Here is another example of how this works at the coal face. Recently I sat with a friend's child who is six years old, in Year 1 at a good school. He is very bright, has excellent oral language, eats and sleeps well and has been read books since he was born. His school report is excellent and he has been at school for 1 ½ years now.
I showed him the CVC words, cat, bit, sat, pan, ham, men, mop, fun and asked him if he could read them. He looked and said, "I only know 'sat' because it is a sight word." He couldn't read any other words.
When he showed me his writing, there was only a row of letters but no words and he couldn't spell the word 'sat'. I knew his teacher was still using the 'whole language' approach.
If this child had been taught phonics, he could have read and spelt all of these words and probably used that knowledge to read words like catch, cattle, caterpillar, pancake, panda, panic, hamburger, handle, hammer, and satellite, because he could decode the first syllable. This child may or may not be taught systematic phonics next year; it's all a matter of chance. He may fall behind and either fail or academically underachieve all through school.
This is not good enough when the information and scientific evidence is available. It is not fair to that child or any other child in a country as good as Australia. It's not fair to his teacher either as she would enjoy knowing how to teacher her students to read and write in a much more effective way. Young primary teachers want access to this information.
Let's not allow politics and egos to get in the way of something so easily possible to improve Australia's children's reading standards. It's not about getting teachers with higher ATAR scores, or about funding, or anything else other than this one issue and it's well over due to allow our children to be taught by the best beginning reading teaching approach.
The Year 1 Literacy and Numeracy Screen, with its phonics component, is the single best and most cost effective initiative to improve Australian children's reading outcomes.
When the Education Ministers meet on 8th December, I really hope they will all decide to implement Literacy and Numeracy Screen test in all States for all Year 1 children.
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