Thursday, March 15, 2012

Teachers need proper training to teach phonics, says Michael Wilshaw

Since 1995, standards in literacy have stalled, says Michael Wilshaw. He claims that one in five children in primary schools have such low standards of literacy that they can’t access the secondary curriculum when they make the transition.
So, what’s going wrong? Michael Wilshaw is in no doubt. The training that many teachers have been receiving is inadequate. He says that teachers are telling him that they need better professional development for teaching phonics, which, he concedes, ‘is not an easy thing to do’.
From what he says in the interview, it is quite clear that he believes that it isn’t just the training institutions that must improve the quality of their teaching in this area; schools also need to invest in ‘a lot more professional development’ for their teaching staff.
This is music to the ears of Sounds-Write. We have long argued that standards in the teaching of literacy are falling far short of what we ought to be achieving and that the bar needs to be raised. At last we have someone who seems to be prepared to push through the kinds of changes necessary to make this happen.
Wilshaw, who is going to be in post for the next five years, also told Emily Maitlis of Newsnight that he expects ‘better results from primary children at seven, a vital age, and eleven as well’.
What is also very interesting is that he is looking at how well getting a Level 4 in the SATs at age eleven predicts success at GCSE. Again, for a very long time, we have been drawing attention to the mismatch between the number of children getting a Level 4 and the screening tests being conducted at the beginning of Year 7 when children transfer to secondary school. Certainly, the government could very easily ask secondary schools to report these results.
Nevertheless, it needs repeating that the government match funding venture, while full of good intention, should never have been made available for both resources and training. Training should have been the first priority. This is because many people in education with their fingers on the purse strings still have no idea about what is involved in training teachers to teach phonics well.

2 comments:

Bruce Price said...

Not a teacher myself, I nonetheless study the controversies and try to figure out what the truth is.

Here in US, our Education Establishment lies so often, especially about reading, it is no easy thing to find the truth.

Here are the conclusions I'm comfortable with. 1) Sight-words are the main problem and should be banned entirely. 2) Phonics is not hard to teach. Every expert I've checked says it takes about 4 months, 30 minutes a day. 99% of children should be reading by the end of first grade. 3) Parents can start the process at ages 3, 4 and 5. Teach the alphabet, then the sounds, then the blends. (Google my "54: Preemptive Reading" for a short description of steps.)

I think Early Literacy At Home is crucial--so long as public schools insist on doing things the wrong way.

Bruce Deitrick Price
Improve-Education.org

PS I found this site looking for something about Mona McNee, One of my heroes.

John said...

Hi Bruce and thanks for your comment.
On point 1, I agree. On point 2, I also agree about the 'not hard to teach' bit and about the thirty minutes a day. I don't agree about the four months. I think it takes the best part of three years for most, though not all, children at age four years to teach the more complex stuff so that children can pretty much read anything and have a good stab at spelling anything.
At Sounds-Write (http://www.sounds-write.co.uk/) we do NOT recommend teaching young children letter names and sounds at the same time. This because many, though not all, get easily confused by the two systems and don't know which one to use. So, we stick with sounds and spellings, spellings and sounds. Only when children understand the way in which the code works and their blending, segmenting and phoneme manipulation skills are very good, do we use letter names.
I'm sure you're right about early literacy at home. The problem is that there are so many parents/carers out there that can't read or won't read to their children, or won't even provide them with the basic foundations on which literacy is built.
Best wishes,
John
I also like Mona McNee. She's an oldie but a goodie!