Benefits of studies in literacy

28th June 1996 at 01:00
READING. Peter Hannon, University of Sheffield

Research has transformed the teaching of literacy not because teachers use research as a cookbook, but because they use it in constructing their view of what is worth aiming for, and likely ways to get it. Teachers are highly interested in research but are denied opportunities to engage with it. How much attention can you give if your teaching of literacy is hampered by increasing class sizes, fewer books, reduced staff support, deteriorating buildings and exhausting assessment procedures?

It is surprising in these circumstances that teachers have paid any attention to educational research. Yet they have.

For example, the classroom practice of tens of thousands of key stage 1 teachers has been changed by the findings of "emergent literacy" researchers. Teachers are better equipped conceptually to exploit children's early knowledge of reading and writing as a bridge to what is conventionally required.

This has meant that they have been more demanding of the texts they use - insisting on books that satisfy the real purposes of reading and provide opportunities for the development of specific skills.

There is no evidence, incidentally, that this ever led to the grotesque caricature of the "we-don't-need-to-teach-them-they-can-just-learn-from-real-books" teachers invented by critics of primary education. Indeed, research in phonological awareness has probably sharpened appreciation of appropriate phonic methods.

It is a mistake to expect simple connections between individual research studies and changes in classroom practice but we are seeing the cumulative effect of many researchers' work.

Research has changed specific aspects of classroom practice such as hearing children read, keeping records, connecting reading and writing, recognising different genres, the identification and remedying of special needs such as dyslexia, and increased awareness of information technology and under-achievement of boys. The fact that everyone now accepts the importance of parents in children's literacy development is one of the clearest achievements of recent educational research.

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