Early Reading: Developing policy with integrity
Ofsted have recently released a series of new videos focussing on curriculum. One of these videos is on the importance of Early Reading. Bradley Simmonds narrating the videos, states that ‘the most important thing you can do for a child in primary school is to teach it to read fluently.’ Teachers, he goes on to explain, ‘need to be very clear about the phonic teaching that they’re going to provide for the children whom they teach’ and that children ‘master the phonic code as quickly as possible.’ But is achieving reading fluency as simple as this?
It is important for children to learn phonics in a systematic way; it is one of the essential ingredients in the process of learning to read English. Teachers do need to have the knowledge and understanding of the alphabetic code but they also need to know how meaning is constructed because then they can use their professional knowledge and judgement to teach early readers effectively. The difficulties arise when decisions are made about how reading is taught and assessed based on only one aspect of a very complex process.
When we are thinking about our very youngest children we need to think about not just where they are now but where we want them to be, how they get there and how we support them to create a positive identity for themselves as a reader. Fluent reading only happens when a reader has mastered the alphabetic code and engages in the act of meaning making.
It is important that we support this, not just through high quality teaching of phonics but through the provision of high quality books and activities that enable children to explore language, enrich language and expect that the words on the page will carry meaning. They need to be able to practice and develop all of this in an environment which helps them to learn and experience the language of story and text and the pleasures this brings as well as supporting the development of early phonological awareness.
The environment for literacy will of course be the physical classroom but it is also the way in which the learning is organised. When children are learning to read they need to experience a comprehensive literacy programme that enables them to hear a rich variety of texts, including those books and stories that they may not be able to access independently.
If you are only ever using one way of organising, one narrow perception of what constitutes reading and one assessment then you are fostering negative perceptions of both readers and reading. What we have learnt is that to teach children to become independent readers, teachers do need a clear understanding of the phonic code but also what progression in the whole reading process looks like. They also need to see how to support every child, regardless of their age or ability,to make progress towards reading independence based on a full picture of quality reading practice and provision.
That is why we worked with UKLA, NATE, NAAE and the EMC on developing the CLPE reading scale and why we have made this freely accessible. It is important for us to support senior leaders and their schools to develop their own policy with integrity based on a thorough understanding of progression and supported by a bank of recent and relevant research. Only by developing a culture of learning that supports pedagogy and effects change will we be able to grow competent, confident lifelong readers with all of the academic and socio economic benefits this brings.