The “How” question has been a source of Educational Research for centuries.
As Educators, we seek to understand the most effective way to promote learning and progress in our students. The United Kingdom Education System has its trends and like other industries, philosophies come and go. We have tried to establish the learning styles of individuals: are you a Kinaesthetic Learner, a Visual Learner or even an Auditory Learner?
This is an attempt to put learning in a neat box, but the truth is, very few individuals fit into a neat box! Learning to read is no different.
Our children will learn at their own pace and respond to a variety of methods. The key is to find out how the individual responds, but unfortunately the system used in the classroom may be too fixed, and this results in pupils struggling and ultimately falling behind. It is for this reason that teachers should have the freedom to use a variety of methods and be trusted to make professional decisions about the methods they choose to promote a positive learning environment.
As a Secondary School English Teacher for 13 years, I taught many children who had fallen behind in Primary; those children were given support with intervention programmes and various initiatives, brought in by the school to help students of “Low Ability” catch up.
However, I was never given any formal training on how children learnt to read. Therefore, without that knowledge, work was aimed at ability rather than trying to fill in the gaps of understanding. Formal Reading Tests would reveal children whose reading age was below their actual age. However, the response to this data was not always what I now think to be required. These were often the students categorised as “reluctant readers”; as a teenager, it is less embarrassing to misbehave and avoid work, than to admit that you cannot comprehend the task or extract that which the teacher has provided you with.
The materials used across all subjects then become inaccessible; those students enter a cycle of failure and their school experience is negative. They disengage and lose the ability to become a “Lifelong Learner”.
It was only when I moved to the Primary Sector that I received training on teaching children how to read. I was finally able to see the process that children experience before they “land” in Secondary School in Year 7 regardless of whether they are ready to access Key Stage 3 or not. In 2012, I received training in various Phonics Programmes. As a Supply Teacher, I was fortunate to experience multiple programmes. These were “Jolly Phonics”(the programme my small children were learning), “Letters and Sounds” and the “Read, Write, Inc” Programme. I became fascinated and spent hours watching the Ruth Miskin videos and learning from the many outstanding teachers I was working beside. It was amazing to see the children learning to read in action. I felt extremely proud to be able to make a difference by starting these children off on their educational journeys.