Tough words to test our children

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The Independent Online
TEACHERS were yesterday given hour-by-hour instructions on how to teach reading - the most detailed intervention in the classroom made by a government. The document emphasises the importance of traditional methods, especially phonics, which involves teaching words according to letter sounds. Under the proposals 11-year-olds will be expected to know the meanings of such words as calligram, cinquain, grapheme and mnemonic.

Too many teachers have assumed that children who are given books will learn to read from the context, it says. It also spells out what teachers should do in the "literacy hour" on reading, spelling and grammar which primary schools will have to hold each day from September.

Ministers intend to issue similar guidelines on maths and to introduce a daily numeracy hour. Teachers said the literacy guidelines, which cover the six years of primary school, were so prescriptive that they would stifle children's enjoyment of reading and hold back bright children.

David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, said parents would now have a clear idea what their children should be learning in each term.

"This framework gives clear and detailed guidance on planning the teaching of literacy in primary schools using tried and tested methods," he said. "It is a practical tool for day-to-day teaching which will liberate teachers to be able to use their professional skills without duplicating work plans."

Even the term during which children should learn each sound such as "ch" and "bl" is specified. So is the timetable for learning different spelling patterns. All primary teachers will be retrained to ensure that they can use the approved methods.

The new national literacy strategy is not compulsory but most teachers are expected to use it. Chris Woodhead, Chief Inspector of Schools, is a strong supporter of the guidelines and inspectors will check on how reading is being taught.

Stephen Byers, the school-standards minister, said this year that teachers whose pupils achieved poor results and who were not using the methods would be called to account.

Anne Barnes, general secretary of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said many teachers had been concerned about how to teach reading and would be reassured by the help being offered. But she suggested the literacy hour, in which the teacher will teach the whole class together for two-thirds of the time, might hold back bright children.

"A lot of children will be very frustrated by the emphasis on phonics. All children have to learn phonics but they can become seriously discouraged if teachers persist with them too long. The point of reading is to enjoy a good story. If you are constantly holding children up by asking them to sound out words, you are going to put them off reading."

A Department for Education spokesman said it had no statistics to show how many schools were using approved methods. "It is based on the best practice to be found in schools."

Mr Blunkett will today announce that the Government will fund 562 summer literacy schools this year, an 11-fold increase on last year.

Literacy tests, page 3

test your wordpower

Do you know what these words mean? Teachers are expected to and they should form part of most 11-year-olds' vocabulary. Answers at foot of page 3

1. Assonance

2. Calligram

3. Cinquain

4. Grapheme

5. Homonym

6. Mnemonic Answers to definitions on page 1:

1. Repetition of vowel sounds as in "dream team". 2. A poem in which the calligraphy, the formation of the letters or the font selected, represents an aspect of the poem's subject. A poem about fear might be written in shaky letters. 3. A poem with a standard syllable pattern, like a haiku, invented by Adelaide Crapsey, an American poet. 4. Written representation of a sound. 5. A word with the same spelling or pronunciation as another but with different meaning or origin. 6. A device to aid memory, for instance to learn particular spelling patterns.