Ending the Reading Wars: The Importance and Limitations of Decodable Readers

The admirable objective of decodable books is to provide a ‘safe’ place to practice newly learned skills. One problem is that an over-cautious use of decodables can exacerbate a yawning language gap. This is particularly true for children with poor language skills as the books inevitably lack the flexibility of language that breathes life into stories and reveals nuance and shifts of meaning. Children starved of the experience of interactive language need bucket-loads of enhancement as well as rigorous phonics exposure.

It’s essential to read to children but they also need the experience of reading language-rich stories themselves as early as possible to accustom them to sustained reading. This, as a general rule of thumb, is after children have been introduced to around 80-100 correspondences. (With scrupulously structured decodables, possibly earlier still.)

‘When we talk of closing the word gap, we actually mean something much bigger than that unassuming phrase implies. We mean welcoming a child into a world of new ideas, insights and emotions, into a world that we, the word-rich, take for granted, and which we will routinely guarantee for our own children.’
Geoff Barton, General Secretary, the Association of School & College Leaders

Professor Kate Nation explains how schools need to get the right balance between phonics and comprehension skills (TES): Two sets of things are critical for early readers. You have to understand how the writing system works – the idea that letters represent sounds…And then the other side of the coin is that we read to comprehend, too. We need that alphabetic principle, but we also need a broader understanding of language…Language is important for reading but also for emotional regulation and self-expression. I don’t think the impact of rich communication can be over-estimated.’

In a major paper, ‘Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert’ (Sage Journals) Anne Castles, Kathleen Rastle, and Kate Nation review the science of learning to read and move beyond phonics, reviewing the research on what else children need to become expert readers and consider how this may be translated into effective classroom practice. They ‘present a tutorial review of the science of learning to read…but we also move beyond phonics…and recommend an agenda for instruction and research in reading acquisition that is balanced, developmentally informed, and based on a deep understanding of how language and writing systems work.’

And in an erudite and thought-provoking report from the DfE,  Gill Jones  hits the nail right on the head: ‘…We have ignored this at our peril and the resulting disappointing reading results at 11 could well be a consequence of privileging over-cautious phonics over the wider teaching of literacy.’

Decodable readers are unquestionably an excellent teaching tool, a central factor in learning to read and, for struggling students, provide crucial additional practice. However, these restricted readers might benefit from a slight structural adjustment. BRI: Beginning Reading Instruction is an example of a programme that introduces subtle changes by recalibrating single-syllable cvc words in their stories and interspersing this structure with a few Advanced Code words. This minimal loosening of cvc constraints encourages fluidity and expressiveness while broadening the range of vocabulary and, most importantly of all, foregrounds the importance of story. As Daniel Willingham has noted (danielwillingham.com): ‘Elsewhere I have written about the potential power of narrative to help students understand and remember complex subject matter (Willingham, 2004; 2009). Now a new study (Arya & Maul, 2012) provides fresh evidence that putting to-be-learned material in a story format improves learning outcome.’

By means of carefully drip-feeding a few single-syllable Advanced Code words into its early readers, BRI allows for multi-layered meanings, while also signalling Alphabetic Code complexity in the gentlest way possible. Just as little children begin to distinguish that everything on four legs is not a dog, that there are different kinds of dogs and that dogs differ from cats, so they quickly accept that ‘e’ and ‘ee’ can stand for the same sound and that ‘e’ can stand for more than one sound, e.g., me and met. The addition of carefully selected Advanced Code allows language to escape the bondage of constricted, often wooden, readers. By mid to end Year l, most children should have progressed beyond the constraints of minimal text decodables. Kate Nation observes that ‘contextual knowledge builds over time as each encounter a person has with a word adds to their database of information about that word…over time, words occurring in varying contexts with varying contents becomes more context independent than words appearing in more similar contexts.’

Many academic reading experts – including Daniel Willingham, Mark Seidenberg, Anne Castles, Katie Rastle and Kate Nation – stress the importance of narrative. It may be only the weakest c.5% of readers who need more time with traditional, restricted decodables in order to stabilize their foundational skills. So why not make sure that the majority of children are well on their way to enjoying ‘real’ books by Year 2?

20 Reasons to Teach Children to Read Using BRI Decodable Readers

BRI Beginning Reading Instruction

BRI (Beginning Reading Instruction). This series of decodable readers is designed to be a tool for teaching the ‘how to’ of reading. The programme consists of meticulously sequenced books. Incremental introduction of the Alphabetic Code is based on painstaking research including widespread school trials. Text in the books is limited to single-syllable words, making the early steps of reading as easy as possible to enable learners to read ALL the words in the story.

The books are used by teachers in mainstream Reception and Y1 and in special schools. They are particularly beneficial for struggling readers; a daily 5-15 minute session with a TA or a volunteer, in addition to mainstream synthetic phonics teaching, will normally preclude the need for later reading intervention.

How Children Learn to Read

1. Clear, brief, easy-to-use instruction

BRI instruction is spare and unambiguous. By consistently focusing on decoding-through-the-word, the books avoid the ‘mixed strategies’ which confuse many children.
“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” – Isaac Newton

2. Preventing memory overload

Only five graphemes and three words are introduced in the early storybooks. Children with poor short-term memory gain confidence by narrowing the focus of their attention and by learning new material at their own pace.
“Approximately 70% of children with learning difficulties in reading obtain very low scores on tests of working memory that are rare in children with no special educational needs.” – Gathercole & Alloway, Working Memory and Learning: A Practical Guide for Teachers

3. Lightening the cognitive load

Children learn best when they aren’t grappling with too many confusing ideas (i.e. multi-cueing). Complexity is detrimental to Alphabetic Code understanding.
“We have overcomplicated teaching.” – Jo Facer, ResearchEd 2016

4. Building memory

Words and correspondences are regularly revisited.
“Learning requires long-term memory retention, and what most aids retention is frequent retrieval practice.” – Joe Kirby, Pragmatic Education

5. Spaced repetition

Information is better retained if it is studied for brief periods, spread over a few days or weeks, rather than intensively in a single period. All new sound/letter correspondences are repeated many times in each short book and in subsequent books.

6. Multiple exposures

BRI’s beginning to read stories provide examples of ‘controlled’ words and sound/letter correspondences repeated in the same, and also in different, contexts.
“The best way to help the brain to ‘remember’ the code’s patterns with minimum effort is through ‘controlled exposure and varied repetition.'” – Diane McGuinness, Early Reading Instruction

7. Interleaving (mixing related but distinct material)

As they progress through the early books, children learn how to deal with ‘variation’ in the code (same sound represented in more than one spelling: e.g. memeet) and ‘overlap’ (the same spelling representing more than one sound: e.g. on, no).
“The mixing of items, skills, or concepts during practice, over the longer term, seems to help us to not only see the distinctions between them but also to achieve a clearer grasp of each one individually.” – Benedict Carey, How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why it Happens

Technical Matters

8. Phonemic awareness

Training children to ‘hear’ discreet phonemes is particularly helpful for those with phonological difficulties.
“We learn phonemic awareness THROUGH learning to read.” – Professor Usha Goswani

9. Blending made easy

Careful selection of specific sounds in the early books helps children to make the connection between sound and letter. For children with SEN and those who struggle to blend, the selection makes it easier for them to ‘hear’ each sound as they blend sounds into words. The introduction of ‘plosive’ sounds, e.g. /p/, are delayed and words which contain an /ə/ (schwa) sound are introduced later still.

10. Visually similar words

Juxtaposing look-alike words (e.g. sheet/shall/shell/shut/sell) means that attention has to be paid to each grapheme within a word. This ensures that the ‘easy option’ – guessing – is discouraged.

11. Connected text

Essential decoding/reading practice is incorporated within lively, expressive stories.
“Arya & Maul provide fresh evidence that putting to-be-learned material in a story format improves learning outcomes.” – Daniel T. Willingham

Language

12. Oral language

The most important predictor of progress in the early years is oral language. BRI stimulates childrens’ development of oral language and comprehension by encouraging dialogue about the antics, behaviour and relationships of the BRI animal characters.

13. Speech development

‘Sound-through-the-word’ instruction focuses on sound and aids phonological awareness and speech development. When we articulate a sound a sensory and motor reference is created in the brain.

14. Vocabulary

BRI’s 78 storybooks encourage a habit of sustained reading which leads to new vocabulary.
“After the age of 5, we acquire most new vocabulary through reading. But if we don’t read, we don’t acquire it.” – David Didau

15. Language concepts

BRI builds on the questions What? Why? Where? Who? and emphasises prepositions such as under, over, on, behind, helping children to build language structure and understanding.

16. Story context

BRI stories centre on lively animals with thinking, feeling and reactive personalities. Character-driven stories encourage children to immerse themselves in the reading process from the very first book as they learn to decode/read.
“John Hattie and Daniel Willingham argue that learning is much more effective if it is contextualised.” – John Walker, The Literacy Blog

17. Fostering a love of reading

BRI stories immediately engage children with the multi-layered world of storytelling that helps to foster a love of reading.
“Reading creates empathy. In reading we project ourselves into others’ experiences.” – Horatio Speaks

18. Visual Supports

Lively, engaging illustrations act as visual supports, helping children to understand narrative. The illustrations – which never aid guessing – are of crucial help to those with Speech Language and Communication (SLC) and those with Speech Language Impairment (SLI) difficulties. Puppets of the main characters also aid communication and understanding.
“Children with SLI need lots of visual support systems to help with understanding.” – I CAN, SLI Handbook

19. Prediction

By encouraging children to talk about what is happening and what may happen, the storybooks encourage comprehension whilst honing decoding skills.
“The activity of ‘prediction’ helps build children’s narrative sense, a fundamental foundation language skill, incorporating sequence, relationship, cause and effect and other variables as well…” – ‘Palisadesk’, Beginning-Reading-Instruction Forum

20. Rereading stories

Rereading the short BRI decodable books embeds skills, enhances comprehension, encourages expression, and helps to boost confidence.
“On rereading a book the adult can ‘scaffold’ the child’s learning, asking questions, providing guidance, helping the child make new connections or draw on past experiences. Indeed, the adult can support not only the learning of educational material, but also the ‘soft skills’ necessary to succeed: focus, patience, persistence, resilience…” – Annie Murphy Paul, The Brilliant Blog

Getting Decodables Right for Dyslexic, SEN and other Struggling Readers

Each effective synthetic phonics programme, both for able and struggling readers, possesses advantages and drawbacks – costs, quality and length of training, ease/difficulty of implementation, extent of class preparation, flexibility, and so on. Most schools, including successful reading schools, follow the government Letters and Sounds programme, the long-established Jolly Phonics programme – chiefly used in conjunction with Letters and Sounds – or Ruth Miskin’s ReadWriteInc. Other programmes also have their merits and their implementation will need to be considered ‘in the round’ and assessed for their effectiveness for both high achievers and weaker readers. It is this second category of potential readers that is largely left out in the cold, in spite of all the advances during the last decade.

The overwhelming majority of top-performing schools in the SATs 2 tests (https://www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk) augment their teaching with decodable readers compatible with their phonics instruction. In theory, decodables provide vital practice for everyone. In practice, they don’t – there is still a significant tail of underachievement. The books frequently lack the overlearning and language flexibility so necessary for weaker readers. Decodable books for beginners generally focus on just one specific meaning of a word. These books are very helpful for the majority of children. But for those who need masses of language development including much exposure to code in different contexts, and blending practice in sustained reading, this inflexibility is a handicap. To ensure effective learning, flexible language, multiple word repetitions in different contexts, and memorable and engaging characters that prompt empathy, need to be inbuilt. By judiciously mixing single-syllable words using simple code with a few advanced code graphemes, story-telling is completely transformed. Contrary to the perception of many, carefully chosen advanced code correspondences have no drawbacks and many benefits. Children have no difficulty with intelligent drip-feeding of advanced code, provided that instruction is consistent, clear and to the point. Adam Boxer in his blog: https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2018/10/25/simplifying-cognitive-load-theory quotes Frederick Reif’s Applying Cognitive Science to Education: ‘it is very clear that we should not be aiming to just lower the load as much as possible. If we do this the learning will take an incredibly long time as we make tasks smaller and smaller but also, importantly, that it will become exceedingly boring and demotivating for the student.’

In addition to a lack of sufficient repetition and overlearning, many series advance too fast for weak readers, with most decodable books making little allowance for the slowest pupils. Schools often cling to inappropriate books with impossible-to-decode words for early learners (sometimes because schools lack the funds to replace them). In this way, they help to set up vulnerable readers for long-term failure and all the implications thereof. Alison Clarke of Spelfabet has a brilliant video explaining why some children become bamboozled when trying to figure out the complexities of the alphabet code: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mafVooDom8k.

All children benefit from systematic phonics, augmented with decodable books, but struggling readers also need their decodables to be meticulously planned, slowly paced, with loads of inbuilt practice. And, in order to aid the TAs, volunteers, parents and carers who will be responsible for guiding their young charges, the  books need simple, logical, succinct instructions.

Starting with a brief to make learning to read as easy as possible, a team of educationalists, psychometricians and teachers, in tandem with children’s authors, spent around five years mapping the alphabet code in order to plan deceptively simple decodable books. An emphasis on language development, slow and safe drip-feeding of code, judicious addition of a few words with advanced code, enabled the creation of stories that trigger both curiosity and empathy, with instruction that avoids tedium and overload. These design features (and more) were part of the initial planning when Beginning Reading Instruction: BRI was designed. A minority of other decodable series, such as Little Children Love Literacy, contain some of these features including the extra practice essential for the majority of SEN children and other weak readers.

To summarise: the existing decodable programmes are generally ineffective for SEN, dyslexic and other struggling readers. The solution is specially developed reading schemes that cover all the additional needs of these vulnerable pupils.

The winning combination: Systematic Synthetic Phonics foundations + strong book culture

‘Best Primary Schools’ have been selected from the SUNDAY TIMES BEST 250 PRIMARY SATs 2 STATE SCHOOLS for 2016. Additional DfE ‘Compare Schools Performance’ data has been added from 2017 and 2018. A reading score of 110 during one of the 3 years is a minimum requirement for inclusion. (Average school reading score is 103/104.) Information about individual schools is taken from school’s own website.

Most top-performing schools understand that the Alphabetic Code is paramount – the code is sound-based and is taught accordingly. In general, schools emphasise language development and wider reading as a deeply embedded part of their agenda. Spelling receives surprisingly little attention on schools’ websites and – with the exception of Christ Church, Chelsea – few top-performing schools, as far as I can ascertain, appear to follow logical sound-based spelling during initial teaching. (Kate Nation in TES recently noted the importance of language as well as phonics and stated that spellings are organised around the interrelation of morphology, etymology, and phonology after initial teaching.) Most schools appear to follow the half-hour phonics timetable, followed by one hour literacy.

Virtually all successful reading schools use established SSP programmes – Letters and Sounds, Jolly Phonics in Reception followed by L&S or ReadWriteInc.

A selection of schools with high rates of Pupil Premium (20%+)

St Stephen’s East Ham London E6 1AS
Reading Score 2016-2018: 111, 111, 111
387 pupils.
Letters and Sounds, Nursery. Jolly Phonics, Reception. Letters and Sounds Yr 1 Phase 2-5. Yr 2 4-5.
Website information sparse – emphasis on phonics, reading meetings with parents, weekly h/w planning.

St Antony’s RC Newham London E7
Reading Score: 111, 111, 111
484 pupils.
9th best state primary results.
Number of clubs extensive.
RWInc.
Scant information on phonics. Lunch-time reading club. Over 20 TAs and volunteers, 9 HLTAs, school therapist, detailed info on grammar, ‘additional phonics and reading support and RW resources across school’.

Edward Pauling Feltham TW13
Reading Score: 113, 107, 110
10th best state primary results.
2 form entry.
RWInc.
From Requires Improvement to Outstanding: ‘Our school has won the regional and national award for 2016, congratulations to all staff, governors, parents and pupils for the exceptional achievement.
Please see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-tackling-disadvantage-celebrated-at-pupil-premium-awards for more details.
Our daily Guided Reading takes place within KS1 and KS2 using “Project X”. In addition we also use Project X Code and Project X Origins as intervention programmes to support our more and less able readers. Our parent volunteers come into school to support our pupils with their reading development by hearing individual readers and small guided groups on a weekly basis.
Discrete teaching of phonics takes place throughout the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1, following the RWInc scheme http://www.ruthmiskin.com. Additionally, the phonics skills are applied through daily literacy lessons and across the wider curriculum.
We have created our own spelling system based on the National Curriculum 2014 requirements.
Writing skills are taught daily throughout discrete literacy lessons, as well as through science and humanities lessons. Pupils are assessed on their progress in writing by completing a Big Write at the end of a unit of work. Vocabulary, Grammar and Punctuation (VGP) are taught as a pure subject once a week in KS1 and KS2, as well as daily through small group work and lesson introductions where necessary.’

Thomas Jones Paddington London W11
Reading Score: 112, 112, 111
11th best state primary results.
‘Analysis of national test data shows there has been no relationship between the achievement of pupils and Free School Meals status since 2006.
Both the technical aspects of decoding language and the opportunity for pupils to develop a love of literature, is one of the most important aspects of school life here at Thomas Jones. The school’s approach to the teaching of reading has been documented in the Ofsted report Reading by Six: How the Best Schools Do It and through the launch of the Ofsted Moving English Forward report and Building an Outstanding Reading School. Our success with the teaching of reading can be seen through our national test results.

Through the Foundation Stage and Key Stage One, our pupils follow a rigorous system of synthetic phonics, based on the Jolly Phonics scheme. Alongside this, pupils in this phase of the school have access to high quality books, both to study in legitimate English lessons and to read independently. The school follows the Pearson Bug Club reading scheme, supplemented with other high quality books banded into the scheme.

By Key Stage Two, the great majority of pupils are reading independently.’

Boutcher Southwark, London SE1
Reading Score: 111, 112, 110
=72nd best state primary results.
l form entry.
All Pupil Premium funds allocated to literacy and speech & language programme. Letters and Sounds with additional Jolly Phonics.
‘At Boutcher Phonics is taught daily throughout the Early Years and Key Stage One. Children then continuously build and apply this phonic knowledge throughout Key Stage 2. We teach phonics through the songs from the Jolly Phonics scheme, from Phase 4 we follow the Letters and Sounds scheme from DfE Publications.’

Christchurch Ilford
Reading Score: 111, 111, 110
26th best state primary results.
5 form entry.
Jolly Phonics.
‘Yrs 2-6 Some children may still require a Jolly Phonics books to support their learning but most will simply have a weekly Oxford Reading Tree book. These are used for guided reading and will be changed on a weekly basis. As the children progress onto more challenging books they may keep them for longer than a week. In addition to scheme books, children also have the opportunity to take home Free Readers, which are non-scheme books appropriate for the child’s reading level and ability. These will still be sent home and used for Guided Reading.’

Smaller % of children with Pupil Premium

Hotwells Bristol
Reading Score: 107, 109, 113
‘We use the Read Write Inc scheme to support the teaching of early phonics at Hotwells. The scheme is introduced in Reception class and used throughout Key Stage 1. Some children need continued support with the learning of phonics in Key Stage 2 and for these children, additional teaching in small groups continues, using the Read Write Inc scheme, until their knowledge of phonics is secure. Every year we organise meetings for parents so that they can become familiar with our approach to teaching phonics and can support their children at home in the same way they are learning to read and write in school. One of the most valuable things parents can do to support learning at home is to ensure that their children read regularly; with an adult when they are younger and independently as they get older.

We also have theme days and weeks during the school year which promote and inspire a particular aspect of learning, for example our pupils have been inspired by Arts Week, Music Week and STEM Week over the past two years. A range of exciting events are organised during these special weeks and many members of the school community become involved, helping to make them a fun and memorable time for all the children.’

Scotts Hornchurch, Essex
Reading Score: 114, 108, 113
2nd best state primary results.
2 form entry.
Letters and Sounds + project based + strong reading emphasis.
‘Teaching our children not only to become proficient readers, but to develop a love of reading is of vital importance at Scotts Primary School. Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day not only perform better in reading tests than those who don’t, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.

At Scotts, we teach our children to read using a systematic synthetic phonics approach. We use the Letters and Sounds Programme, which the children begin upon arrival in Reception.

Guided Reading takes place daily in all year groups. Throughout Reception and Key Stage 1, children read on a one-to-one basis with an adult once a week. Where children are not meeting national expectations for their age group, this may be more frequent. In Key Stage 2, children read individually to an adult once a fortnight.’

Clover Hill Newcastle upon Tyne
Reading Score: 113, 114, 109
4th best primary school result.
Letters and Sounds, with Jolly Phonics actions.
‘Clover Hill Phonics scheme in operation is written in conjunction with Letters and Sounds.

Key Stage 1 Guided reading and reading books for home is called ‘Storyworlds’ and ‘Rigby Star.’ And Jolly Phonics actions in R. and Yr l.

Children read once a week with teachers – reading workshop sessions 5 times a week – independent activities during guided reading designed to support & consolidate phonics already covered.

Children in Year 2 record their phonics work on mini-whiteboards. Children will attempt to write daily, using their phonics knowledge, at their stage of development in all areas of class work. Children’s phonic activities will be predominantly delivered through games and through activities set up in class. Tricky words are taught alongside phonically decodable words…

Discreet phonics lessons twice weekly.

We see parents as the primary educators and therefore use their talents, interests, ideas and expertise to contribute to the children’s learning wherever possible. Working in partnership with parents is a key contributing factor in the achievement of our children.’

St Stephens London W12
Reading Score: 113, 113, 111
=5th best primary results.
Letters and Sounds curriculum (Jolly Phonics and Phonics Play).
Strong emphasis on readers with love and appreciation of books and literature. Very active school library and reading events with parents.
Home learning Policy involves teachers, parents and children working together.
What Books Should I Read? e.g. Year 3
Weekly Spelling lists for home.
‘Phonics is taught daily to all children in EYFS and Key Stage 1. Phonics is also taught to children in Key Stage 2, who require further support with phonics and reading.

Much of our phonics teaching takes place in small groups which are targeted to the needs of particular learners.

We use a combination of the following reading scheme books in the Early Years and Key Stage 1:

• Oxford Reading Tree
• Rigby Stars
• Collins Big Cat
• Project X
• Phonic Bug Club’

Lowbrook Academy Maidenhead
Reading Score: 111, 112, 110
=5th best state primary school
Little information on website.
‘Reception Homework We will be changing your child’s reading book on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday but please re-read the books, as repetition is the key to early reading. They will have a library book once a week which they will choose themselves and can keep for the week.

Communication, Language and Literacy To begin with we will be doing a lot of work on traditional nursery rhymes. Each day the children will be learning a new rhyme. We will then begin to learn single letter sounds, learning how to blend these words together to read and how to segment words into individual sounds to help them to write words. Throughout the year speaking and listening skills will be developed through various activities.

The children will be reading individually and in small groups. They will be learning about story language through reading a range of books together. Reading well-written stories is a very important foundation for their own future story writing. As well as hearing your child read every day, we encourage you to continue sharing stories together.’

Ludgvan Penzance
Reading Score: 113, 108, 108
=5th best state primary results.
RWInc and Topic curriculum.

Our Lady of Victories RC London SW7
Reading Score: 112, 112, 112
8th best state primary results.
RWInc.
Little info on website; lots of clubs, staff mainly Afro-Caribbean(?).

Park Road Sale Manchester
Reading Score: 110, 109, 109
16th best state primary results.
Letters and Sounds + Jolly Phonics. Very broad curriculum.

‘Phonics is taught in half hourly sessions from Monday to Friday in Reception and Key Stage 1. Each child’s phonics knowledge is assessed every term. Children from Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 are taught in 9 mixed groups so that we ensure that teaching is matched to their stage of learning for this important skill. Our teaching is based on the Letters and Sounds scheme and incorporates resources from various companies.

Phonics sessions take place every day in Year 1. If children need to continue with phonics strategies in year 2, they are taught the strategies needed on a daily basis. Phonics activities are practical and fun, to encourage learning – they follow the Letters and Sounds progression. During shared and guided reading, phonics work is reinforced in the context of real texts. Writing activities follow on from shared reading.

Phonics is taught daily and follows the Letters and Sounds document (a systematic synthetic phonics approach). Jolly Phonics is used to support the letters and sounds approach. It covers all the pre requisite skills for reading such as sound identification, sequencing, reproduction and discrimination.’

St Mary and All Saints Beaconsfield, Bucks
Reading Score: 113, 108, 109
17th best state primary results.
Letters & Sounds + Jolly Phonics.
– v. comprehensive info for parents
– talk4writing Pie Corbet and also Corbet’s grammar progression
– Comprehensive explanation of L&S on website
– Comprehensive book list for each year

St Elizabeth’s RC Richmond on Thames
Reading Score: 111, 112, 110
19th best state primary results.
Letters and Sounds, with Jolly Phonics to supplement learning.
Observation: Traditional foundational skills and progressive learning. (Is this balance easier to achieve in an area of great wealth where most children will benefit from book-rich, language-right homes…?)
Reception: Children learn through play in Reception. Play is very important since it demands from the children concentration, perseverance and mental and physical effort. We aim to encourage children to explore, experiment, question, take risks, make and learn from mistakes, and provide them with opportunities for listening, reflecting and praying. We want the children to have fun and enjoy learning. The role play area is frequently changed to match the topic taught within the classroom, and performances and acting are actively encouraged. There is a ‘Show and Tell’ session each week where children can bring in an item that is special to them or an object relating to a topic which they would like to talk about. Every child is given this opportunity and encouraged to think of open ended questions to ask their peers.

Yr l: Literacy, Mathematics, reading and handwriting are taught daily and the remaining curriculum subjects are taught using a topic approach. The children continue to receive daily Phonics, often led by Fuzzy Phonics the puppet Macaw and in the Summer Term each child’s phonic knowledge is statutorily assessed… Pupils continue to develop their creativity and imagination by exploring the visual, tactile and sensory qualities of materials and processes. They learn about the role of art, craft and design in their environment. One of the topics that Year 1 children really enjoy is designing and making their own room which gives them a wonderful opportunity to use their imagination.

Children are particularly encouraged to improve their communication skills by speaking and listening carefully.

Homework (Yr 6): Reading It is expected that children will read for 30 minutes each evening. We ask that children write the date, title of the book and a comment in their reading records. To encourage independence, children are responsible for bringing their reading books home in their packets each evening and ensuring that their reading packet is taken into school each day. In addition, children will be issued a class core text, which remains the property of the school. This should be kept in their reading packet and be available for reading in school every day. Children may be asked to read selected passages of this text at home at the teacher’s discretion and related work may be set. This book must be returned to school when requested in the condition it was issued. Missing copies will need to be replaced. A comprehension task will be set on a Friday and returned to school on Monday.

Spelling books will be sent home each Friday. The spelling pattern/rule that these words follow should be discussed with an adult. Other words that follow the same pattern/rule should be explored. Using the words brought home, the children should complete a spelling activity from the spelling menu which is found in the front of your child’s spelling book. Spelling books should be returned by Monday. Please use the school handwriting style to complete the spelling activity. In each half-term holiday the children should revise all the spelling patterns/rules learned during the previous half-term. Your child will be given the Year 6 National Curriculum word list to become familiar with and should be encouraged to spell these words correctly in his/her writing.
In Year 1 children will enjoy a rich and diverse curriculum, enhanced by a variety of inspiring workshops and visitors. Children will also enjoy memorable visits to The Discovery Centre in Bracknell and a local area walk to Richmond Park.

Two well resourced libraries [and] a number of popular lunchtime Book Clubs…with over 100 children currently attending across the school. Each month [the Librarian] selects a book that is suitable to be read aloud to children in both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Details about the book will be published together with links to associated activities and games that can be enjoyed as a family.

Read Aloud initiative. Parents encouraged to read to their children including Yr 6.

There are many events for the children throughout the course of the school year to promote literacy and reading for enjoyment, including Roald Dahl Day, National Poetry Day, Book Week and the Termly Reading Challenge. In addition, there are several creative writing competitions as well as the ‘Star Readers’ initiative.’

Hampton Gurney London W1
Reading Score: 111, ??, ??
12th best state primary results.
l form entry.
Letters and Sounds, RWInc, Jolly Phonics & Nessy.
‘Reading is a complex skill with many components. Successful approaches to the teaching of reading should encourage children to use a variety of strategies in their pursuit of meaning with phonics as the way of decoding. Jolly Phonics is used in Nursery and Read Write Inc is used in the rest of the school. Reading should be a valuable and rewarding aspect of the children’s learning and consequently should open the door to a world of knowledge.’

Bourne Cambridge
Reading Score: 112, ??, ??
=20th best state primary results.
Small village school.
RWInc.

Lightwoods Oldbury, West Midlands
Reading Score: 111, 104, 106
=20th best state primary results.
Letters and Sounds. One of few schools to specifically mention spelling other than either LCWC, and/or unstructured spelling h/w lists.
‘Other texts, not linked to a scheme, by well-known authors, are also studied to ensure children experience a wealth of literature.

‘No Nonsense Spellings’ are taught in class to secure understanding of spelling rules. Speedy Spellings are sent home on a weekly basis. These spellings are linked to sound patterns and tricky words and are personalised to meet the needs of your child. Practising spelling at home helps to reinforce and consolidate learning.’

Holy Cross Sutton Coldfield
Reading Score: 112, 111, 107
=20th best state primary results.
RWInc.
Small school – little info on website.

Saint Bedes Redcar
Reading Score 112, 115, 107*
24th best state primary results.
No information about the school apart from a glowing Ofsted from 2009.
*requires improvement 2019

Tennyson Road Luton, Bedfordshire
Reading Score: 110, 115, 107
RWInc.
‘At Tennyson Road we are proud of our reading results from reception to Year 6. The children are immersed in a ‘book’ rich curriculum which opens their worlds to a million different experiences each and every day. Through the wide variety of texts that we explore we teach a complexity of grammar and punctuation skills to our children; this means the children naturally use it in their own work helping them to develop exciting, creative and mature pieces of independent writing. At Tennyson Road we know ‘How to teach guided reading like a boss!’ which is a new guided reading programme which enables us to explore challenging texts, music and images as part of our morning sessions each day. The programme enables the children to independently develop 4 core English skills: Identify, Compare, Contrast and apply. We are proud to follow the programme and are seeing exceptional progress across all year groups.’

Other Points

Pupil Premium information
It would be helpful if all school websites could detail how Pupil Premium funds are allocated – for instance, Three Bridges school in London is exemplary in the detailed information it provides. The school spends £75,000 of its Pupil Premium (211 pupils eligible) employing 2 part-time reading teachers to support lowest attaining pupils in Yrs l, 2, 3 – £15,000 on phonics-based books for EYFS and Yr l – and ‘whatever it takes’ training in Sounds-Write for new staff.

Commitment to book culture

Thomas Jones and a number of high performing schools such as Christ Church, Chelsea, convey the seriousness of working to the highest standards, with ambitious reading lists, some with librarians, if employed, with detail of approaches to reading – including cases of guided reading, silent reading, and aiming to ensure that all children read in every lesson.

Importance of understanding of generic SSP

Practical, long-term solution to making sure that teachers have a comprehensive understanding of generic synthetic phonics so that when changing school there is no difficulty for staff in adjusting programme content and structure. Hubs will, I understand, chose a specific programme for training under performing schools. Yet we know that in areas of high poverty there is an even greater turn-around of staff than is normal in primary schools. If teachers have a good generic training, they are in a position when changing schools to adapt their SSP teaching.

See http://www.tcrw.co.uk for website providing explanation and examples of generic training.

 

Every child a reader – and every child a talker

As well as laying the foundations for a lifetime of literacy by instilling rigorous decoding skills, Piper Books’ BRI series offers lots of opportunities for children to develop spoken language, including those with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) or Special Educational Needs (SEN). Each book includes several questions to open up discussion on everything from plot to personalities. Below are brief sketches to assist parents and teachers in exploring the cast of characters with their children.

Sam the Lion

As befits the King of the Jungle, Sam is somewhat pompous and self-regarding. He is also rather lazy and gets mightily irritated when disturbed by friends in search of fun. He is, however, as quick to forgive as he is to anger. He perhaps isn’t quite as brave as one might expect of a lion. Hobbies include reading, dressing up, canoeing, lurking in caves, surfing and bus-driving.

Mat the Rat

A lively little fellow, Mat is never afraid to bite off more than he can chew. The over-excitable Rat loves hats, reading, painting, baseball, scuba-diving and frolicking with his friends – irrespective of whether or not they’re in the mood. He’s smarter than he looks, often taking the initiative to solve problems that mystify his larger friends, and fancies himself as a bit of a teacher. He is, sadly, not above framing others for his own misdemeanours.

Mit the Chimp

Underneath Mit’s cheery exterior lurks a surprisingly Machiavellian character. This is, after all, the guy who cunningly disguises himself as Sam the Lion, traumatises his friends with a pair of stilts, and literally ties Sis the Snake in knots. He enjoys lurking in trees and – slightly less traditionally for a member of the great ape family – creating kites and snowmen.

Sis the Snake

Sis makes up in warmth and enthusiasm what she lacks in acumen. Naturally, she shares an apple-obsession with her biblical ancestor. She’s prone to hypochondria and falling down wells.

Will the Elephant

More stolid than his mercurial chums, Will has nonetheless earned his place in their affections with his readiness to provide shade on hot days, rides when they get tired, and assistance with the weeding. He harbours a secret desire to be a fish.

Ann the Giraffe

Rather obsessed by her own appearance – to the extent of tottering around on high heels – Ann has the misfortune to repeatedly suffer the theft of her flower-bedecked hat. She very much enjoys boating and fishing. The absence of her friends rapidly sends her spiralling into depression.

Nan the Parrot

The cheeriest of creatures, Nan is always happy to use her powers of flight to fetch and carry for her playmates.

Sid the Horse

Not over-endowed in the brains department, Sid is more highly-strung than his mates, being known to burst into tears when their escapades go wrong. He’s highly susceptible to bribery, sharing as he does Sis’s fixation with apples. Sid’s also not above giving Mat a hefty kick when the impish Rat is pulling his tail.

Nat the Kangaroo

Baby Nat is blessed with the kind of scatterbrained mother who fails to notice when he accidentally falls out of her pouch – or deliberately hops off in search of adventure. He has a phobia about rain, unsurprisingly given his desert heritage.

Nell the Ostrich

Even vainer than Ann the Giraffe, Nell enjoys a Narcissus-like relationship with her mirror. Her bedraggled comeuppance is inevitable…

Ed the Dog

Stuck with the usual canine desire to please, Ed frequently helps his livelier, more mischievous chums out of scrapes. Only occasionally does the underdog get a chance to shine, but he does make a rather good cook, and once played detective very successfully.

Ben the Ant

Ben relishes riding on buses and elephants. He holds his own amongst his larger friends – in fact, his tiny size comes in handy when they all prove too heavy to extract themselves from the mud.

Surmounting severe SEN problems in teaching children to read

Part l

In 2004 Ottakee joined the support forum BRI – Beginning Reading Instruction, formed by tutors and teachers to explore, discuss and share information about the BRI reading programme. Thousands of school children with weak reading skills, including severe cognitive difficulties, have also benefited from this carefully constructed synthetic phonics programme.

Determined to teach her older daughter, Jane, to read, by 2004 Ottakee had tried 7 reading programmes without success. In that year, she embarked on Beginning Reading Instruction: BRI with Jane. She described her older daughter as ‘looking and acting more like [a child with] an IQ in the 60s but testing out at 38 with scores ranging from 20-120.’ Although Jane was the most severely affected of her three adopted children, both her girls were born with multiple special needs including mitochondrial DNA mutation; her son was born with foetal alcohol syndrome.

Extracts from Ottakee’s posts are reprinted with minimal editing.

I am hoping to use BRI with my 8dd Jane who is borderline mentally impaired. So far NOTHING has worked even though she knows all of her sounds and can spell the words. I had taught my son with fetal alcohol and an IQ of 53 to read and that was EASY compared to his sister. I will be starting in 2 weeks with Jane who can not read at all even though she knows all of her sounds and can spell the words; she also has some language delays. If BRI works with her I think it will work with just about any student.

Year l

We just did the sounds and flashcards for book 1…She knew all of the sounds already except /ee/ but picked that up quickly. She did read book l ‘I see Sam’ today and was very proud of herself.

I figure that I will have to move very slowly with her. My ideal goal is two books per week. I figure on Monday we will introduce and read the story, Tuesday repeat the story, work on spelling the words, review, etc. Wednesday a new story with Thursday review and Friday maybe games and reviewing the previous stories. I don’t think she will mind at all rereading the stories.

Maybe over time we can move faster but even at one story a week she will be making more progress than we have with any other program.

My 7-year-old old daughter, Sue (IQ 85), is reading some of the books to me just for fun. She stumbled more than I thought she would. I think this is because she can’t ‘read’ the pictures and the words like sit, sis, Sam, etc all look close so you can’t just use the first letter to guess. I am thinking about working her through the whole set, just at a faster pace – maybe 1-2 books per day as she picks up things more quickly.

Later

We do 1-2 sessions per day 5 days a week and even some review on the weekends if we need it. We just did book 12 of set 1 with Jane today. It is still slow going. I just think that she is a child that needs LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of exposures to a word. BRI seems to give her a REASON for tracking left to right. She really struggled with that even after vision therapy. I noticed yesterday she is slowly tracking left to right and it makes SENSE to her now that she can read a tiny bit.

Jane has severe speech and language delay, severe stuttering (worst possible score), complex-partial seizures, ADHD, mild hearing loss, and a huge host of medical issues which require 5-8 different medications per day. She also tests like a brain injury child and may have been a shaken baby. We do know that she had very little stimulation/nurturing during her 1st 8 months of life. She was kept with her hands strapped down and her face covered much of the time.

The neuropsychologist was very impressed yesterday when we went in to see her. Jane is now reading a tiny bit and even read some things out of a standardized test that she has NEVER seen in BRI. They were things like green (she knew the /ee/ sound from see), red box, etc.

My just-turned-8 daughter, Sue, is basically repeating 1st grade. I am home schooling so we just go at her own pace. She is on book 6 of BRI 3 since the start of school this year. I am very pleased with her progress.

Year 2

Just thought I would give a progress report.

Sue is on ARI 1. She is doing OK but slowing down with all of the word endings. Also her meds for ADHD are not at the right dose. We are increasing it starting tomorrow. We will see if that helps as well. Over all though her progress is good. 9-year-old Jane read book 19 of set 1 today. I was very surprised at how well she did.

Just as an aside, I showed this program to my sister. She started the books with her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter last week. Today they called to say they had both just read book 3. These little tykes have no learning disabilities and the 3-year-old is very verbal/bright but I thought I would share their success so far.

Spring

Well, we are now on book 4 of BRI 3 with 9-year-old Jane. So far, so good. She is struggling a little with blending 2 sounds together like the /d/ /r/ in drum, /s/ /l/ in slip, etc but once we go over it once or twice she gets it for the rest of the story – and even the next book.

My 8-year-old daughter Sue started the program last September so she has been doing this for about 12 months now. She is on book 3 of ARI 2. She is also doing a lot of BRI reading.

Summer

9-year-old Jane is now on book 12 of BRI 3. She started last September as well. At first it was taking us one week per book then we went to 2 books a week and now we are up to 1 new book per DAY. Yes, she is still quite behind but she is transferring this knowledge to other books. Also, she was never expected to be able to learn to read so we are pleased with her progress.

Year 3

Just another note since my daughter Jane is in ARI 1. I honestly don’t think she would test well in other books. YES, she can read the words she knows from BRI in other easy readers and even some with the same code BUT throw in too many of those hard sight words/advanced code words that many K/1st grade kids learn and she would be totally lost.

Even with my 8 1/2 daughter Sue who has a low average IQ and LDs didn’t really start reading off BRI stuff until about mid ARI 2. Even now she still struggles with some words that she hasn’t gotten the code for yet.

Spring/Summer

9-year-old Sue (LDs, low average IQ and VERY ADHD) started out with ARI 2 this fall and read through set 2, 3, and most of 4 when she transitioned to LOTS of library books. She is now reading just about anything she wants from the children’s section. She is not doing much with chapter books as she really likes picture books – but will sit and read 5 or more picture books in a sitting (non fiction too).

10-year-old Jane (mild mental impairment, seizures, severe stuttering, speech and language delays, ADD and a host of other medical issues, and a rapidly changing eye glass prescription). She started out the year with BRI 3. We worked our way through BRI 3, ARI 1 and part of ARI 2 but the stories were just getting too long. We re-read BRI 3 and ARI 1 but the stories in ARI 2 were still too long. No real problem with the code, mostly just the length of the story. We are again re-reading the Boosters and she LOVES them.

Ottakee’s support for a parent on the BRI forum:

Just want to encourage you to keep going. It IS slow moving but look at how much your daughter has learned with you compared to what she would have learned without you and your BRI books.

BRI can’t be beat for teaching them to READ – decode the words.

You were not around 18 months ago when I started this process. If you can go back in the messages that far you can see just how TOUGH this was for my 10-year-old daughter Jane back then. It took us 6 MONTHS – not weeks or days, but MONTHS to get through set 1. Fast forward, 18 months. My 9-year-old daughter Sue is reading just about anything she wants – about a 3rd grade level and 10-year-old Jane who struggled so much is working on ARI 2 which is the end of 1st grade.

Use the NOTCHED CARD and show her only ONE sound at a time (remember ee/th/sh, etc are one sound). That way she HAS to say the sounds. If she just sees the ‘S’ she won’t know if the word is sit, sat, set, see, Sam, etc. If she sees the ‘m’ the word could be meet, men, me, mat, mit, etc – she has to blend the sounds one by one. Then show the next sound, then the last sound. Have her then blend the word. If she still doesn’t get it – model it over and over and over again – then start again.

…Try to keep the sessions short – maybe 10-15 minutes twice a day would be best but no more than 20 minutes at a time for ALL of the activities – reading, flashcards, and spelling work.

…One more note, with tough kids it can take WEEKS to get through the first few books. I modelled the blending over and over and over and over again for my dd. It took her likely 100+ tries to get ‘Sam’ down. We would get through it on page one and then do it AGAIN on page 2. I just kept working in 10-15 minute session, once or twice a day, and SHE GOT IT. She is now in ARI 2 and doing great with the blending of new sounds into words. This might not be easy but it does work.

Part 2 to follow…

Why do Children’s Authors Believe that Some Children from Bookish Families Fail to Read?

It is understandable that many authors – often fluent early readers – believe that all children need is exposure to books. Children certainly deserve, and need, storybooks, fairy tales, poems, rhymes, books of imagination, fact books and picture books  from babyhood onwards, but those of us who have ‘picked up the pieces’ have received referrals from non-reading children of distinguished authors, poets, academics, commentators – the majority of whom have taken great pleasure in reading to their children from babyhood onwards.
 
Here is Dr Marlynne Grant’s response to Joanna Trollop’s letter in the Sunday Times (16.9.18):

Dear Joanna,

I read your letter in Sunday Times and applauded your sentiments about child illiteracy but I was concerned by your take on the ‘solution’.  I have no doubt that the intervention of the National Literacy Trust can give children experience and practice with books but crucially it is not the ‘solution’ to the ‘scandal of child illiteracy’.

Categorically I agree there is no excuse for such large numbers of children in mainstream education failing to learn to read by the end of their Primary education.  By that time they should be able to read well enough to take full advantage of their Secondary schooling.

But, the ‘solution’ lies with how they were taught to read in Infant school and throughout their Primary schooling.  There is massive research to show that children taught systematically and rigorously from Reception and then given sufficient practice with books they can read with the alphabetic code they have been taught – will be able to leave Primary school at age 11 years able to tackle the Secondary curriculum.

My own research with about 800 children has followed every child in mainstream classes through from Reception to their KS2 English SATs at 11 years of age. My data did not exclude a single child in the schools, even those with Statements of Special Educational Need, English as a Second Language, poor language skills at school entry into Reception,  children with summer birthdays, children from poor backgrounds eligible for free school meals and Pupil Premium and travellers.  We gained our amazing results even with children whose families did not read with them at home.  We assessed all the children’s ability to read and spell from the very beginning and started extra teaching and practice with those children who were struggling.  In this way we avoided ‘dyslexia’ even though some children clearly had that type of learning difficulties profile.  I attach my paper which was presented to ResearchEd conference in London in 2014.

As an author I can understand why you might think that the solution to this problem lies through literature and books.  As a committee member of the Reading Reform Foundation I totally agree with you that children should love and experience stories, books and literature as early as possible.  But we believe that children need to be taught well through synthetic phonics right from the very beginning so that they learn how to read and can read independently and fluently themselves.

I and the Reading Reform Foundation would be delighted to talk further with you.

Yours sincerely

Dr Marlynne Grant (Registered Educational Psychologist)

Decodable Reading Books: Ticking All the Boxes

‘Everybody loves a good story…But stories are not just fun. There are important cognitive consequences of the story format. Psychologists have therefore referred to stories as “psychologically privileged,” meaning that our minds treat stories differently than other types of material. People find stories interesting, easy to understand, and easy to remember.’
Daniel T. Willingham

One of BRI’s great achievements lies in shaping the phonics sequence of its books within stories brimming with humour and personality: stories that promote rigorous decoding/encoding and also offer copious practice in blending and segmenting. The first three BRI books contain just five sounds, yet miraculously manage to weave ingenious little stories that carry the storyline through the illustrations (no guessing!). A cast of bubbly, mischievous characters stir the curiosity of children, with their warm friendships, albeit accompanied by occasional spats and bursts of jealousy. At once, the animals engage empathy and understanding and act as a trigger for meaningful conversations and for extending word knowledge. This is vitally important for children with poor understanding and meagre vocabulary.

Here we meet –

Image
Sam the Lion:
As befits the King of the Jungle, Sam is somewhat pompous and self-regarding. He is also rather lazy and gets mightily irritated when disturbed by friends in search of fun. He is, however, as quick to forgive as he is to anger. He perhaps isn’t quite as brave as one might expect of a lion. Hobbies include reading, dressing up, canoeing, lurking in caves, surfing and driving a bus.

Image

Mat the Rat:
A lively little fellow, Mat is never afraid to bite off more than he can chew. The over-excitable Rat loves hats, reading, painting, baseball, scuba-diving and frolicking with his friends – irrespective of whether or not they’re in the mood. He’s smarter than he looks, often taking the initiative to solve problems that mystify his larger friends, and fancies himself as a bit of a teacher. He is, sadly, not above framing others for his own misdemeanours.

Image

Mit the Chimp:
Underneath Mit’s cheery exterior lurks a surprisingly Machiavellian character. This is, after all, the guy who cunningly disguises himself as Sam the Lion, traumatises his friends with a pair of stilts, and literally ties Sis the Snake in knots. He enjoys lurking in trees and – slightly less traditionally for a member of the great ape family – creating kites and snowmen.

Image

Sis the Snake:
Sis makes up in warmth and enthusiasm what she lacks in size. Naturally, she shares an apple-obsession with her biblical ancestor. She’s prone to hypochondria and falling down wells.

…And a whole cast of their friends and acquaintances.

All twenty-two characters in the BRI ‘family’ make their appearance on the fold-out A3 poster of our updated BRI & ARI leaflet – a stimulating visual prompt for conversations about the animals’ habits and personalities.  The poster also presents a daily opportunity for beginner readers to practice sounding out and blending cvc words – Tut, Lil, Dash, Will and the rest of the gang (only Snap is accorded the honour of a 4-sound ccvc name!)

‘One of the great strengths of the BRI decodable stories is that they lend themselves to many of these “prediction” activities so well. The child can follow the illustrations and “predict” where the story is going: “Sam is holding that book up in front of his face! Look, he is going to fall into that big hole!” Having the child verbalize what is happening, and what WILL happen, makes the simple decoding meaningful in the context (on the next several pages, there are only a couple of words, as Sam’s friend anxiously calls his name and Sam’s voice floats up from the depths of the pit), with an opportunity to put prosody and attention to punctuation to work. Moreover, this “prediction” activity helps build the child’s narrative sense, a fundamental foundation language skill, which incorporates sequence, relationship, cause and effect and other variables as well. Prediction is also useful for discriminating word meanings: if the children are reading a story about farm animals, they can confidently “predict” that the word duck in the story will refer to the quacking biped, not to the action of leaning to enter a low doorway.’
Palisade. Yahoo Forum Beginning-Reading-Instruction

Development of the BRI Beginner Reading Programme

The intelligent, well-thought-out BRI beginner readers were developed by a distinguished team of educational psychologists and psychometricians over a number of years. The programme underwent trials in 4,000 classes in around 2000 schools – undergoing a number of adjustments along way. The resultant programme ensured:

  • Robust, clear and straightforward instruction
  • Minimum of teacher/TA preparation
  • Maximum ease of learning with copious cvc practice within stories
  • Low cost and easy to implement under all school conditions
  • Careful choice of words to prevent guessing
  • Illustrations that carry the storyline with no clues for the ‘guesser’

 

Teaching children to read with Piper Books leaflet
The flexible nature of BRI stories, used in conjunction with Systematic Synthetic Phonics programmes, accommodates brief one-to-one, group sessions and differentiation.

Learnign to read infographic

(It is also highly recommended to reread previous books from time to time and not to move on too fast. A minority of children may need many readings of a book to gain fluency.)

‘When we talk of closing the word gap, we actually mean something much bigger than that unassuming phrase implies. We mean welcoming a child into a world of new ideas, insights and emotions, into a world that we, the word-rich, take for granted, and which we will routinely guarantee for our own children.’
Geoff Barton, General Secretary, the Association of School & College Leaders

The Making of Exceptional Reading Schools

Top-performing schoolsi come in all shapes and sizes. Schools with high Pupil Premium grants, large inner-city Edwardian schools surrounded by concrete, leafy little village schools and so on. For the first time in decades, the reading scores of eleven-year-olds were detached from other SATs results, allowing greater scrutiny of reading abilities.

By looking at the websites of the fifty most successful schools in 2016 SATs 2 reading, it is possible to find common themes – albeit tentative – concerning early reading instruction and developing a reading culture, in particular.

The majority of top-performing schools:

  1. Selected one of the main Systematic Synthetic Phonics programmes, either Letters and Sounds, ReadWrite Inc or Jolly Phonics, with some schools choosing Jolly Phonics for Reception, followed by Letters and Sounds, and two schools choosing Floppy’s Phonics Sounds and Lettersii. Nearly all schools allocated the standard 30 minutes’ phonics period in Reception and Year 1, followed by a longer literacy period.
  2. Quickly moved on to a wide range of books following decodable readers and/or some of the original Oxford Reading Tree levelled books.
  3. Provided copious extra help for children in danger of failing.
  4. Ensured a close relationship with parents, including helpful information on phonics.
  5. Developed a powerful reading culture.

Examples of high performing schools:

Edward Pauling  Feltham TW13    Reading Score 113iii       

ReadWrite Inc    Maximum 220 pupils, c.20% pupil premium

‘From Requires Improvement to Outstanding: Our school has won the regional and national award for 2016. See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-tackling-disadvantage-celebrated-at-pupil-premium-awards for more details.

Our parent volunteers come into school to support our pupils with their reading development by hearing individual readers and small guided groups on a weekly basis. Discrete teaching of phonics takes place throughout the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1. Additionally, the phonics skills are applied through daily literacy lessons and across the wider curriculum.’

St Antony’s  London E7    Reading Score 111

ReadWrite Inc    484 pupils, c.20% pupil premium

‘Lunch-time reading club. Over 20 TAs and volunteers, 9 HLTAs, school therapist, additional phonics and reading support and RW resources across school.’

Thomas Jones  N. Kensington, London W11   Reading Score 112

Jolly Phonics    233 pupils (2/3rds EAL), c.48% pupil premium

‘Analysis of national test data shows there has been no relationship between the achievement of pupils and Free School Meals status since 2006.

The school’s approach to the teaching of reading has been documented in the Ofsted report Reading by Six: How the Best Schools Do It and through the launch of the Ofsted Moving English Forward report and Building an Outstanding Reading School. Our success with the teaching of reading can be seen through our national test results.

Through the Foundation Stage and Key Stage One, our pupils follow a rigorous system of synthetic phonics, based on the Jolly Phonics scheme. Alongside this, pupils in this phase of the school have access to high quality books, both to study in legitimate English lessons and to read independently. The school follows the Pearson Bug Club reading scheme, supplemented with other high quality books banded into the scheme.’

Scotts  Hornchurch, Essex    Reading Score 114

Letters and Sounds  2 form entry (no information re pupil premium)

‘Teaching our children not only to become proficient readers, but to develop a love of reading is of vital importance at Scotts Primary School. Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day not only perform better in reading tests than those who don’t, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.’

St Stephens  London W12    Reading Score 113

Letters and Sounds with Jolly Phonics and Phonics Play  2 form entry.  8.6% pupil premium

‘Strong emphasis on readers – aspiration: appreciation of centrality of books and literature. V. active school library, author visits and reading events with parents.

Phonics is taught daily to all children in EYFS and Key Stage 1. Phonics is also taught to children in Key Stage 2, who require further support with phonics and reading.

Much of our phonics teaching takes place in small groups which are targeted to the needs of particular learners.

Home learning Policy involves teachers, parents and children working together.’

Snap-shots:

  • Additional teacher providing daily phonics teaching for groups of pupils. Targeted Phonics Teaching: School Leader deployed to support Phonics teaching. Focused groups of children daily. Additional learning assistant deployed in the Early Years.’
  • ‘The teaching of reading, both the technical aspects of decoding language and the opportunity for pupils to develop a love of literature, is one of the most important aspects of school life here at Thomas Jones.’
  • ‘All children engaged with Library service for personal, group and whole class reading for pleasure sessions. Enhanced by additional curriculum hand on resources for children.’
  • ‘To improve pupil reading level, confidence, lifelong love of reading and increase range of reading.’
  • ‘Parent workshops to be held in local library and parents encouraged to sign up their child; visits by authors for story-telling sessions (including POETS), and a visit by theatre groups performing shows to link with focus books will be arranged.’
  • ‘Each child’s phonics knowledge is assessed every term.’
  • ‘Children are particularly encouraged to improve their communication skills by speaking and listening carefully.’
  • ‘Two well-resourced libraries – group sessions with librarian- who also runs a number of popular lunchtime Book Clubs for both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, with over 100 children currently attending across the school. Each month [the Librarian] selects a book that is suitable to be read aloud to children in both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Details about the book will be published together with links to associated activities and games that can be enjoyed as a family. Read Aloud initiative. Parents encouraged to read to their children including yr 6.’
  • ‘Across the school, children from older year groups go to a younger class to read with them. This helps the younger children to develop confidence in reading aloud and hopefully inspires them to become independent readers.’
  • ‘Our school book collection is vast and varied encouraging all readers to find excitement and pleasure in the books they read. Children are invited to take home at least three books a week, and our effective Home/School diary enables good communication between parents/carers and teachers, where learning and targets are shared regularly.’
  • ‘Our curriculum promotes a love of reading, through events, a wide range of teaching resources and texts to engage readers.  In our independent learning environment, pupils continually use their reading skills to research and apply knowledge into their writing.’
  • ‘Letter to parents: Welcome to our last term in Year 1. You will notice that the emphasis in the weekly spellings will change as we progress through the term. I have nearly finished teaching the children to recognise the different ways of writing the 40+ phonemes we use to read and write.’

i  Find and compare schools in England – GOV.UK

ii  There are c.6-7 excellent SSP programmes in the UK – performance tables in the future may well reflect this wider choice.

iii  Average reading score for England (2016) was 205. Scores of top performing reading schools ranged between 210 and 215 (only two private schools achieved a higher score: 216). 

CUTTING THE COST OF PRIMARY EDUCATION

Nearly one million more pupils will be coming into the school system over the next decade and as pressures mount for more expenditure –and more and more of EVERYTHING – Primary cuts are worth looking at. For starters, the teaching of reading is a candidate for severe pruning, preferably with newly sharpened secateurs (e.g. Magical Spelling, Learning Styles, Multiple Intelligences, fluffy phonics add-ons, iPads, so-called “phonics” readers – not least the first four sets of Biff and Chip). Without thorough professional training in early reading instruction, teachers continue to be attracted to mixed-methods expenditure – a smidgeon, or even a dollop, of phonics stirred in with guessing strategies, onset and rime, consonant blend games, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all… Yet, recently, only 20p per pupil was invested in essential, high-quality synthetic phonics training through the government’s Phonics Matched Catalogue. The mandatory requirement to teach synthetic phonics is often circumnavigated and the waters horribly muddied. See Alison Clarke, Spelfabet, on how to confuse children: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3vFNzjihQA&app=des

This vicious circle continues as more and more effort and money are spent attempting to unravel the damage done by muddled initial instruction. The best primary schools use systematic synthetic phonics with beginner readers http://tinyurl.com/ovz6rwg and Reading for Pleasure case studies: http://fdslive.oup.com/www.oup.com/oxed/primary/literacy/RfP_case_studies.pdf?region=uk 

But most ‘catch-up’ programmes still continue with the mess of pottage known as ‘mixed methods’, leaving secondary schools to pick up the pieces and restore the shattered confidence of students. It is these students who, after 6-7 years of primary education, are left with low esteem and accompanying attitude problems –disruptive and diversionary behaviour, after all, goes a long way in disguising poor reading skills. Some secondary schools robustly tackle the problem with evidence-based instruction. But intervention programmes should never have been necessary. It’s so much harder to teach foundational skills to older students than to little ones and turning around large numbers of under-performing students involves huge effort and expertise. It also means that SEN staff have less time for special-needs children who require all the help they can get. We need to look after the most vulnerable in society – not act as trouble-shooters, unpicking the fun-laden damage done by earlier mal-instruction.

Why not make it a requirement that all children are taught to read during their seven years in primary school? At the moment, stumbling readers are increasingly lumbered with outlandish labels resulting in heavy financial investment, in the – often forlorn – hope that they will ‘catch up’ before leaving primary school. Phonics-focused primaries have demonstrated conclusively that the overwhelming majority of pupils can become competent readers, growing into enthusiastic and wide-ranging book lovers, however inauspicious their background. Where is the evidence for 97%+ of competent, fluent readers emanating from phonics-lite schools in deprived areas? Such schools seem remarkably coy about sharing this information.

Were all ITTs to provide comprehensive information on evidence-based instruction, with the Alphabetic Code at its centre, there wouldn’t be a need for expensive catch-up programmes, or time-wasting, budget-devouring materials. Children thrive on learning when they understand how reading works and see their progress. And foundational evidence-based reading instruction, taught with rigour, frees up time for art, drama, discussion, writing, poetry, music, and so much more.

‘Consider: what you would want if you were the child who cannot read?
You would want someone to teach you, and teach you well.
It is not a lot to ask.’
https://horatiospeaks.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/330/