Most parents want their children to be well educated, to reach their potential and one of the foundation stones for learning is reading. As a parent it’s important to understand the processes involved in learning to read. Many parents were not taught to read using a synthetic phonics approach so developing an understanding about what that entails and the evidence that shows this is the best method to use to teach children to read, is really useful.
Reading is not Innate
Unless there is a specific problem all children will learn to speak. Usually they do this without explicit instruction. Babies start by vocalising with ‘noises’ and providing that they hear speech they will start to repeat what they hear, gradually learning to use speech to influence their environment, for example by saying ‘drink’ when they want a drink.
The same is not true of reading. There are still societies that don’t read and write, it is an extra skill that developed over a long period of time, differently across the globe, giving rise to numerous different languages. Children do not need to be taught explicitly how to speak but they do need explicit teaching when it comes to reading. The Rose report gives an in depth account of approaches and draws the conclusion that synthetic phonics is the most effective method. Sounds-Write is one such method used in many schools, though there are others such as Letters and Sounds and Read Write Inc.
The English language is rich and complex and as we have an alphabet with only 26 letters but have 44 commonly used sounds there is a level of complexity that doesn’t exist in every language so it is important that it is taught using an evidence based, effective method.
Reading Starts with Sounds
Reading, and writing, is a way we represent the sounds we use in speech. When it comes to teaching a child to read they first need to speak the language and be able develop auditory discrimination skills to identify the sounds they hear in that speech. So if a child can know the sounds they hear in the word dog are d-o-g then they will be off to a flying start.
Reading Requires Three Specific Skills
As adults who can read, it is hard to identify the specific skills we use when reading, as fluent readers we use them almost automatically. But we do still use them more consciously when we come across unfamiliar words in either reading or spelling. These skills are
- Blending - pushing individual sounds together to say a word.The sounds d-o-g blend into the word dog.
- Segmenting - pulling the individual sounds in a word apart so the sounds in cat are ‘c’ ‘a’ ‘t’, we use this a lot in writing and spelling words.
- Phoneme Manipulation - this skill is being able to pull a sound out of a word or put it in so the word slip without the ‘l’ is sip - we often use this skill to check our spelling.
A reader Needs to Understand Four Concepts
These may be taught explicitly while a child is learning to read - they are all essential.
- Letters are symbols of sounds so we represent the sounds we say when we say dog with the letters d o g
- Sounds may be spelled with 1, 2, 3 or 4 letters the word dog has 3 sounds each represented by a single letter. But the word boat has 3 sounds and 4 letters, ‘oa’ represent the middle sound. In the word night 3 letters ‘igh’ represent the middle sound and in eight 4 letters ‘eigh’ represent the ‘ay’ sound.
- One sound may be spelled in several different ways think about the sound ‘o’ as in so, it can also be spelled in a variety of other ways. All the words below have an ‘o’ sound but all are spelled differently show, coat, dough, toe, and there are more!
- One spelling may represent different sounds - again think about the word ‘so’ which has letter ‘o’ but the word hot also has a letter ‘o’ though it represents a different sound in that word. Or the words speak, steak, bread - they all have the spelling ‘ea’ but it represents a different sound in each word.
Children Learning Need Access to Different Texts
Nowadays most schools use what are known as coded texts, which are vital when children are learning as they give children the chance to practice reading using the sounds and spellings they are learning. They will have the pleasure of reading a whole book but they still need to share stories with parents until they become fluent readers as their comprehension skills will usually develop at a faster rate than their reading skills. Non fiction books are another great way to encourage reading skills.
As a parent, understanding the methods the school use to teach reading will mean that you can help your child more effectively.