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Teachers coping with pupils who arrive in their classrooms from a plethora of backgrounds and with widely varying readiness to learn to read have enough to do without the extra stress of futile debate.
Read about the science of what happens in the brain when we read and it is a small miracle that we get to do it at all, let alone with ease.
The request for proposals (RFP) to update the Ready to Read series makes it clear the Ministry of Education is also not keen for anything which fuels a phonics versus whole language debate, sometimes called the Reading Wars.
Maryanne Wolf, author of Reader, Come Home; The Reading Brain in a Digital World describes the phonics/whole language debate as one which should never have been.
With phonics, teaching begins with children learning words are made up of sounds and these sounds correspond to letters or combinations of letters. With whole language instruction, learning is implicit with little or no specific teaching on phonic principles, the emphasis being on engagement with the stories.
Wolf says why each of these approaches ever came to exclude the emphases of the other is one of the great unfortunate errors of the 20th century.
Wise and skilful teachers of reading in this country combine teaching of phonics with reading in context. Such teachers also recognise each reader will have different needs. Too much emphasis on phonics and there is a risk of producing readers who read aloud correctly but have no idea of what they are reading. Conversely, readers with good understanding of meaning, but without phonic knowledge, can struggle to unravel some unknown words.
The ministry's approach to updating the Ready to Read series seems sensible. It points out in the RFP that more than 50 different phonics programmes of variable quality are being used throughout the country.
The idea is that the new series, and teacher support materials, should help eliminate the variations in teacher practice and better meet the needs of individual pupils. Current resources are not coherently linked and at times may contradict each other, the ministry says. The ministry wants to keep what it calls valued features of the Ready to Read series familiar to teachers, but wants the new books to address concerns existing ones can be hard to use with reluctant or struggling readers as there is no apparent progression from one level to the next in structure, context, languages and characters. The aim is to provide better materials for those pupils who typically do not make progress in their first year of instruction.
Extensive research has shown children from less advantaged backgrounds are the big beneficiaries of explicit and systematic word-level instruction during the early stages of learning to read. They are much less likely to benefit from a pure whole language approach because they lack the necessary vocabulary.
Some parents may think of reading as something which happens magically after their child reaches school age and, if their child struggles with it, it must be the fault of inadequate teaching.
But the value of pre-school experiences cannot be under-estimated. That does not mean plonking a child down with a digital device and leaving them to interact with it for hours on end. It means involving children in a variety of activities, talking with them about their experiences, reading them stories, discussing why things happen in stories and in real life, making up stories, having fun with words and encouraging their curiosity.
None of that should end when they turn 5. No matter how fantastic the new Ready to Read books are, they cannot be expected to work miracles.