Memorandum submitted by Elizabeth Nonweiler
I am an independent trainer for the teaching
of reading. I am an Associate Member of the British Dyslexia
Association and teach children with reading difficulties.
I am a committee member of the Reading Reform Foundation.
I wrote a review of the evidence provided
by government for its promotion and financial support for Reading
Recovery, but not synthetic phonics, for Wave 3 intervention.
Some claims made for Reading Recovery
in England are not credible. Synthetic phonics should
be promoted for Wave 3 intervention.
Reading Recovery and synthetic phonics
are not compatible.
3. CLAIMS MADE
The following report has been used by the government
to justify the use of Reading Recovery: Comparison of Literacy
Progress of Young Children in London Schools: a Reading Recovery
Follow up Study (Burroughs-Lange, 2007).
Burroughs-Lange claims that this study:
(a) "demonstrated... the sustainability
of the significant gains made by the lowest achieving children
who received Reading Recovery as 6 year olds".
(b) "provides strong evidence that schools
could enable almost every child to read and write appropriately
for their age, if those who were failing were given access to
expert teaching in Reading Recovery".
(c) provides "ample evidence... that without
RR, children with low literacy understanding do not catch up to
age appropriate levels during Key Stage 1".
None of these claims are credible for the following
(a) As there is no data for subsequent years,
the first claim is credible only if qualified by the words "until
the end of Y2".
(b) As all the children in this study were less
than eight years old, there is no evidence that schools could
"enable almost every child to read appropriately for their
age if given access to Reading Recovery". I know, from teaching
older children with reading difficulties, that sometimes they
reach a reading age of seveon or eight years and then their progress
stops, because they cannot decode unknown words in more advanced
(c) Children who received Reading Recovery tuition
in Y1 are compared with children who received either no extra
tuition or "alternative forms of support". The alternatives
are small-scale, the author tells us almost nothing about their
content or implementation, and there is no information about their
results in Y2. It remains plausible that children with low literacy
understanding do catch up to age appropriate levels with alternative
Burroughs-Lange is responsible for implementation
of Reading Recovery in the UK, Ireland and Europe (University
of London, 2008), so she is not an unbiased researcher.
The Parliamentary Office of Science and
Technology, Postnote (October 2009 Number 345), states that "Rigorous
evaluations have shown that effective interventions involve work
on increasing children's awareness of the individual sounds that
make up words... , learning letter-sound correspondences, and
applying these skills when reading books". This is how children
are taught to read books using synthetic phonics. The
government has promoted the use of synthetic phonics for teaching
reading through its support for the Independent review of the
teaching of early reading (Rose 2006), the Standards Site Core
Criteria for assuring high quality phonic work and its publication
of the synthetic phonics programme, Letters and Sounds. It would
be logical to promote interventions that use synthetic phonics
to help children who are struggling to learn to read.
The seven year study, The Effects
of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment
(Johnston and Watson, 2005) provides credible evidence that
synthetic phonics is effective for the initial teaching of reading.
It also describes in detail the progress of "one child with
severe learning difficulties [who] was able to read well above
the level expected for his age and level of verbal ability"
following interventions involving synthetic phonics principles.
It is plausible that this works for other children with learning
I teach children from six to 13 years
old who have had difficulties learning to read. Without exception,
I have found that their difficulties have been exacerbated by
their attempts to use context cues to guess words, before trying
to decode them. With synthetic phonics, I teach them the alphabetic
code and the skill of blending and insist that they identify unknown
words by decoding. This strategy has been successful.
5. WHY READING
The DCSF and Reading Recovery publications imply
that Reading Recovery and synthetic phonics are compatible (Every
Child a Reader, 2008 and Bodman, 2007). The following is evidence
that they are not.
Bodman (2007) describes a Reading Recovery lesson,
which, she claims, "links the teaching actions to the ideas
of synthetic phonics": After reading a book, a child observes
his teacher reading the word "can" "whilst demonstrating
a left to right hand sweep". Then he builds "can"
with magnetic letters and reads it himself. It is clear that the
child was asked to read a text before acquiring the phonic knowledge
and skills involved, and to read a word after being told the pronunciation.
With synthetic phonics children read texts after learning the
phonic knowledge and skills involved and they are not told the
pronunciation of a new word before being asked to read it.
The National Literacy Strategy promoted the
"searchlights" model, where learners are taught to use
a range of strategies to read, including knowledge of context
and grammar. In Reading Recovery lessons, children are encouraged
to use these strategies to read new texts (Video transcript: Reading
Recovery lesson). In the Rose Review, the searchlight model is
rejected (paragraph 115) and synthetic phonics is recommended
for teaching children to read (paragraph 47). Synthetic phonics
involves teaching children to use phonics to read new texts.
"Children in Reading Recovery are taught
how to treat new words as puzzles to be solved" (Douetil,
2004). Synthetic phonics involves direct and systematic instruction.