University of Otago education researcher Associate Prof
Claire Fletcher-Flinn and young reader Emilie Keach (5)
share a story book. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
It is ''time for a rethink'' about how children learn to
read, University of Otago education researcher Associate Prof
Claire Fletcher-Flinn believes.
And the findings of her research, just published in the
journal, Frontiers in Psychology, could lead to a new
way of thinking about how to do that.
In her research, Prof Fletcher-Flinn considered the idea that
children were geared towards learning to read through storing
words in the brain.
Her previous research with other colleagues showed that
children started out learning to read in this way, but it had
been unclear if this changed as they became proficient
readers, she said.
Reading theories that advocated phonics - ''sounding out''
individual letters in words - claimed that children made
significant changes over time in how they read new or
unfamiliar words, but this had not been significantly tested,
She had examined the further development of a young reader,
named Maxine, whose early development from the age of 3 to 5
has been extensively described in a series of publications.
Prof Fletcher-Flinn found that along with an increase in
accuracy and speed, Maxine's pattern of learning new or
unfamiliar words was unchanged from a reading age of 8 to
adult levels of performance.
Maxine had not learnt how to ''sound out'' words, so she did
not use this method of reading.
The research suggested that once some words were stored in
the child's brain, the brain's own sense of pattern-finding
within words contributed to later reading-related learning.
The results are consistent with her previous research showing
that children who were progressing normally did not need to
have the full set of phonics skills associated with
''sounding out'' in order to learn to read.
It now appeared that ''sounding out'' was not necessary, and
if this approach was taught, it could even be a disadvantage
and contribute to the mispronunciation errors that
phonics-taught children, and adults, made when reading new or
unfamiliar words that did not follow letter-sound
correspondences as they were usually taught, she said.
Lots of reading and helpful feedback from Maxine's parents
about a word's pronunciation and meaning had contributed to
Maxine's progress in becoming an advanced reader, she said.
Kelly Keach, who has a postgraduate diploma in teaching from
Otago University, said she was interested in the Otago
research, and said that she and her husband, Chris, had read
to their daughter, Emilie, throughout her life.
Emilie, who started school this week, is already a keen