DECODABLE BOOKS for Victorian State Government prep children in 2019!

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Do the right thing by all Victorian prep children in 2019!

Dear James Merlino, Tim Smith and Sue Pennicuik

As educators, parents, specialists and members of Dyslexia Victoria Support (DVS) who have watched too many children fail to learn to read, we are urging you to promise decodable books to all Victorian State Government prep children in 2019.

Why? 

‘To read well, you must be able to decode words, then via practice recognise many words immediately (read fluently), and also develop the language skills (vocabulary, listening comprehension) and background knowledge needed to understand what you're reading.

The incorrect idea that children learn to read naturally through exposure to print has dominated our education system for decades. Few teachers were taught about the sounds, spelling patterns or word parts of our language at university, so they've often been left cobbling together a mixture of effective and ineffective approaches.

For example, children are taught "a" as in "apple", "e" as in "men", "h" as in "hat", "s" as in "snake" and "t" as in "ten" in phonics lessons, but then asked to memorise long lists of high-frequency words including "the", "that" and "was", where these letters often represent completely different sounds.

They're also encouraged to "read" repetitive, predictable books containing spellings they've never been taught, and do so by memorising sentences and guessing from pictures.

A more effective and evidence-based approach is to introduce sound-letter relationships following a planned teaching sequence and allowing children to practise each one to mastery.

Skills taught in phonics lessons should be reinforced in the reading books sent home, with only a small number of high-frequency words that don't fit the patterns already covered introduced at a time.

This lesson-to-text matching ensures that the underlying logic of our writing system is clear, all the key patterns are covered, and even the most at-risk children are not left behind.

One key reason few teachers can currently teach young children this way is that schools tend to only have repetitive, predictable "levelled" books containing random spelling patterns to give young children to read.

These books need to be replaced by books that match their phonics teaching sequences (decodable books) before early years’ teachers will be able to teach young children to decode words in a systematic, explicit, evidence-based and successful way.’

(Alison Clarke, B.App. Sci (Speech Pathology), MA (Applied Linguistics), Cambridge RSA CTEFLA, Member of Speech Pathology Australia, former Vice President of Learning Difficulties Australia, member of DVS)

The recent Phonics Debate highlighted the disparity between the model of reading development that underpins the dominant teaching approach in our Victorian State Government Schools and the model of reading development that has been proven most effective in scientific research over the past three decades.

Research on the teaching of reading in the early years of school consistently identifies 5 key components of effective reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Our children need their early years' teachers trained in effective phonics instruction. Our children need their early years' teachers to have access to decodable books to support effective phonics instruction. 

Without access to decodable books, the 10 to 15% of children who are dyslexic will continue to struggle to learn to read. Our children are at risk of illiteracy, secondary mental health issues, poverty and social exclusion. Don't you think our children deserve better?

James Merlino, while we welcome your FREE BOOKS FOR EVERY PREP STUDENT initiative, we urge you to consider all children. Simply providing access to books does not address the fundamental reason for reading failure. Our early readers need decodable books so that they can practise decoding and improve their reading skills.

Tim Smith, your promise of a COMPULSORY PHONICS CHECK FOR ALL YEAR ONE STUDENTS ensures early screening to identify children with weaknesses in their phonics skills. By providing decodable books to all prep classes, the children who are identified with weak phonic skills will be given the opportunity to practise decoding and improve their reading skills. 

We ardently support The NSW Department of Education announcement that, “all NSW public schools with a Kindergarten enrolment will receive a budget adjustment equivalent to $50 per Kindergarten student to assist the purchase of decodable texts”. 

Please listen to the experts and do the right thing by all Victorian children, families, and teachers by making an election promise to provide decodable books to all Victorian State Government prep children in 2019.



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