I don’t remember how I was taught to read. I really don’t but however I was taught, I am not convinced it was done effectively because how I approached unknown words for 36 years created an anxiety in me that sent my heart racing and palms sweating. It is only over the last 2 years that that anxiety has settled and I relish a new, unknown word thrown into the mix. I have a plethora of strategies to help me these days: a phonics first approach in which I substitute alternative pronunciations and apply my understanding to effectively work out the correct pronunciation. This has sparked in me a burning passion to ensure that children in the Trust that I work with do not experience the same potential shame I felt when my teacher asked me to ‘pick up’ for them at page 23!
At White Woods we have spent extensive time unpicking early reading and getting to the very core of how to teach this well, to ensure we offer our children the very best opportunities to succeed both in the moment and beyond their time with us. There are many ingredients in cooking up early readers: a cup of phonics knowledge, 250grams of language comprehension and a great, big pinch of a love of reading that is fostered through extensive exposure to high quality literature throughout the early years through to year 6 and then beyond.
We are lucky to have so many people in our Trust that share the same passion as we do centrally, which has enabled us to work collaboratively across our schools to create a set of principles that underpin the effective teaching of early reading. It was therefore an absolute pleasure to collaboratively plan and deliver a day of early reading to all our heads and English leads. The day offered 3 different approaches to early reading that all sit on the same core principles. Colleagues from Swinton Fitzwilliam, Wickersley Northfield and Whiston Worrygoose shared their approaches, their rationale and snippets of their practice and it was a delight to see such different but equally successful early reading approaches. The day was hosted by Vikki Fenton who shared her extensive knowledge around children’s literature and how to use this effectively across the curriculum.
As I reflect on the day, and the skills, knowledge and passion of the people in that room, it actually makes my heart happy because the heartbreak I felt when Rue was killed in ‘The Hunger Games’ and the sheer happiness I enjoyed when Matilda was finally saved by Miss Honey are things that shaped my view of the world and helped and prepared me for the realities I would face as I moved through life. I understood friendships, loss, tragedy, social inequalities, love, compassion, diversity and I was undoubtedly better equipped to face these things because I had experienced them in the books I had read and were read to, through the characters I loved and hated, the friends I made and lost, the scenarios that made me laugh and cry and the settings I was transported to as I turned each page.
We owe it to our children to offer them the same opportunities and so we must therefore get early reading right!