Friday, 28 September 2018

Prep readers

Dyslexia Victoria Support has launched a campaign that urges the state government to fund "decodable readers" for all Victorian preps in state schools.

More than 2000 people have signed its petition, which was launched after the NSW government announced that every public school would receive $50 per prep student to purchase decodable texts.

Decodable books are sequenced so students incorporate new phonics skills that they have been taught in class.

For instance, one book might focus on the 'I' sound in hi, pie and night.

Predictable texts, on the other hand, repeat the same sentence structure, with a few words changed to reflect each picture.

Heidi Gregory, the co-founder of the group, said decodable books would help all students, not just those with dyslexia.

“Too many children are being left behind,” she said.

“For the kids with dyslexia, this approach to reading is critical, but it’s also best practice for all kids.”

Speech pathologist Alison Clarke said predictable books could create a false impression that a child was succeeding.

“There’s often an impression that a child is reading when they are actually just memorising words,” she said.

“When you write the words on cards and show them they can’t remember them.”

But while Ms Clarke is an advocate for decodable readers, she said they were never a substitute for children’s literature.

“Their parents need to be reading interesting books to them so that they can be exposed to new vocabulary,” she said.

Education Minister James Merlino said schools could use their existing funding to buy new readers.

"Schools are best placed to select texts which meet the instructional needs of individual students, including students who need additional support with decoding, and students whose reading abilities are further progressed," he said.

"Schools are already funded to purchase these books, including decodable books, via the student resource package.”

The Opposition's education spokesman Tim Smith said he would introduce a compulsory phonics screening check for all grade 1 students if the Coalition won the state election.

"In England, we have seen the dramatic effects that phonics and a screening check can have on students outcomes," he said.

Harriet ended up moving schools during prep so that she could be explicitly taught the rules of reading and writing.

She is now a student at Bentleigh West Primary School, a sought-after state school that screens students for dyslexia and explicitly teaches phonics.

Her mum Sarah, a teacher who leads the school's learning support program, said Harriet had now caught up with her peers.

"She has had high growth," she said. "She loves school and reading."

The school's predictable readers are now gathering dust in storage, and have been replaced with decodable texts.

But Mrs Asome said teachers sometimes showed the old books to new parents to highlight the school's different approach to reading.

"There's one book called The Petticoat," she said.

"Not only do children not know what a petticoat is but it's full of sounds that they have never been taught."

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