The Big Question

By Hodges, Lucy | The Independent (London, England), November 2, 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Big Question


Hodges, Lucy, The Independent (London, England)


What is the best way to teach reading - and should children be tested at six?

Why are we asking this now?

Because the Conservative leader, David Cameron, is today publishing a Green Paper outlining measures to help prevent poorer children falling behind at school. This will include a reading test at the age of six for all except those with serious learning difficulties, and a phonics-based approach to the teaching of reading. The aim is for all children to be reading by the end of Year One.

The Conservatives plan to scrap the controversial Key Stage One literacy test for six- and seven-year-olds and replace it with a straightforward reading test. The Tories regard this test as bureaucratic and over-complicated and believe that it detracts from the important job of teaching youngsters to read.

How are children taught to read at the moment?

The Labour government has implemented a national literacy strategy which includes a structured literacy hour every day for all children in primary school - and which has introduced systematic phonics. Between 1997 and 2000 this strategy produced remarkable results. The number of 11-year-olds achieving level 4 - able to read - shot up from 48 to 75 per cent. But the problem is that a hard core of young people get left behind, still unable to read when they start secondary school.

This 7 per cent of children are unlikely to get four good GCSEs, the minimum needed to secure a good job or move on to further education. Jim Rose, the former Her Majesty's Inspector and author of the latest review of the government's literacy strategy, believes that with a good phonics programme almost every child should learn to read.

What is phonics?

It is a systematic method for teaching children to decode language, and it comes after several decades in schools when children were taught to read by getting them to memorise whole words and their meaning in one go - the"Look and Say"method.

This Look and Say method has been largely discredited and is thought to account for the crisis in reading in primary schools that gripped the nation in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Phonics involves splitting each bit of a word into its component parts.

In phonics, youngsters are taught the sounds and blends of letters before they see any books. Rose believes that they should be introduced to phonics at four or five by learning letter sounds and doing a lot of speaking and listening. By learning to decode words, children learn how words are constructed and how to spell. Knowledge of language is built up in the first year, and by the age of six they are capable of recognising words.

Why the change in government policy?

Various pieces of research, notably the Clackmannanshire survey in Scotland, showed that children benefited from learning how to decode their language in this way. The Scottish research put children up to three years ahead in reading, although they did not show a significant improvement in comprehension of words.

Is anyone against phonics?

Some teachers in schools are against phonics, believing that it is mechanistic and old-fashioned and not the way to teach children to love reading and books. The argument against phonics is that while it speeds up the rate that children can read words, it does not aid their understanding of what those words mean. Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, says that the method is useful but adds that the Tories are obsessed by it."They somehow think it is a magic solution for everything else.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Big Question
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?