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'Many methods' needed for reading

Children's Laureate Julia Donaldson has warned against the Government's focus on using a single method to teach youngsters to read.

Young children learn in "various different ways", she argued, and the new reading test could leave some pupils feeling like they are "not quite up to scratch".

The Government is promoting phonics, a system which focuses on sounds rather than recognising whole words, as the best way to raise reading standards.

Speaking as she launched a series of plays aimed at boosting young children's reading skills, Mrs Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, said: "What I've always thought is that children learn in various different ways. Some children respond better to phonics, some to looking and seeing words and some learn by osmosis. Any good teacher knows you need a variety of ways of reading."

Mrs Donaldson, who said she is a fan of phonics, suggested there was a time when she wondered what happened to using this method but that now the pendulum has "swung too far the other way". She said: "I can't see why it can't settle around the middle."

Mrs Donaldson also raised questions about the Government's new reading test for six-year-olds. The compulsory phonics check assesses a child's ability to sound out or decode a series of words, some of which are made up, to test their reading skills.

But concerns have been made by some literacy experts and teaching unions that the test is unnecessary, labels good readers as failures and risks holding some youngsters back. "It is important to learn the different sounds, and teachers do their own checks. I think it is a bit patronising for teachers," Mrs Donaldson said.

Teachers know the different children in their class and their reading abilities, she said. The check "is going to mean a lot of schools teaching to the test" and could leave some youngsters feeling that they have failed. "The Government underestimates how easily children can feel that they're not quite up to scratch."

Mrs Donaldson said she came up for the idea for the series of playlets after listening to children at her son's school read. Giving each child a part encouraged them to "read with much more expression".

The Bug Club Plays to Read include traditional stories such as The Hare And The Tortoise as well as dramas about children today. Each six-part play is aimed at improving reading skills.


From Belfast Telegraph