest Milgod and Derek Underwood.
  17. But it's good practice to do that when taking loads of common letter/sound correspondences made up as flash cards where the approach is for children to recognise the grapheme and come up with the phoneme?
    There is some unhelpful inconsistency in this approach, or is it over-literal consistency?
    I really do not see the difference between recognising /ough/ as possible -oo- (through) or -off- (cough) or -ow- (bough) and recognising the word at and therefore cat, bat and a string of other words. You do not have to sound out a-t every time. As for /ough/, surely learning word families and deducing (what SP-only adherents call 'guessing') from context is an easier route than having to apply 3 possibilities that, chances are, you have forgotten anyway, /ough/ having no meaning to hang it onto to help you remember.
    The over-emphasis on children using phonics for every word is denying them the use of natural, normal strategies that can aid their fluency and their ability to access meaning in texts. Children take the phonic rules very much to heart (never having been presented with other ways) and some will persist in sounding out even when, given a little encouragement, they could manage without.
  18. /ough/ - also 'oh' on though, and 'or' in thought.
  19. Oh, and 'uff' in tough.

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