Our much beloved School Minister (and first holder of our Boris Numpty Award), Nick Gibb declared “the debate is over”. He was referring to his decision which meant the all kids in English schools would have to learn reading by phonics. Kids are taught to break words up into parts and then learn individual sound parts. Previously kids were taught with a mix of phonics and the old approach of memorising the whole world.

Interestingly our School Minister who is an expert in all things education has no practical experience of teaching. He is an accountant. Which makes me equally qualified to set school policy….

Yes phonics does work for some kids but not for others. For example many kids with dyslexia or kids on the spectrum struggle to decode words and then struggle to produce the right sounds for each individual part. I’ve tried phonics and I struggle with it. It’s a disaster with son. We could be trying to use phonics for the next 100 years and it will still not help our son to read.

We all must have done this. Set out for a nice walk. In the case of the photos across the stunning North Yorkshire Moors. Then you come to a crossroads. Paths going in all directions. You look vaguely at the map. Try to look like a professional. Fold up the map carefully. Then go Eeny, meeny, miny, moe and randomly guess the right path. In my case it is usually unerringly wrong. After several miles you get that sinking feeling – wrong path.

Actually wrong path is not the best description. It will be the right path for many. It will take them to their desired location. But for some (like me) we could go down this path for years and it will never ever get us to our desired location. So what I need to do is get off this path and find a path which works for me. That is the sensible thing to do. As a I am not that sensible I won’t retrace my steps back to the crossroads. I will try to break trail in a different direction in the hope that I will find the path for me.

Now according to our Schools Minister all kids should go down the same reading path. Unfortunately doing that will guarantee that some kids never do arrive at their destination. Endlessly walking down this path, getting lost, getting disillusioned. That’s what happened to us. We blindly went down the phonics path and basically got no where.

But then we stopped and said stuff you Nick Gibb. And we broke a new trail.

  • We started learning some of the most common words the traditional way. Son would memorise the whole word.
  • We started playing around with various learning to read games on the internet.
  • Using trial and error son would try to use app’s like YouTube, Google Search or games like FIFA by himself.
  • Son would watch TV shows with the subtitles on. Movies like the Avengers were perfect. He knew them virtually off by heart. So he could focus on the subtitles and start to make links.
  • He would relentlessly work on his coordination. He would read a grid of letters while clapping his hands. He would bounce a ball while trying to learn and read words.
  • We would jointly read books. Normally Mr Men books. They were just the right length and fun. He would join in when he wanted to. I would never correct a mistake. He would process that himself.

The new trail has started to work. We haven’t reached our son’s destination but it feels like we are heading in the right direction at last. Enough for son to call himself now – a reader.

So I hope our Schools Minister finds his own path. Preferably takes him a million miles away from this countries classrooms. Then we can get back to trusting parents, teachers and kids to pick the education path which best suits them.

57 thoughts on “Is Phonics the wrong path

  1. They keep pounding the square pegs into round holes and wonder why there are so many broken bits.

    You’re teaching your son not only how to read, but how to learn which is the most important skill IMO. Well done Dad and high five Son!🎉👏

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So I learned today that everyone in school except teachers are starting work-to-rule on Monday in my province. This includes the special needs staff. My kids are not part of that, but my daughter has a friend who relies on the special needs staff, and another friend whose mom works with the special needs kids (mostly autism spectrum kids).

    It’s all political. I can’t even get into it. Both sides are broken. They run it as a business.

    Students are nobody’s priority in school, I don’t care what they say.

    See? Even here in Canada it’s the same sort of ordeal.

    I know this doesn’t make you feel any better, I just thoufht2sharing a non-UK perspective adds food for thought.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I don’t remember learning to read. Taught myself before ate three. So that would make me hyperlexic. And yet, I despise phonics. Learnt by memorising whole words, I think. Phonic make no sense because English is not a phonetic language. Fine for Turkish or Italian. But too many exceptions in English.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “… English is not a phonetic language.”

      Boy, can you say that again!

      I have written a poem (https://lovewillbringustogether.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/an-english-view-or-views-of-english-even/) showing there are THIRTY (30) ways of spelling the ‘ooze’ sound in today’s ‘English’ language. There are many similar examples of this type of difficulty.

      Tell me again Mr Gibb, how phonetics is so good for learning to read English. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

  4. 1.) try Bad Kitty Books. My girl loved them, and she was able to read from them after a while.
    2.) get colored transparencies and use them instead of a blank page. Apparently, colored backgrounds affect the eyes differently for dyslexic children and help with reading.
    3.) teach him that being slow is okay. Morgan was slow for a long time. When she was in 6th grade, she was reading at a ninth-grade level because I worked with her so much. I also learned that she reads better from electronics than paper.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I worked for a company that taught phonics and cited all sorts of sources for how it really helps dyslexia. *sigh* Guess it was all promotional after all.

    Your approaches sound great! You are the one who will know best what works.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. There’s no such thing as “one size fits all”. This include the learning method and the age at which learning is most rapid. It’s absolute nonsense to think otherwise. I had learnt to read before I started school but I have no idea how, nor did my parents. They assumed I learnt by following along while they read to us.

    Our oldest grandchild didn’t learn to read until she was around 8 or 9, yet within a year was well above the average for her age. She’s a “context” reader, often having absolutely no idea what a word should sound like. Recently she wanted to read me something she had written, but it made little sense to me because there were too many words I didn’t recognise. However when I read the passage, it was perfectly understandable. She was using words correctly in context that she had read but never heard, and was using her understanding of phonics to pronounce them..

    Most adults don’t read phonetically, they recognise words by their shape. Two obvious examples is to compare how easy it is to read sentences in lower case than in upper case. Another is the example (can’t find it online at the moment) where a passage has all the letters within words, except the first and last, mixed up. Some people barely notice the mix up, others struggle making any sense of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The pattern recognition is how our son is mainly getting words. That way you don’t need to worry about individual sounds and letters. He still struggles to write but reading comes first in his eyes. The computer autocorrect will help sort the writing out.


  7. Sounds as though your Education Minister has not even engaged with the learning of the children and grandchildren in his own family ! Of course different methods work better for different people – and children. Over thirty years of teaching five to nine year olds showed me that. Phonics did help our dyslexic child in a special support group taken by a senior teacher. Learning the high frequency words by sight and off by heart helped her and many other children too. They recognise words by sight. And reading many materials both on screen and paper will help children to become more flexible in learning to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Love the writing style, Sir! – and excellent pictures also.

    Found this on a Dyslexia/phonetics webpage:

    “In short, dyslexic students become good readers when they learn to use mental strategies OTHER than phonetic decoding to gain reading proficiency. These strategies build upon the natural abilities of the students, teaching them to harness their strengths and use them to become accurate and efficient readers.”


    But ‘Gibb knows best!’ 🙄

    By the way… did you know the UCI Road Race Championships are going to be using the 2014 TDF Grand Depart route through Yorkshire Dales tomorrow?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I read something by an ‘expert’ the other day that said learning by phonics was essential to dyslexic kids in particular but as a dyslexic myself I can tell you they are hell on earth and they put my son off reading for a long time. Phonics made me feel like an idiot when I was a child and an idiot when I was trying to teach them to my son. My son taught himself to memorise words and then he would attempt to break them down in the way the teacher was looking for. I ask the teacher to try getting him to read without breaking the words down and he went up 3 reading groups. In my experience phonics take away the joy of reading for dyslexic people and hold us back. The methods you describe are how I have taught my son and improved my won reading and spelling too. Massive word exposure is the key, I also used to put labels on everything (using sticky notes) so he got use to the association with the shape of the word and the object.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the sticky label approach. I learnt to read basically by looking at the whole word and not concentrating too much on its parts. That’s why I can’t spell so good. The problem here is that as soon as you get past 11 schools seem to close down the reading work. Basically the assumption is that you just read to your level from there on. Even after our NHS wrote to education to tell them not to give up on his reading development.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes same here, words to me are shapes I copy from my memory bank rather than a group of joined sounds. My writing and spelling only really improves with the advent of spell check before that o tended to stick to the words I knew how to spell it at least close enough for someone else to understand but with spell check I got to see the right way to spell new words so I learnt many more, doesn’t stop me middling them sometimes though.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. One size will never fit all. I work with adults and they are all so different with such different learning styles. It’s crazy not to encourage schools to be proactive and work out what works for each child or group of children.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was taught using phonics. Worked for me. However we also had endless lessons on diagramming the different parts of a sentence. That was a waste of time. I found it forever baffling; subject, predicate, noun, verb but all the rest wasn’t going to make me a better writer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It really does work for some. Unfortunately the same focus on breaking words up is not replicated in learning the beauty of words. Current government wants kids to perfectly spell a predetermined list of words they are not interested in letting kids explore words.


  11. I started learning to read at a school that didn’t use phonics and was later transferred to a school that used phonics. Suddenly all the rules that I had learned no longer applied. Chaos insued. Spelling became super confusing. I barely escaped with a functioning language.

    Liked by 1 person

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