“Reading”

Hello. How’s things?

So, I asked for some suggestions as to what to write a blog about. I didn’t get many. But I did get this one:

And then Naureen beat me to it.

The discussion around this topic has been fascinating, and has been going on for a long time. Specifically, the debate over phonics continues to be an issue around which the debate spins. Of course, this has been an issue for some time now, with proponents of phonics claiming it is the best way to teach reading, and critics claiming that reading is about more than decoding – which is what phonics is all about. I don’t intend to retread this tired debate, but I am interested in its recent resurfacing following two recent conferences which occurred on the same day: #rEDLang and #OxReadingSpree.

I wasn’t at either event. But reading through both hashtags was interesting. The former, unsurprisingly, has a lot of material about research and evidence informed approaches to language, whilst the second shares discussion of  some fantastic and lovely kids’ books. As a teacher of English at secondary level, I appreciate the need for, and value of, both strands of this reading debate. However, these two events help to serve as perfect symbols of the wider debate in education. This debate is often framed as trad vs prog, as alluded to by Naureen in her tweet. However, as I wrote about previously, I think it is more reflective of a dichotomy that goes even further back than the phonics debate.

On the one hand, reading is the physical act of decoding and deciphering written or printed shapes on a page which represent phonic articulations that we call speech. Learning to decipher the phoneme/grapheme code is crucial for children to do well in school and beyond, and I’m sure there’s lots of research to support this position. However, on the other hand, reading involves far more than decoding and deciphering the squiggles. It is about comprehension and understanding.

Following these two events, a discussion – often a little heated – arose following this tweet from @oldandrewuk:

Inevitably, I think a lot of this discussion was about crossed-wires. Some of the reaction to Andrew’s comments revealed a passionate (yes, I used that word) love of childrens’ literature. I particularly enjoyed my conversation with @redgierob about the ways in which picture books convey narrative, as exemplified here:

which included this image:

ReadingPhonicsPicBook

I am a big fan of this kind of work, and can see how reading includes this sort of text. But here’s the crux of the problem. For Andrew, this ain’t reading. For me – a teacher of GCSE English, A Level English and sometimes media studies – this is partly about semiotics.

Have a look at the Eduqas GCSE English Assessment Objectives:

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 22.32.13

AO1 gives us the phrase “identify and interpret explicit and implicit information and ideas”. This is a kind of deciphering, but it is about what isn’t written just as much as what is. And look at this question from the old version of AQA GCSE English Language: “Explain how the headline and picture are effective and how they link to the text. ”

[The past paper from which this comes can be found here, whilst the matching insert can be found here.]

And now have a look at the National Curriculum for KS2:

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 22.43.58

So, case closed? Reading really is about more than just decoding via phonics. Sorted.

And yet. In order for kids to really be able to do any of that other stuff, they really do need to be able to read in the strictest, basic sense of decoding.

The more I think about this sort of stuff, the more I’m inclined to see Martin Robinson’s Trivium as a good model. And, as I tweeted to Old Andrew:

Will that do? I’d like to eat my Bournville now.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on ““Reading”

  1. It seems like this is just an introduction so far. What seems to be often overlooked is that those who advocate phonics do so because it will improve comprehension, recall, inference, and evaluation. Literally no one is saying ‘all they need is phonics’. This is a complete straw man and has served to divert the debate repeatedly. What phonics advocates are talking about is establishing fluent decoding as early as possible so that children will have greater capacity for appreciating literature and language. Those who are saying ‘no, we need both’ are usually saying that a mix of phonic decoding and contextual inferences is best. The research evidence for context strategies says otherwise.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s