Sunday 31 December 2017

Whatever happened to phonics

and "spelling" and "daily sentences" and a few other things?
I remember all those.
Now I admit it might have been a bit different for me. I could read long before I went to school. Our house was littered with cards on which my mother had printed "words". If I wanted to know a "word" my mother would write it on a card in her best "infant school printing".  When the word was associated with a household object then it would be attached to that object. If it wasn't directly associated with a household object then there might be a picture - or  it would simply be added to a list somewhere in the house. The bathroom had words like "water", "wet", "hot", "bath", and "soap". Then came the simple sentences, "The water is hot and wet" and "I am in the bath playing with soap bubbles."
It was expected that I could "sound" these out. That way, so it was thought, I would have the "word attack" skills to work out new words when I came across them. 
It must have worked. I was reading chapter books before I went to school. My brother wasn't that far behind me from memory. He was certainly reading chapter books by the end of his first year in school. 
My mother taught us to read with the simple object in mind that she would not have to spend so much time reading to us. We would be able to find out things for ourselves. It was the Senior Cat who read us bed time stories - or told them. My mother thought those things were important but, apart from the conscious effort to teach her two eldest kittens, she didn't often read to us. 
I can hear her now, "What do you think it says? Sound the words out."
We would get help with "difficult" words - but "responsible" and "courtesy" were not difficult. I remember struggling over those in something which said "Do the responsible thing and send a courtesy note to the leader of the group."  The sentence remains with me but I only have a vague recollection of why I was reading it.
But yesterday I was listening to a six year old trying to read something. She is an intelligent child and does well in school. The instructions she was reading should have been easy enough. Still, she was struggling. It was clear that she had limited word attack skills. I suggested she "sound" a word out. She looked blankly at me. It was apparently a foreign concept. Her mother told me "they don't get taught to do that". They don't? How do they deal with unfamiliar words?
It seems spelling is a bit of a problem too. If they get asked to write something then they "just write it". I am sure it isn't quite as bad as her mother made it out to be but I am aware that spelling is a challenge for many a child.
Her mother didn't think there was a problem and, in one sense, there isn't. The child had performed well on the so called NAPLAN tests. She's up somewhere near the top of her year group.
It's just that she could be doing a good deal more than she is - and finding learning much more satisfying.  


Anonymous said...

The important part of that last bit is "finding learning much more satisfying".

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

The current primary school children are not going to enjoy reading, which means that there will be a generation who will not be able to sell books ... even if they can write.

Jodiebodie said...

My family were migrants. They wanted me to be successful in their new country so they did not speak their mother tongue to me. Instead they sat me down as an infant in front of the tv set in the belief that Sesame Street would teach me to read and it did. They used sounding out of letters and rhyming word patterns. I was recognising letters at age two and reading books before starting school. Phonics isn't the be all and end all for learning to read a language as irregular as English but it is an excellent starting point for children to understand our system of printed language.