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Let teachers say the word on reading

We all - parents, teachers, teacher educators, inspectors - want children to read. Our society places a high premium on literacy. As a parent of primary-aged children, a teacher educator and an Office for Standards in Education inspector for English and early years, I am committed to ensuring that both parents and teachers enable children to see themselves as readers.

We know far more about teaching reading now than ever before. We know that phonics has a crucial role to play in the teaching of reading. However, we also know that reading is about "creating meaning". When phonics teaching was first used, our understanding of reading was far less sophisticated than it is now. There are those who would lead us back down the seductive route of an over emphasis on phonics.

My daughter experienced problems with reading and developed a negative attitude to books. She never understood what she read - she thought reading was about "just saying the words" as she explained to me one day. No one had explained to her that reading was about more than "just saying the words" - it was about making meanings with those words. This isn't automatically obvious to children - particularly if there is an over-emphasis on phonics in the early teaching of reading.

My daughter has now revised her understanding of reading and processes the text as she says the words. We laugh at the words - we discuss the characters that the words create. At eight she is becoming a reader in the fullest sense of the word.

An over-emphasis on phonics is a seductive path for all of us who are committed to helping children to unlock the key to literacy - but on its own phonics is a barren path. Don't let's go back to rehearsing all the old simplistic arguments which can create a false sense of security for those of us who are willing our children to read.

Let's go forward using all our knowledge about the processes of reading and accept that it is complex - much as we might like it to be otherwise.

And let's find ways of sharing the knowledge that many teachers possess. As David Hargreaves wrote, "educational research remains separate from practice . . . researchers are rarely practitioners" (TES, April 26).

There are many teachers who are experts in the teaching of reading. Let their voices be heard in the pages of this paper so that we can all learn directly from them, rather than from those researchers who take teachers' words and use them for their own purposes.


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