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Parents of children with reading difficulties want overhaul of methods as phonics books are printed

Parents of children with learning difficulties are calling for a complete reform of how reading is taught. 

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New books - being printed by Ministry of Education - that teach reading through sound are a welcome move. Source: 1 NEWS

New books printed by the Ministry of Education this week will teach reading through sound. 

The change is a welcome move, but one that parents of those who have struggled to learn to read say it does not go far enough. 

Eight-year-old Siam is able to read, with only the occasional stumble. This was not the case a year ago when words were a mystery to her. 

Her mum, Alice Wilson, said reading gave her daughter such anxiety she no longer wanted to go to school. 

“It was awful, she didn’t want to go to school, everyday was a battle.” 

Her mother decided to take matters into her own hands and learnt a system, based on phonics, which links sounds to letters. 

It’s this systematic method of teaching that she credits for helping her daughter learn to read. 

This week, the Ministry of Education has printed more than 800,000 books based on phonics. 

The method is already used in schools - but this is the first time they have released books for early readers based largely on it. 

Associate Professor Alison Arrow, from the University of Canterbury’s Child Well-Being Research Institute, has been a key developer in these new phonics early readers. 

She says children learning to read will be able to sound out what they see. 

“They can work out how to read words, they are not limited to guessing words,” she said. “Which is kind of what they are encouraged to do up until this point.” 

More than two million copies of the book will eventually be printed and sent to classrooms for year one to three pupils around the country. 

Parents of those who’ve struggled to read say it is a good start, but more could be done. 

Wilson believes every teacher wants the full set of skills to teach their pupils. 

“I think every teacher deserves to have the opportunity to know how to teach all children to learn, read and spell,” she said. 

She’s one of a number of parents that have lobbied for a systematic method of teaching, based on phonics, to be the primary method of teaching. 

For years the debate has raged around whether phonics or the whole language - looking at words in their entirety - was the way to go. 

Until now teachers have largely used the whole language approach. 

Arrow says research showed that this did not work for all.

“It is about putting the weighting in the right place, for the right student.” 

The Ministry of Education’s Ellen McGregor Reid says phonics had long been used within the schools, but its preference was for the balanced approach involving both phonics and whole language. 

“The debate around how to teach children to read can often be a fierce one, but what we know at the ministry is a balanced approach is the way to go.” 

Parents like Wilson say that has come at a price, with her daughter still behind in her reading. 

“It’s hard to catch up with those two years.” 

She’s also not gone back to her work as a policy advisor because she’s had to take on a lot of the teaching herself. 

Vital work, given reading scores for Kiwi children have been sliding down in worldwide rankings in the last few years.