Reading methods – defining terms

[Edited to add: I picked the term ‘mixed methods’ as a term to put in opposition to pure SSP without (being new to this) realizing that it has been used as a pejorative term by some. I’m sorry about that: it’s not what I meant to imply, and I hope no-one has been offended or put off answering the questions because of it. I’m truly interested in the viewpoints of *all* parts of the spectrum.]

This is a rather lengthy response to a post by @Par4Ed here, which I thought might be better here than in their comments field. (NB You can get to my post’s comments field by clicking on the grey speech bubble by the heading…)

As a parent who’s new to all this, one of the reasons I think I find myself feeling baffled by the phonics/mixed debate is that it sometimes seems people are using the same words to mean different things.

What I’d find really helpful in understanding the issues is a definition of terms from both SSP advocates and mixed-methods advocates. I think it would help us as parents to see to what extent a like-for-like comparison can be made across the different approaches (NB I’d love to see responses relating to a Montessori approach in there, too, so apologies for the binary nature of the questions).

You could pick a few questions and just answer those…or not, obviously. I’ve only used numbers for reference, not with the intention of creating a Teacher Interrogation. Apologies in advance for anything that’s badly framed – I’m trying not to bring my own assumptions to this, but I’m sure I have anyway…

So, with all that spare time you have(!) I’d find it really helpful to know from various practitioners:

  1. How, in two or three sentences max, would you define ‘reading’?
  2. At what point in the process of learning to read would you basically consider a child to be able to ‘read’, according to your own working definition?
  3. What are your staging-posts (however rule-of-thumb) in observing/assessing/facilitating the process of a child learning to read? (eg Letter recognition, understanding that letters mean sounds and letters make words and sounds make words, words make meaning, word recognition, etc….or perhaps not those at all…)
  4. How would you define ‘decoding’?
  5. Do you think the concept of ‘decoding’ is useful?
  6. If so, why? If not, why not?
  7. In your experience, can letter/sound/word decoding be done completely separately from meaning at any stage in the learning process? (You may not feel that it should, but, technically, in your view, can it?)
  8. If so, why? If not, why not? Can you give examples?
  9. If you are a SSP fan: when, if ever, do you feel children should use other cues? (eg Once a child is mostly fluent, would you advocate a purely SSP approach to new words in the text? How do you approach helping basically fluent readers with non-regular words outside the ‘high-frequency’ / ‘tricky words’ categories? How do you support children who find it difficult to move from letter to sound to word? In your experience is there a place for other approaches when a child is in this situation?)
  10. Also if you are a SSP fan: what methods do you include in your practice to support the development of comprehension? (And to what extent do you see those methods as integral to/separate from your SSP approach/methods?)
  11. If you are a mixed-methods fan:where does a phonic approach sit in your practice? eg Would you start with sounding out and move to other cues later, or start with the pictures, or does it perhaps vary with the text/child/stage? (And do you use elements of branded SSP schemes, or avoid them completely?)
  12. Also for mixed methods fans: what methods do you use in your practice to support the development of comprehension? (And to what extent to you see these as integral to/separate from your mm approach/methods?)
  13. For all practitioners: at what stages in the process of learning to read do you include various comprehension elements? (eg v. simple ‘So what do you think might happen next’ for picture-books; structure, narrative, characters later on….).
  14. For practitioners who have switched from SSP to mixed methods, or the other way around: what (if any) differences did you experience in the learning process, and with the children’s engagement with the text? Did you find that you needed to alter other aspects of your practice to take account of any differences? Can you describe what these were?
  15. For all practitioners: in what ways does your approach support disadvantaged readers? (I’m thinking in terms of eg classes for parents, book swap schemes, etc, as well as methods used directly with the child).

If you’ve got this far, my grateful thanks 😉

Edited to add: I’m expecting that people reading this post and the comments will disagree with one another, sometimes quite strongly (otherwise, there’d be no need for the post!) but I hope everyone will agree that the most constructive thing in the first instance is for each person to use the comment section to  answer the questions themselves and make their views clear that way, rather than, at this stage, answering others’ opinions as expressed in the comments.