Towards the end of third term 2007, a class teacher and I had a meeting with a parent to discuss the progress of her son who had been struggling with reading accuracy and comprehension at the beginning of the year.
I was able to tell the mother that the child’s reading skills had improved markedly, and he was now well on the road to overcoming his difficulties. The class teacher reported that, in contrast to his earlier behaviour, he was no longer avoiding literacy tasks in the classroom and was happy to join in class discussions. His delighted and emotional mother said that her son was now happy to read to her at home and was enjoying reading road and shop signs whenever he was in the car.
After the meeting, the teacher and I walked together to the staffroom, smiling and feeling really good about another success story. However, when we explained why we were looking so pleased with ourselves to another teacher, she asked, ‘Well, what would have happened to him if he had not been helped in this way?’
The struggle without phonics
This brought me back to earth, as I had to admit that without a structured phonics based reading program in the classroom, plus the individual practice and guidance that I provided, this child would have been in real trouble. He could have struggled through school, never mastering literacy skills and then continued to struggle with future education and work after school, with possible devastating results.
without a structured phonics based reading program in the classroom, plus the individual practice and guidance that I provided, this child would have been in real trouble
The decision to write a book
At that moment I decided, with my retirement looming, I should try and do something for all the children who were struggling with literacy and were receiving little or no help to overcome their difficulties. By the end of the year, I had decided that the way to do that was to write a book to help parents and teachers understand how to teach children to read and spell, regardless of their individual strengths and weakness, so that every child can master the essential skills.
I didn’t want to write a formal text book, but something that was easy to read and understand, but yet included everything I have learnt during my 25 years of sitting next to children learning to read and write. I also wanted to pass on the phonogram, spelling and word reading lists that I have developed over the years, so that parents and teachers could use them if they did not already have access to suitable materials to teach phonics skills in a structured way.
Backed by research
While I am not an academic and haven’t a PhD in the subject, I am confident that anything stated as fact in Teaching Kids To Read is supported by current research, and this is confirmed by Peter Westwood’s foreword. For example, the teaching of phonics skills in a direct and structured way is well supported by research and will be emphasised in Australia’s new National Curriculum.
Fay Tran is a specialist literacy teacher and author of the book Teaching Kids to Read: Basic skills for Australian and NZ parents and teachers, published this month by Wilkins Farago.