TES letters

6th March 2015 at 00:00

Reading wars: yes, we all know it's a balancing act

Daniel Willingham appears to conclude that the best way to teach reading is a balanced literacy programme ("And the victor in the reading wars is.", Feature, 27 February). The most telling statement is that teachers should react to a child's learning needs and not use just one method. For many teachers this will be reinforcing what they already know.

I find it amazing that despite all the research and the government assertion that systematic phonics is the answer, we still don't know how pupils learn to read. We know more about those who struggle, but often not what their difficulties are.

Personally, I cndluo't bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg.

Frederick Sandall
Retired headteacher

Daniel Willingham makes the important point that children who are taught phonics as well as being exposed to children's literature are more likely to become good readers.

Lucky children, such as the daughter of the New York Times editor he mentions, need little phonics instruction because they are so immersed in reading at home. But when less fortunate children arrive in the classroom, even a brilliant teacher at an outstanding school can find it difficult to fill the hole.

As well as continuing research into how to teach reading in schools, we should also be looking at how we can support parents to read at home. It's not easy to overcome the significant reasons why many don't, but it can be done. As Professor Willingham says, the best course of action is to use a range of strategies - and this should include working with families.

Clio Whittaker
Family learning and parenting practitioner, London

I volunteer with children who find reading difficult and I feel Daniel Willingham has missed some crucial points.

What the article fails to make clear is that children have to learn the phonic values but these are no use where irregular spellings are involved. Very simple reading books include both "here" and "there": phonic rules won't help novice readers to distinguish the vowel sounds. However, many words can be puzzled out by applying these rules. If there is a war between two factions, teachers are much too smart to participate.

My school has recruited more than 20 volunteers. Why don't researchers focus on the importance of individual, untrained but cost-free attention for children who don't get help at home?

Peter Hilken

Reading volunteer

There is only one sure way of ending the "reading wars": modernising English spelling. As long as at least 69 graphemes continue to have more than one pronunciation - like "ou" in "sound", "soup" and "southern" - it will remain impossible to find a teaching method that works equally well with all students. There are no reading wars in countries with more sensible spelling systems and where learning to read is much easier.

Masha Bell

Former English teacher and literacy researcher

Lessons in business from MBA to Z

Although some points in "The lesson is, business has nothing to tell us" resonated with me, I disagree with the notion that schools have nothing to learn from business. The idea of schools not being able to "hide" because of Ofsted seems weak; if anything, the inspectorate's measurable "success factors" could lead to detrimental pressure and unethical practice. And a good leader can maximise the potential of their resources.

As a student on an education leadership and management MBA, I can see the (yes, sometimes subtle) links between business and education. I am also learning valuable skills to apply to school settings. An MBA can inspire future leaders to realise their potential. It's just a shame it costs so much.

Lucy Harris
Broadstairs, Kent

I disagree wholeheartedly with the thesis of "The lesson is, business has nothing to tell us" (Comment, 27 February).

I'm a chartered engineer and work part-time for an independent school. In my experience, teachers often don't understand people management well - they are used to being in charge of a class, which is entirely different to overseeing a team of peers. This requires a cooperative response described in MBA talk as "enabling management" rather than "micromanagement". The latter, which I've seen in a number of schools, is destructive and inefficient. A "do as I say" approach is often confused with leadership; leaders enable others to achieve the required goals.

We all make mistakes and the job of the leader is to pick up the pieces without damaging the team. It works in the best companies - why wouldn't schools want to listen to the best?

David Stone
Chartered engineer, Bristol

Philosophy won't save us, but RE might

I'm inclined to agree with Kim Cowie ("Philosophy GCSE - what's the big idea?", Letters, 27 February). The recent reforms to religious education are concerning. Good RE helps us to understand the world and has the potential to promote tolerance.

I'm not certain, however, that A C Grayling's proposed philosophy course would "mitigate against extremism", as he predicts. Studying great thinkers such as Plato and Socrates may well promote intelligent discussion but it won't change the world. Talking about matters such as the purpose of life, immigration and abortion seems much more relevant. We are a less tolerant society than we were, and we need to place RE at the centre of the curriculum to promote real understanding.

Malcolm Coates
Former RE teacher

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