How children learn to read – and the best way to teach them – has been extensively researched. The evidence from this research is that good classroom reading instruction has five elements – the Five Keys to Reading – all of which are necessary for children to become proficient readers.

Research has also identified that the best way to teach these essential elements is using explicit instruction methods. Children are more likely to quickly learn the skills and knowledge needed for reading with this systematic and structured method of teaching.

Is my child’s school using effective, evidence-based reading instruction?

It is often hard for parents to tell whether or not their child’s teacher is using the most proven effective instruction methods but there are a number of indicators of good and poor teaching practices.

Indicators of good practice:
  • A systematic phonics program that teaches letter-sound relationships in a clear sequence and how to put letter sounds together (blend) to make words.
  • Your child is given ‘decodable books’ containing words that can be sounded out (decoded) using the phonics skills your child has learned. Practicing reading using decodable books helps to achieve accuracy and fluency.
  • Home reading guidance that encourages students to use phonics skills as the first strategy for working out unfamiliar words.
  • Development of vocabulary and language knowledge (eg. grammar, punctuation and parts of words and sentences) using a combination of explicit instruction and high quality children’s literature.
  • Development of comprehension using a range of evidence-based strategies that give students clear guidance on reading for meaning.
Indicators of poor practice:
  • Slow teaching of letter sounds (eg. one letter a week).
  • Long lists of sight words to memorise ― learning a small number of words that are not easily decoded by ‘sight’ is fine (eg. you, said, I, was).
  • ‘Home readers’ which are too difficult. Home readers should have no more than 1 in 10 unfamiliar words.
  • Home reading guidance that advises against ‘sounding out’ as a first strategy and recommends using pictures or context to guess the word.
  • No opportunities to expand vocabulary and comprehension using real books.
Is my child learning phonics?

It is critically important for children to be thoroughly taught the relationships between letters and sounds in written English. Many children will not learn to read without explicit phonics instruction, but all children benefit from a strong grounding in phonics, especially for correct spelling. There are a number of ways you can determine whether your child is learning phonics in class:

  • They can identify and correctly say the sounds associated with letters and combinations of letters eg. they know that the letter b is read as /b/ as in bed and that s and h together are read as a single sound /sh/.
  • Their knowledge of letter-sound relationships is developing from simple to more complex.
  • They can sound out words using what they know about letter-sound relationships and also break words into their component sounds (blending and segmenting).
  • They are encouraged to sound out the whole word if they encounter an unfamiliar word when reading (rather than looking at the pictures, or looking at the first letter and then guessing).
Free screening tools

A number of free screening tools are available that can be used to find out what your child knows about reading. If you are worried about the assessment of your child’s reading progress given by these screening tools, don’t hesitate to share your concerns with their teacher. Early intervention is best.

Castles and Coltheart Test (CC2) Assesses decoding and whole word recognition (designed for children 6 years and older)
Phonics Screening Check Assesses decoding ability (designed for Year 1 students)
Get Ready to Read Assesses early literacy knowledge (designed for children before they start school)