Learning to read

Naturally, I want Penny (Grade 1) to become an excellent reader, writer and speller. However, right now, I’m savouring the brilliance of her phonetic approach. A few weeks ago, she lost a tooth at school. Her teacher, Melissa, accidentally* threw the tooth out – but you got that from Penny’s letter to the Tooth Fairy explaining the situation, right?!

tooth-fairy-letterKids learn to read and write in different ways. Penny’s letter to the Tooth Fairy reminded me of this, and also of a question that was asked of Prep teachers at an information session I attended one year – “Do you teach reading using phonics or word recognition?”

It’s a great question and one that doesn’t necessarily have the same, or a simple answer, for every child. I asked lead teacher, Sally Marsh, to tell us a bit more about how kids learn to read.

Reading is a complex skill. Some children find it easy and others need time and sometimes support to get them going. We use three main strategies to teach reading; meaning, syntax and phonic.

The meaning strategy is important because children need to be able to make sense of what they are reading. In the beginning stages we use the pictures and the context to help solve unknown words. (“Look at the pictures, read to the end of the sentence, come back and see what word would make sense.”)

For children who have English as their first language, understanding what sounds grammatically correct is often an easy strategy to apply. (“Does that sound right?”)

Understanding the way letters and sounds combine to create words is the phonic strategy. (“What sound does the word start with?”)

This is a good example of how the strategies combine to solve unknown words and create meaning from text.

It_______________ across the grass.
We can complete the sentence using our knowledge of how language works.

Sophie watched the kitten.
It________across the grass.
Now that we know the story is about a kitten, we are able to choose a suitable word.

Sophie watched the kitten.
It r________ across the grass.
Our knowledge of letters and their sounds, together with the way words look, further help us to choose the right word.

Children need to understand what they are reading. It doesn’t matter how well they can decode letters and sounds, if they’re not comprehending then they are not reading. Hence the three strategies.

* Melissa was mortified. Penny and the Tooth Fairy were fine about it. Amusingly, Melissa admitted that the losing-teeth thing was new to her, having spent so many years in the senior school. “Every day at snack and lunch there are teeth coming out, balls of tissues everywhere…!”

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One thought on “Learning to read

  1. I loved learning to read, and with a strong phonics approach was soon reading beyond
    my year level. Each child is different, but the latest research shows that the phonetic strategy
    is crucial for up to 70% of children. By grade 2 if you don’t know how to sound out a new word,
    or have no strategies to use, then there are no pictures to help you. Even trying to read the whole
    sentence to get the meaning is hard, as you can’t read to the end of the full stop. The UK in 2008, brought back phonics because latest research was showing that kids weren’t learning to read, and this flowed on to poor spelling and a lower confidence in the classroom with learning in general. The latest Educational review, commissioned by the Federal Government, supports this approach being brought back, not at the expense of the other two strategies, but as front and centre.

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