In most English-speaking countries, reading instruction begins as soon as a child develops the ability to be phonologically sensitive to the segmental sound system of English. This occurs at about four to five years of age Therefore, it is not unreasonable for primary teachers to expect Year 1 children to be able to read. But the reality is that many children won’t be fluent readers at that stage, and many of them will know little about phonological awareness, the alphabetic principal or blending strategies.
The reasons for this are:
- Firstly, about twenty percent of children are phonologically insensitive. This means that cognitively, they don’t hear the separation of sounds in spoken words.
- Secondly, some children are learning to read English as a second language, and have become confused about processing sequences of sound-letters. If they have captured their first language by depending on cues, recall or other memory-dependent associations, they may try to learn to read English in the same way.
- Thirdly, a problem is bound to develop when instructional practices do not take into account how the brain processes information from sound to sight.
A good example of poor instructional practice is in the misapplication of phonics. We know the teaching of applied phonics is frequently applied incorrectly because many non-reading children actually know their phonics. They can associate a letter ‘b’ with its common sound /buh/, but they are learning backwards! The mistake occurs when the teacher shows the child the letters before correcting the child’s phonological (ability to access spoken sounds) skills.
These language skills need to develop before children learn to connect spoken sounds with their visual appearance in letters and words. When teachers introduce children to the letters of the alphabet first, before establishing phonological sensitivity, they mistakenly encourage the child to become dependent on visual recall or memory instead of linking the child’s appreciation of sounds and symbols through processing of sound to symbol.
Many teachers do not appreciate the significance of pre-reading skills, simply due to the way they themselves are trained through the current education system.
As parents, you can help prepare your children to learn to read, Here’s how:
- Encourage them to use vocabulary and read to them every day.
- Be patient and wait until the child is phonologically ready (usually after 3.5 years) before helping them to identify beginning spoken sounds.
- Avoid memory dependency by not using flash cards for phonetically regular words and not pointing to words and asking your children to remember them.
- Encourage them to love story time.
- Play the I Spy game after the age of 3.5 to 4 years to encourage your children to hear the first sounds in spoken words (use sounds only; not letter names). Start with easy continuous sounds, such as /ssss/ and /mmm/ (sun, monkey).
- Last, but not least, take them to a specialist reading centre like I Can Read so they can learn the right way!
If you’d like more information on what to look for when choosing the right reading programme for your child, read our blog entitled WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A READING PROGRAMME FOR YOUR CHILD
If you are a parent or caregiver of a young child and if you have been attracted to internet based, or face-to-face learning programmes purporting to offer materials or resources designed to teach your child to read, perhaps you should consider a number of variables before you make any decisions.
Anyone promoting their products can pretty much say what they like on the internet. So how do you know it’s true? How do you know it’s reliable? Can you trace their claims back to the source? Or is it just spin? In the event that the site under your consideration makes attractive claims about what children can or cannot learn in respect to reading and literacy, ask a few questions such as:
To whom can a claim be traced? Or is it just rhetoric with no point of reference? In other words, does the site lack credibility? A site to take notice of will cite its authors and reference its claims; otherwise it lacks credibility.
For example, If you are checking out the I Can Read® System, you will learn how the I Can Read® came into existence. This is verifiable information: you can check it.
The I Can Read® System was developed by two Australian educational psychologists, Tony Earnshaw & Annabel Seargeant between 1997 and 2000. Both Tony Earnshaw and Annabel Seargeant are qualified and registered Australian educational psychologists. Tony has an undergraduate degree in English and a psychology degree from the University of New England in NSW as well as a Masters degree with first class honours in how children learn to read. Annabel has an undergraduate degree in English with a major in English literature, as well as a psychology degree and a post-grad Diploma in Counselling.
The school education system is not a complete failure of course, but its failure to ensure 100% of literacy is significant. Did you know that a staggering 47% of Australians are functionally illiterate and innumerate? (i)
In 2018, the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham described Australia’s educational decline ‘a real worry’ when responding to a report in The Guardian:
‘Australian children are lagging behind when it comes to developing basic skills in primary school but they are staying in school for longer.
The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth’s five-year snapshot, released on Sunday, shows Australia ranks 35th out of 40 OECD countries on preschool attendance, although the number of four- and five-year-olds who attend has dropped in recent years.
It also shows three in 10 year 4 students aren’t meeting minimum numeracy standards while one in four are below standard in science and one in five are not at the required reading level.’ (ii)
Blame for these low literacy levels has generally been assigned to the fluctuating nature of early childhood and government funding. But might the literacy toolset being provided to Australian teachers be the real culprit? Are teachers inadequately trained to teach literacy?
Research into reading acquisition shows that, irrespective of the instructional methods used by teachers, some 60% of children will learn how to read. So that means, that irrespective of the teaching methods utilised by their teacher, around 60% of students work out for themselves the nature of the alphabetic principle, how to access phonemes, how to process a sequence of phonemes into co-articulated utterances, and more.
This 60% statistic enables schools to claim a majority success in teaching children to read, with the remaining 40% noted as having some kind of learning difficulty – or, as teachers frequently tell parents, “He/she will come good later.” This is not true, and the failure rate of children learning to read can be attributed to the instructional inadequacy of the teaching.
This is not the fault of the teachers, but of the way in which they are being trained themselves.
Mary Ruth Mendel, Chair of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy foundation, blames insufficient funding. She expresses concern that, of all the OECD nations, Australia is ranked third from the bottom of the list. Ms Mendel said Australia was “distressingly behind” in its funding for literacy, ranking third last of all OECD Nations. (iii) She claims that even if children are taught phonics, they may still adopt a sight recognition strategy for reading, which can put them far behind their peers in reading and spelling. When teaching methods explicitly encourage sight memorisation, more children will head down that wrong path. At I Can Read, Australian parents continue to tell us that their child has been learning sight word lists at school, which is proven to be an ineffective method of literacy learning.
The Australian Council for Educational Research note that Australian children’s average score had improved by 17 points since 2011, putting them ahead of kids in 24 countries, but behind 13 countries. Australia was equal 12th in the world for reading, but its students’ performance declined by 12 points between 2009 and 2015, a significant change. Only 61% of Australian students achieved the National Proficient Standard in reading.
Scientific research has shown how children learn to read, and how they should be taught. However, many educators are not made aware of the process and are not taught how to teach reading during their studies to become teachers. As a result, many children are being set up to fail.
So, as parents, what can you do to help?
Unfortunately, it is difficult for parents to have a significant effect on the education system.
What you can do is:
- Do some research and contact a reputable alternative provider outside of the school system.
- Ensure the provider you choose employs a system based on research by qualified professionals and has a proven track record.
- Ask to see evidence of actual results – not just anecdotal reviews.
- Find out if you can arrange a free assessment for your child.
- If your child is pre-school age, (readiness varies, but generally, we find around 3.5 years) now is the perfect time to start their literacy journey and give them an advantage before starting school. You may have heard that deferral of education until kindergarten is the way to go, but this is not supported by research. Giving your child the tools and skills to learn to read correctly will help avoid any potential damage to their ability to learn as a result of memory-based school reading techniques.
If you would like more information, or a free assessment, please contact the I Can Read head office at Dee Why on 02 9972 1419
Co-Creator of the I Can Read system, education psychologist and author.
The I Can Read System is a proven system, based on research.
It was created by qualified professionals (educational psychologists) from the bottom up, and has copious amounts of evidential support. The I Can Read System has a 100% success record, and has enabled over 200,000 children to read through 8 countries.
Every teacher at all Australian I Can Read literacy centres has been fully trained in the I Can Read System methodology.
(i) Graham Whittaker (the Guardian 2013)
(iii) https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/aussie-kids-are-slipping-in-literacy-heres-how-you-can-improve-your-childs-reading-before-school-starts/news-story/fac4d007643cc0b45294656416634a43 (iv) https://www.acer.org/au/discover/article/childrens-reading-literacy-achievement-pirls-2016