Dr Jennifer Buckingham, member of IFERI's Advisory Group, is doing a fantastic job in Australia in promoting the five essential features of bringing about literacy for all as identified through a sustained and international body of research: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension. That is why the initiative is entitled 'Five from Five'.
Jennifer is to be congratulated for multiple media interviews and pieces over a number of year packed full of essential information for parents, teachers and policy makers - and for campaigning vociferously in Australia for evidence-informed reading instruction.
Here is a piece in the Financial Review focused specifically on the need for a phonics screening check in Australia - and of course IFERI is calling for the universal use of England's Year One Phonics Screening Check which can capitalise on the established and ongoing 'baseline' of results in England's schools. Schools/countries can also capitalise on the fact that the check has already been created by those with an expertise in the field and is made available freely via the internet:
Teaching phonics to kids is cheap but has a big pay-off
As the federal government looks for cost effective education reforms, teaching reading using phonics is an obvious place to start.
by Jennifer Buckingham
http://www.afr.com/leadership/innovatio ... z47GKhOAJM
In Tuesday's federal budget, the government will be under intense pressure to markedly increase school funding while restraining growth in spending across the board. Education Minister Simon Birmingham must therefore find education policies that are likely to have a large impact at a low cost.
Reading instruction is the obvious place to start. One of the strongest findings in education research is that children who have explicit instruction in phonics – how to 'decode' words using letter-sound relationships –are more likely to become successful early readers.
According to some academics and teachers, phonics is already embedded in school literacy programs. However, reading specialists argue that Australia's low literacy levels are because most schools do not teach phonics effectively.
This issue could be settled with a universal early phonics test such as the phonics screening check that is given to all year one students in Britain. A recent review found the test costs about £10 ($19) a student to administer.
The UK phonics screening check was introduced in 2012 after the Rose Review of the teaching of early reading in 2006 found one particular method of phonics instruction is most effective – synthetic phonics – and recommended its implementation in all schools. Unlike a similar recommendation in the Australian National Inquiry into Teaching Literacy in 2005, which was widely ignored, synthetic phonics was gradually introduced to all British primary schools from 2007. The phonics screening check reveals which schools are doing this well.
Last week, the London School of Economics published a study showing the effect of this policy. It found that children in schools where teachers had been trained in synthetic phonics had higher outcomes after one year at school and two years later. The benefits were greatest and most enduring for students from disadvantaged and non-English speaking homes. The report states that cost of the phonics teaching policy was "very modest" and "contributes to closing gaps based on disadvantage and (initial) language proficiency by family background".
An early phonics check in Australian schools would be useful for a number of reasons. It would provide objective information about which schools are teaching phonics well and which are not. The test is designed so that children cannot achieve a high score if they do not know how to decode words. The answers cannot be guessed by looking at pictures.
It would provide an early indication for parents and teachers about which students are struggling with this aspect of reading and need support. Early intervention is best, as initial gaps in reading ability grow over time and become more difficult to remedy. Our first standardised test of reading is in year 3 as part of the National Assessment Plan for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). Year 3 is arguably the youngest age at which many children will have the attention and capacity to take a pen-and-paper (soon to be computer-based) test.
Younger children assessed
However, it is possible to assess younger children's reading using short oral reading tests. In the UK phonics screening check, the tester shows the child a series of words and they attempt to read them aloud. The test words are phonetically decodable – they can easily be read if children know phonic rules. Half the words are real words like "shelf", and half are pseudo-words like "yed". Pseudo-words are included because it is not possible for children to have learned them as sight words.
The ultimate goal is to become literate in the broader sense – and to hopefully enjoy reading. But children cannot read for enjoyment if they cannot read. A solid grasp of the code of written language is a necessary step to achieving that goal for all children.
In Britain, the phonics screening check followed the introduction of synthetic phonics to all schools. This is not the situation in Australia, so it may be more a case of what gets tested will get taught. Schools that are already teaching phonics well will welcome the opportunity to demonstrate their success.
Dr Jennifer Buckingham is a research fellow and director of the FIVE from FIVE reading project at The Centre for Independent Studies. www.fivefromfive.org.au