MICHAEL ROSEN ON PHONICS: LET’S HEAR IT FROM A CHILDREN’S LAUREATE OF GREAT BRITAIN
I so often wave one of my most passionate flags, which reads, “Let’s teach our children that reading is fun, reading is magic, reading is about understanding! Reading is not about being a decoding machine.”
I just found some fabulous–and famous–backup for my flag-waving: remember Michael Rosen (“We’re Going On A Bear Hunt”)? Proclaimed Great Britain’s “Children’s Laureate” of 2007-8, Rosen has written a loooong list of children’s books, which Amazon will be happy to show you if you search there.
But cut to the chase: In 2008, Rosen and 90+ others “of Britain’s best-known children’s authors and illustrators called on the government to abandon its plans to introduce early-year reading tests, warning that they pose a threat to reading for pleasure in primary schools.” Rosen “is leading the writers’ charge against a phonics-intensive approach to teaching young children how to read.” Here’s the whole article, from the Pulitzer prize-winning “The Guardian” (British news and media website.)
And my favorite Rosen quote from that article, whose very words I have championed for years: “It [a phonics-intensive approach] does not produce reading for understanding; it produces people who can read phonically.'”
You will love this video from Michael Rosen in which he pleads his case. You can click on this video link or simply go to YouTube and search for “Michael Rosen on phonics.”
His Core Message
Here’s a direct quote from Rosen in his video: “Today, there have been some worrying changes in the way in which we teach children to read. Instead of trying to instill a love of books in children, we’re obsessed with all kinds of strategies–new, fashionable strategies from here and there– giving children books that are stuffed full of word lists and letters. Is it any wonder that children are leaving school unable to read?”
Rosen continues, “Governments are very good at passing on a sense of urgency around the matter of education. [Government is] grasping at the idea that synthetic phonics is the cure-all for teaching reading. But the reality is that phonics will never be enough to teach reading, and there will always be some children who will fail to pick it up no matter which teaching method is in vogue.”
(Keep in mind that Rosen is talking about typically developing children; how much more so is this true for children with Down syndrome and other developmental delays?)
“It’s a disgrace that there isn’t the same urgency that the government is putting into phonics as there is in getting children to love books.” Yesssss! We face very much the same situation here in the US as parents and children do in the UK–we’re both under siege to teach backwards.
So I feel that some very significant folks have my back as I continue to do my impassioned flag-waving: Reading is about loving books, about content, about understanding! Reading is not about phonics.
Passing It On
I have been wildly biased toward books from childhood myself. I grew up between the magical pages of books, and approached teaching reading to my 5-year-old son Jonathan (DS, 30 this month) from that same bias. He caught the bug and quickly became an independent reader. It has enriched his life beyond measure.
I wish the same for all of our children.