Our approach to teaching children to read
11 September 2018
I have always believed that in order to improve a child’s reading skills, you must first foster a love of books. It is an approach that we follow here at Limespring School.
Over the last few years, there has been an increasing focus on ‘phonics’ in education. This way of teaching children to read encourages them to ‘sound out’ words. To do this, teachers often use a reading scheme rather than ‘real’ books. Therefore, the child is exposed to the words containing the particular phonics that they are learning to reinforce that learning. The vocabulary in these books is often limited in order to increase the exposure to the words containing the phonics learnt. When children struggle to learn to read they can go over these phonics and reading scheme several times. I remember my own son reading the same reading scheme three times over a two-year period. In my experience, this can lead children, particularly those who are struggling, to become bored and frustrated. In some cases, this method can put them off reading altogether. Whilst exposure to these words is, of course, important; I feel that the best way to learn to read is for children to be exposed to a rich vocabulary as much – and as widely – as possible.
We encourage children at the school to read both fiction and non-fiction and to pick up different authors and genres. By doing so, they develop a rich variety of language and vocabulary. They also begin to discover the kinds of books that bring them pleasure and to, hopefully, develop a lifelong love of reading.
The other danger when learning to read is that children can demonstrate a high level of fluency but fail to fully comprehend what they are reading. In other words, they might read out a sentence like ‘The captain sailed out to sea’, with perfect pronunciation and fluency, but fail to have a clear understanding of the meaning of the word ‘captain’ or the verb ‘to sail’. Or spend so much effort reading the words that they don’t have any energy to understand what they are reading.
I would also encourage you, as parents, to read with your children from an early age, and to carry on even when they can do so independently. By reading together, you can ask your child questions to see whether they understand the text they are reading. And whilst it can be tempting to push children to read ‘harder’ books – move on to chapter books for instance – they develop comprehension skills by reading a variety of ‘easier’ books. With these books they can read fluently; enjoy the process and confidently discuss the content and any new vocabulary. When pushed too early, they can associate reading with discomfort and boredom.
Stephen King described books as ‘a uniquely portable magic’ in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. When teaching children to read, I think it’s important to never lose sight of that magic.