Menu

Education Today Logo


newsletter

Education Today Cover Browse Issue

Call for truce in reading wars

News Image

It is odd to think of teaching children to read in terms of war but with the conflict between phonics and whole language approaches a war it has been, and a long one at that. The victims? The children that leave school without being fully literate.

Of the many pieces of research on the topic the latest from Castles, Rastle and Nation out of Macquarie University, University of London, University of Oxford and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders,
 has plumped for the phonics side and advocates a deeper understanding of the processes behind phonics teaching for those using it.

The authors contend that a better understanding of phonics and what lies beneath would go a long way to smoothing the waters.

They identified two factors that contribute to the resistance to phonics, which overwhelmingly seems to be the system that works best. First, limited knowledge about the nature of writing systems among many practitioners means that they are not equipped to understand why phonics works for alphabetic systems.

Second, practitioners know that there is more to reading than alphabetic skills, but a full presentation of the scientific evidence in relation to these more advanced aspects of reading acquisition in a public interest forum has been lacking; as a result, calls for a greater focus on phonics instruction can seem unbalanced.

The researchers write: “The writing system matters, that experience matters, and that the ultimate goal of reading – comprehension – is not a unitary construct but a multifaceted process.

“Teaching and research must be informed by a detailed knowledge of the writing system being learned and of the broader language system it represents.”

The solution lies in the way teachers are being trained, it needs to equip them with knowledge around the way reading ability is developed. There’s much to be done, with studies across a range of countries indicating that teacher knowledge in these areas is typically very limited.

The researchers admit there is “still much to be learned about how children acquire more sophisticated knowledge about the structure of their writing system and the way in which it represents sound and meaning, particularly for morphologically complex and polysyllabic words. Questions about the development of text comprehension also remain.”

There are many different aspects of reading that must be learned – alphabetic decoding, fluent word reading and text comprehension. Instructional regimes to support these various abilities are likely to be most effective at particular points in development, and teaching time should focus on this.

The cart shouldn’t be put before the horse, for instance; detailed instruction in morphological regularities or text comprehension strategies is unlikely to be effective if introduced prior to children having mastered basic alphabetic decoding skills.

They write; “From a research perspective, there is much to be learned about the time-course of acquisition of different reading skills, and how they interact with each other and the knowledge they depend on and produce: further research is needed to produce a developmentally-informed balanced literacy instruction program, well-placed to prevent “instructional casualties”.

The problem is that work on the area was carried out comprehensively 15 years ago yet the reading wars persist. The researchers hope that their review will contribute to peace.


12 Dec 2018
Year 12 exam results aren't everything News Image

Year 12 is both a start and an ending and this period of change can be stressful. But there is help available if kids seem to be struggling with their mental health.
Read More

12 Dec 2018 | National
Bypass ATAR News Image

There are a few anxious school leavers right now, maybe they didn't get the ATAR they needed for the course they wanted or maybe they didn’t pass at all, but fear not there is more than one way to skin a cat. Read More

11 Dec 2018 | NSW
Rural school’s learning platform make for easy access learning News Image

Located on the Victoria-New South Wales (NSW) border, Wodonga Middle Years College (WMYC) has leveraged technology so every student can access education from anywhere at any time. Read More

11 Dec 2018 | National
Queenslanders best Young ICT Explorers News Image

The 2018 national winners of the Young ICT Explorers competition have been announced with teams from Queensland and Australian Capital Territory taking home the top prizes. Read More

10 Dec 2018 | International
Finland to use Aus education toolkit News Image

We’re often told to look to Finland for direction on education but the tables have been turned with the Nordic nation adopting National Excellence in School Leadership Initiative’s (NESLI) Staff Wellbeing Toolkit. Read More