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Teaching reading should be a family affair

Daniel Willingham makes the important point that children who have the benefit of "balanced literacy" instruction, who are taught phonics as well as being exposed to children's literature, are those most likely to become good readers ("And the victor in the reading wars is.", Feature, 27 February).

Lucky children, like the daughter of The New York Times editor he mentions, need little phonics instruction when they get to school because they have been so immersed in the practice of reading at home. For them, reading is not only an activity that has been modelled for them on a daily basis but it is also associated with the people they love most in the world. For those children, reading a book is an activity that brings meaning, pleasure and information. When children arrive in the classroom who are not fortunate enough to have had that experience, even a brilliant teacher in an outstanding school can find it difficult to fill the hole.

As well as ongoing research into how to teach reading in schools, we should also be looking at how we can encourage, support and inspire parents to read at home. It is not easy to overcome the many significant reasons why they don't read to and with their children, but it can be done. A report published by England's schools inspectorate Ofsted last year highlights the crucial role of family learning in helping parents and carers to understand how to help their children. As Willingham says, the best course of action in any area of teaching is to have a range of strategies - and when it comes to reading those should include parents and families.

Clio Whittaker

Family learning and parenting practitioner, London

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