What I wish teachers had been taught at University so that they could apply Science of Reading findings more effectively. 'Let's talk about the details'.
Miss Emma BEd Hons. MA Special Educational Needs. Doctoral Student (University of Reading)
Steps to Reading Playgroup
with Miss Emma in Dorset, UK.
Play based learning.
It is very difficult for those training teachers to cover everything that teachers need to know; the majority of what teachers really learn about the job is from actually teaching! However the teaching of reading (and spelling) has always been one of the top things newly qualified teachers say they feel least prepared to do; and if we look at how badly, in general, we do this as a profession, many are going to struggle to learn from colleagues. It's all rather hit and miss with regards to what teachers are taught, and understand. If asking teachers to count how many speech sounds they use when saying the word 'box' many do not say 4. Many teachers start with poor phonemic awareness, and this needs to be taught explicitly (as we do with children)
It is not natural, and you can be the smartest person in the room and have poor phonemic awareness. Many incredibly smart teachers have hidden their difficulties for years, especially their slow reading and poor spelling skills. Much of my work is about helping parents and teachers understand how to segment spoken words into phonemes, and then map them to the graphemes in words; simply understanding that helps them to be more effective. I also help them apply the research, and also QUESTION everything; our students deserve that.
When I first emigrated to Australia over 10 years ago the Rose Report, National Reading Panel, and Australian Inquiry into the Teaching of Reading were all still relatively current; and the NPR is one of the most widely cited papers within the field of education there is! So we know that teachers should be taught about the Science of Reading, and what the research says. I've done a 'SoR Cheat Sheet' here. Bottom line is that students need these skills to have the best chance of learning to read with the least amount of difficulty, and in the shortest period of time:
Phonemic Awareness (a particular subset of phonological awareness that relates to phonemes; the smallest sound units)
Systematically taught phonics (NPR recommended that teachers be taught a range of approaches)
What I found was that teachers may be interested in this, but they mainly wanted to know HOW do I apply the findings, and how to identify why some children 'got it' and some didn't. SSP teachers are also now focussed on the details. Ok, 'phonemic awareness' - can we start at the phoneme level, how long before we introduce graphemes etc? OK, systematically taught phonics - speech to print, or print to speech (or a combination depending on the situation?) Checking comprehension - with decodable readers that align with their systematic phonics teaching, or using 'benchmarks' etc? And so on...
We want the DETAILS, and we want practical solutions. It's why I created all the techniques and resources I share; there was nothing that met the needs of all of my students, so I created them. Now I share them.
Many school leaders buy programs, so that (they hope) teachers have training, structure, and ready-made resources (as teachers are so time-poor!) in order to teach these skills; however, the quality of programs varies, and also the application of those programs. One teacher may do really well with a certain program and yet another doesn't - is the issue the program? Or the teacher's understanding of it. Variables with regards to program effectiveness are HUGE! So if someone tells you their school is using a particular program, always ask 1/ how likely is that program going to meet the needs of the highest number of students (does it align with the Science of Reading) and 2/ how effectively is the teacher using the program, in order to meet the needs of the highest number of students.
I have seen numerous SoR groups crop up, and yet the group moderators seem to expect everyone to talk about SoR as it aligns with their understanding of it. This can mean that you can look at two 'SoR' groups and they seem to be talking about the teaching of reading is completely different ways. It is, in part, why I set up the Orthographic Mapping group on facebook.
If you join a SoR group, find out if the consensus is that children 'decode' words using the phoneme to graphene correspondences, or if they look for 'vowel sounds' in words, and segment them into larger units eg syllables. Two very different approaches to teaching children how to read and spell. It's almost Orton Gillingham V Synthetic Phonics. Which is the most effective? What does the research say? Start with that and you open up a huge can of worms, and find that it is not so much 'SoR' teachers and 'balanced literacy/ whole language' teacher; there is confusion even by those who are huge 'systematic phonics instruction' supporters; and, of course, all will be citing research to support their argument, and claims that their way aligns with the science of reading. It can get quite heated, and nasty, in some of the groups, and classroom teachers are already exhausted and don't want any drama. The groups can end up consisting mainly of non-teachers, who can be the most argumentative and vocal.
So I start from the idea that we are all learning, and will never know enough. We can meet the needs of the highest number of our students with what we know TODAY, but we must strive to improve on that. So these are some of the DETAILS I have found helps teachers meet the needs of the highest number of students TODAY, and what I wish teachers were taught in University. Tomorrow, together, we may learn more; we may be able to help MORE children get there more QUICKLY and easily.
Surely these are the discussions we should be having, as parents and teachers; because the research findings and 'current theory' change anyway, so why not talk about the application of research more from the perspective of real-life classrooms, and real-life experiences of teachers?
These clips are about the DETAILS of what I wish teachers had been taught at University. I'll continue to add to it.
I am always attacked, and there will be those who want to scoff at my ideas, but until teachers stop telling me this stuff helps them, I will continue to share my views as an experienced and highly successful teacher of reading and spelling. Many of the techniques I have shared over the years were aggressively attacked five to ten years ago, but are now widely accepted as 'good practice'...from speedy paired decoding with decodable readers to code mapped 'sight words'. When I spoke out about 'benchmarking' and the use of PM and F&P readers without an underlying phonics foundation I was not only attacked but threatened with legal action. No-one likes change, but our kids (and teachers) deserve to learn to read and spell as quickly and easily as possible. I know how to do that, so I share that. I'm not going anywhere.
According to Isiugo-Abanihe and Alonge (2002), "every new fact, law or theory presents new problems, so that no matter the present state of scientific knowledge, there is always more to know".
Miss Emma, The Reading Whisperer
'My dream, quite simply, is to see every child reading for pleasure'