Mastery in Reading: a Parents’ guide

Hi to all parents. This is my third blog on the theme of mastery in education. The key question: what skills and knowledge do children need in order to achieve the grade of mastery for reading? Firstly, let’s look at what reading is – its main three aspects:
– Reading the tricky words
– Phonics
– Comprehension

When children first learn to read they come across words that are ‘tricky’ because they do not follow normal phonic rules: examples – their, come, said, they, are, should. These words are not read or spelled in the way children expect. They are therefore learned as whole words – not broken down by their letters. So the ‘mastery’ aspect of these words is to recognise them (about 200) instantly by sight as an aid to fluent reading. The tricky words are learned by most children throughout Years 1 and 2.

What about the second aspect – phonics? From the beginning children also learn to decode words from letter sounds – cat, dog, blot, bank, cheat, food, boil, standing. These types of words read as they sound so children build up the component sounds and match them to letter groups. The word ‘cat has 3 simple sounds and 3 letters. The word ‘spoon’ has 4 sounds and 5 letters because the vowels in the middle make only one sound. The phonics of reading become ever more complex with longer words – leading to multisyllabic word building – computer, contented, everlasting, religious, excitement. Mastery for phonics lies in knowing the whole range of sounds/letter groups, recognising these when reading and blending these letter sounds together, between the tricky words.

Now for the third aspect of mastery: comprehension. This aspect of reading is far more complex (so I will explain this briefly and cover it in depth as my next blog). Comprehension is to do with how well children understand what they are reading. What do the words and sentences actually mean? What kind of response does a text require from the reader? Is it information? Is it a question? How deeply do readers need to delve down and THINK in order to read/comprehend a particular text thoroughly?

Aside from the skills and technicalities of reading, there is a fourth aspect – that of
language. Children must also know what the words mean and have a firm grasp of the vocabulary contained within the text.

Back to our initial question: how do children gain a mastery grade for reading? The answer lies in an efficient combination of the three aspects: tricky words, phonics and comprehension, plus (last but certainly not least) a rich vocabulary from the start of education (The Early Years Foundation Stage) that grows like a strong tree, branching out at every stage of reading development throughout each Key Stage of schooling – and beyond.

Each chapter of my Key Stage books for parents: Support for Children at the Early Years Foundation Stage, Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2 (and Key Stage 3 due out soon) include a chapter on reading: the aim being for parents to know what children learn at each Key Stage and be better informed to support their child’s reading – towards overall mastery.

Watch this space for my next blog, exploring the core aspect: comprehension, without which other aspects of reading are totally useless.

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