I haven’t written anything about the actual practice of teaching reading and spelling for some time now so I thought I’d add something about one of the children I’m teaching at the moment.
The pupil is a boy of seven who is about to start Y3. When he left reception, he couldn’t read at all and was furious in his frustration at being in this predicament – the school, by the way, had told parents of children entering reception that all children would be reading by the end of the year! [This is an incredibly stupid promise to make since we know that at least some children are simply not ready to start formal learning by the age of four. In case you’re not aware, a child can start school if their fourth birthday is on or before September 1st.] He was also made to sit on the ‘bottom’ table with several other children who couldn’t yet read at all.
The boy, we’ll call him Freddy, was being fed a diet of the usual ‘letter of the week’, plus a large helping of Look and Say; and he just didn’t get it at all. Within a few weeks of teaching him, using Sounds-Write, I had him reading and spelling three-sound words (mum, dog, jam, etc.) with ease. By Christmas, Freddy was reading four- and five-sound words (help, swim, crisp, scrap, etc.) and we were on to the complexities of the code, teaching him the ways of spelling the sounds /ae/, /ee/ and so on.
Since then, largely because his parents listen to him read most days, Freddy has made more and more progress and yesterday he read me a piece called ‘Flowers’ from the Kingfisher First Encyclopedia. This book presents informational texts in neat, bite-sized chunks. These have the advantage of being short, and therefore not overwhelming, as well as being challenging. Here’s a sample of the text Freddy read with fluency and without making a single error:
Many flowers have bright colours and a sweet smell to attract insects, such as bees and butterflies. The insects carry tiny grains of pollen from one flower to another so that seeds can be made.
The school are still blathering on about him passing through several stages of ‘graded’ readers, though they don’t seem to have any idea of what a graded reader is because they aren’t able to explain how one grade supposedly moves on or up to the next grade. An examination of the ‘readers’ shows that the only criterion for deciding that one grade is a progression from another is that the number of words/sentences on a page increases. If a pupil can already read, this is fine for building stamina (reading muscle); but if they are still having trouble decoding, they stumble laboriously from one ‘tricky’ word to another – and lose meaning along the way.
However, notwithstanding the fact that he can read complex text, in the school’s eyes, Freddy is still not a ‘free reader’, which means that he has to plough through one book after another in any ‘book band’ until he reaches the end, at which point he is ‘promoted’ to the next band. In other words, they don’t trust him to choose his own books. Of course, if he can read with fluency the above text, he can read anything that is within his range of interest.
Incidentally, you can get hold of a copy of many of Kingfisher’s encyclopedias through Amazon for little more than the price of the postage.