I feel compelled to write about this, because it has dominated my thoughts for the last few days and has aroused a range of emotions. I have hated that I have had to do something that I don't believe in. Again. I am relatively new to infant teaching and it seems that I have gone against my principles more in the past two years than in my whole teaching career.
So, the test. I was dreading doing it because of what I thought would happen - children would fail, which would make them feel like failures and me feel inadequate as a teacher. I must just say that there has been absolutely no teaching towards this in my class whatsoever. I haven't paid the phonics check much attention, because I have no regard for it. Hearing afterwards that some teachers have felt compelled to teach children to decode nonsense words seems nonsense itself. My class have a 15 minutes letters and sounds session most days. This is delivered in a range of ways, but I will not waste time writing them here.
The first child who did the test was a child that I have targeted this year and who is now making huge leaps with reading. I did not expect him to do well, but he blew me away! He decoded the words, blended beautifully and got a great score. Suddenly I felt a lot more positive and thought the check wasn't so bad after all. How wrong I was. The next two children (average ability readers) struggled terribly. A tweeting headteacher yesterday questioned why any teacher would find the checks stressful. Try sitting next to a 6 year old who is getting increasingly anxious about his ability to make any sense of the words on the page. Sounding out wasn't a problem, but making a meaningful word? Impossible. Even my reassurance, 'It's a name ... it's not a real word ... you are doing so well...' etc did not ease the child's growing anxiety and frustration. The amount of times that this child, a reader, said 'I can't do it!' broke my heart. What did he learn from the test? That he couldn't do it.
This happened to two children. Two readers out of seven that I 'checked' yesterday. That is what I disagree with. Plus the fact that only 32% of children reached the expected level in the pilot, which tells its own story.
Interestingly, I brought the words home and asked my OH to read them. He is a 51 year old dyslexic who 'gets by' with reading, regularly reading the paper, fishing/motocross/tractor magazines. He got 19/20 of the real words right (he got the last one wrong because he didn't look carefully at the end of the word), but only read 9/20 of the nonsense words and found them very confusing. My point here is that he reads for meaning and he enjoys what he reads. Isolated words on a page offer no clues for him to try out different ways of saying each word. Essentially he has failed what a 6 year old is expected to pass.
I should add here that I love reading, but am not great at looking up new words unless I really can't understand the sentence without them. I am a lazy reader. When I read texts with names I cannot pronounce (e.g. Schindler's list) I substitute for names that make sense to me. Why would you need to read alien words accurately? They don't mean anything, they are just a name.
I could have written much more about this, but Michael Rosen has already conveyed my thoughts in a much more articulate way. I heartily recommend that you read the numerous posts about phonics that Michael has written.
N.B. My OH is aware that I am blogging about him!