19 June 2007

The Sound of Reading

I heartily recommend Why Our Children Can't Read by Diane McGuinness. This is a fascinating work covering research into how reading should be taught.
The first section covers the disaster with US illiteracy rates. Even phonics had a 33% failure rate (school stats) and the current hybrid whole word/phonics system of 42%. The problem lies in what the English language is and how the alphabet represents the language. There are 43 sounds but only 26 letters (and some of these are hardly used or are duplicates). So we cheat. To complicate it further we double up the same sound being represented by multiple letters or combinations, and the same letter/combinations making different sounds depending on context or surrounding letters.
The history section of the book is fascinating and the part comparing other alphabets for different languages is almost worth the book alone.
The golden part is the understanding that the way to teach English is to remember what we are doing. We are not trying to say that the letter makes the sound (phonics), or just remember how a word looks (the ludicrous whole word method) but that the sound is represented by this letter or letters.
I ran the included sample tests with the younger children and it all made sense. The author has studies backing up the use of this method as being 100% successful. 98% within a 12 week training schedule and the remaining 2% requiring a further 6 or so weeks.
So, I am now reading Reading Reflex which is all you need to start the training.
Ariel and Eric picked up reading quickly enough, but the others are finding it more difficult. When I tried the new technique (what letter represents this sound) it is all starting to click. At $22.44 for both these books together, I am very happy.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article - and I would endorse the positive comments about the Dianne McGuinness book.

For anyone with more than a passing interest in the teaching of reading can I recommend the following 2 websites?
www.syntheticphonics.com run by UK synthetic phonics pioneer Debbie Hepplewhite and www.rrf.org.uk - both Debbie Hepplewhite and Dianne McGuinness are committee members of this UK organization (a sort of pro-phonics pressure/research group).

Both sites are well worth a visit and are packed with useful information and research papers.

Janine Cate said...

Thanks for the pointer to Reading Reflex. I just requested it from my local library. I look forward to trying it out.