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Phonics -v- Look and Say

(51 Posts)
rosequartz Tue 29-Apr-14 20:29:15

Does anyone have any views on the widespread use of phonics to teach children to read, and do you think that some children benefit more from the 'Look and Say' method. Is it better for some foundation years pupils to learn the 100 basic words first, using flashcards, then proceed to phonics after these words are mastered?
The system of reading at the moment in primary schools seems to rely totally on phonics and I do not think it suits every child and I wonder if there should be more flexibility.
What is the best way to teach a seemingly very bright child who is struggling how to read?
I would welcome some opinions on this.

Dragonfly1 Tue 29-Apr-14 21:27:00

Most schools in England have a mixed approach which includes acquisition of a sight vocabulary of words that can't be phonically decoded. (Google Letters and Sounds). There are other strategies that children need, like picture cueing, reading ahead for possible meaning, and sp on, that are taught alongside word decoding. The Rose Report (2009) advocated the systematic teaching of phonics, and as so often happens in education, babies were thrown out with bath water and phonics became the universal answer. It isn't. As in everything, balance is needed.

Penstemmon Tue 29-Apr-14 21:50:58

Hi rose I have very clear views on the teaching of reading! Spent most of my working life as an 'infants' teacher' so have experience and opinions based on them!!

I think that first and foremost kids need to have a good level of spoken language, good aural skills so they can distinguish sounds, familiarity with books, stories, rhymes and poetry and to enjoy listening to stories. They also need a certain level of maturity to concentrate , listen and focus. Many children are at this point by about 5 but there will be those who get to this point earlier and some later.

Children need to be taught a range of skills and strategies to help them learn to read:
- letter/sound correspondence (phonics),
- Onset and rhyme (c/b/h/f/m-at etc)
- 'Look & Say': whole word recognition
- Context/meaning
- Educated guessing ( using pictures/ memory/visual recognition/ sense)

These in my experience are not hierarchical or more important than another but all equal parts of the puzzle needed to make a fluent and confident reader. Some children will find one strategy more useful to their way of learning but will need all to become good reader.

A child who is making headway in other areas but finds reading more difficult needs to have their reading skills assessed. This can often be done in school by a SENDCo. It may suggest that there is a specific reading difficulty or it might be that the child needs to build up a specific strategy that they are not yet using well enough.
If it was my DGC struggling with reading in Reception or Y1 I would not ask them to try to read anything but spend cosy time reading familiar and well loved stories with them, playing snap, picture bingo, pelmanism, Kims game etc and do those spot the difference /find the matching/odd one out games.
Take all the pressure off by not asking them to read but find casual opportunities to read.. traffic signs, supermarket signs, menu in a cafe etc. If a child finds it difficult to find matching symbols: e.g in game that says circle the symbol that is the same £: & $ £ @ # then they may well struggle with phonics.

If school feel the child has a SRD then further assessment would be useful. There are some good and simple strategies that can help. Be aware that there are a number of excellent Educational Psychologists who will be able to help but equally I have come across a few who have vested interest in
then providing expensive 'therapy' or specialist teaching which may or may not be the help a child needs. So be wary and research well!

Aka Tue 29-Apr-14 22:21:03

Of course it has to be a mixture of both.

rosequartz Tue 29-Apr-14 23:21:07

Thankyou for your helpful replies

FlicketyB Wed 30-Apr-14 09:35:36

One of my friends had two children with dyslexia. The cause was diagnosed as short-term memory problems, material didn't easily transfer from short to long-term memory.

The 'Look and Say' reading method used universally in their day was disastrous for them. They could not memorise the words as required and lagged way behind their contemporaries in reading. The school suggested that, contrary to all the other evidence the children might just be intellectually backward.

Fortunately both children saw an educational psychologist while at infant school who diagnosed the problem and recommended remedial lessons where the emphasise would be in teaching them phonetics and getting these elements in their minds, so that they could decode words.

Now in their 40s, they still struggle with reading, but they are both graduate IT experts with successful careers.

AS Penstemmon says, horses for courses, what works for one child will not work for others. It is prescriptive methods, whether dictated by government or educational theory that are the menace to reading.

Aka Wed 30-Apr-14 09:37:26

Anyone remember ITA?

FlicketyB Wed 30-Apr-14 09:52:47

Yes, my MiL used it. She was a very good infant teacher with decades of experience and was using it in an area where many children came from deprived backgrounds.

She thought it an appalling system. It looked different from anything children saw around them and precluded them from the casual reading children do as they start reading, road, signs, adverts, odd words in a newspaper etc, it was confusing to those who already had the rudiments of reading when they started school and were used to being read to at home and were familiar with 'normal' script and then having taught the children one system they then had to convert to 'normal' reading later.

The system lasted about one headmistress. Once the ita HM left the new one returned to the standard spelling and methods.

rosequartz Wed 30-Apr-14 10:03:23

The school my friend's children attended 30+ years ago used this system. Luckily my friend was a primary school teacher and could help them at home and knew what she was doing. It looked like gobbledygook to me.

I am wondering if the enforced teaching of Welsh to non-Welsh speaking children is hindering the process of learning to read at Foundation level. Perhaps it adds confusion.

Aka Wed 30-Apr-14 10:14:11

My first year of teaching the school tried to introduce ITA, luckily all the 'old pros' rebelled and it never got off the ground.

gillybob Wed 30-Apr-14 10:30:08

I started school in 1967 and was taught to read using the ITA method. I remember having to convert to the conventional system later on. I mustn't have done me any harm as I have always loved reading.

TriciaF Wed 30-Apr-14 11:11:33

I agree with Pentstemmon about children needing basic language, aural and visual discrimination skills in order to read.
Most of my working life I was involved with children who were poor readers. This was in a socially deprived area of a city, and often the parents couldn't read either so it was heavy going.
As others have said, a combination of both methods is best, and if they work at their reading at home, make sure they learn the sounds of the letters, not the names.

annsixty Wed 30-Apr-14 11:19:08

Entirely off topic but just to comment on the huge age range on GN. When gillybob started school I had been married 11 years and had a 2 year old. Do not want to spoil the thread so "as you were".

annsixty Wed 30-Apr-14 11:20:16

Sorry maths wasn't my strong point only 9 years.

Nelliemoser Wed 30-Apr-14 12:07:29

Interesting! In 1953 when I started school, as far as I can remember it was all phonics. We used to recite a phonic alphabet, and then used this to sound out words. I did learn to read quickly but had other problems with writing and organising work. (eventually at 50 I was found to be dyslexic, which affected me in various ways something to do with working and visual memory.) I do wonder if I had not learnt this phonics stuff my reading would have been delayed.

As Penstemmon says I am sure a lot is gained by being getting enough good verbal input, and being introduced to books very early on must make a huge difference. Enjoying having being read to by Mum and Dad must help. I wonder if having Dads reading stories is even more important in getting boys to engage in reading.

The nursery rhymes and songs must be very valuable in helping with this. I wonder how many children with language difficulties, (other than those with actual speech difficulties) are in group who have missed out on so many of these basic skills.
Songs seem to get to parts of the brain plain words never reach.

Nelliemoser Wed 30-Apr-14 12:13:44

FlicketyB had already answered my point about learning to read by phonics and dyslexia! Read all the posts NellieM

(Or perhaps I did and the short term visual memory problem took hold.)

rosequartz Wed 30-Apr-14 13:37:48

It surely does not always follow that the child is socially deprived. The child I know has been holding conversations since about 18 months old, is very articulate, excellent at drawing and puzzles, bright, sociable and active and not at all socially deprived. She knows all her letters but just seems to have a problem with learning to read by the phonic method (or else her teacher is very neglectful).

rosequartz Wed 30-Apr-14 13:39:02

I should add that I understand she has been having stories and lots of 'book time'every day since she was tiny.

Aka Wed 30-Apr-14 13:40:10

Tricia agree .... not the names of the letters, certainly not at first.

Penstemmon Wed 30-Apr-14 14:02:13

How old is the child you are concerned about & how long have they been in school??

rosequartz Wed 30-Apr-14 14:13:19

Penstemmon, I pmd you to ask a couple of questions, is that OK?

rosequartz Wed 30-Apr-14 14:16:15

Sometimes it is very confusing for parents, especially when everything changes yet again! I learnt the names of the letters (including aitch!) and never had a problem, then it was 'a' as pronounced in cat (with a curly c, not straight k!), now it is breathy little sounds.

I still believe that some phonics may suit some children but not all. Horses for courses, but the system seems very rigid.

TriciaF Wed 30-Apr-14 15:23:21

Rosequartz - no, I didn't mean that all children with reading problems are from socially deprived backgrounds. Just that those were the ones I came across most, and many became bright pupils later on, given early extra help.
For a very bright child, as you mentioned in your O.P., and as I've written before, paired reading is a good method, helping the child to enjoy books and not see them as the source of struggles and failure.
And for true dyslexia, perhaps they do need specialist help over a long period of time. I believe the Dyslexia Assoc. use a mainly phonic approach.

Mishap Wed 30-Apr-14 16:34:50

There definitely needs to be a mixture of both, if only because different children respond better to one or the other.

Interestingly those children who learn to read very speedily by look and say (because they have near-photographic memories) fail phonics tests because they read the words and not the sounds. There is a great emphasis now on testing phonics and a speedy reader will read the word "are" correctly, but be failed on that question because the phonics answer is pronounced as in "care."

There needs to be look and say included particularly as the English language contains so many anomalies.

One reading system (RWI) groups sounds by the different letters that can create them (e.g. ough, off), and "ough" will also appear in a list of the sound "ow" etc. It seems to work well.

Bez Wed 30-Apr-14 16:53:10

For a few years of my teaching at one school we used Letterland - the letters have a name and a story attached to them. We found it to be a very helpful method and worked well with teaching phonics.We also used look and say and also had part time teachers who came in every morning and assisted children with any stumbling blocks they might have come across or with work for the next level.
In my experience if a child had been sailing through everything and then suddenly came across something they found difficult they had, in many cases, a harder time coming to grips with the fact that they had not succeeded immediately than the child who had had little problems all through.
We used a reading scheme within the school but stopped allowing the books to be taken home as we found it caused some problems at the school gate. We graded all the school library books and put them into boxes which were labelled with letters - the child was allowed to choose a book at a suitable level and take it home. They could change books as frequently as they liked - the parent was encouraged choose with the child - they had a notebook to write the date and titles in and also for a comment to be written about the book if they so wished. This was a sort of controlled version of teaching via the library system - at the time advocated by some 'experts'. We found using these systems we had very few reading failures by the time the children left us at eight years old - at that time Surrey operated the middle school system.