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Everyone Can Read

Review by Elizabeth Nonweiler May 2010

Introduction

Everyone Can Read is a structured programme for teaching reading. It is used mainly with pupils with poor reading skills in secondary schools, but is promoted for all ages from six years old to adult.

Suzanne Attwooll, author or Everyone Can Read, began to develop the programme when she found pupils at primary and secondary schools in Australia and England who could not read well enough to cope with the curriculum. She is one of those few people who could see what was wrong with fashionable teaching methods thirty years ago and was able to develop something more effective.

Everyone Can Read is an impressive programme and I am happy to recommend it. This may come as a surprise to those who, like me, promote synthetic phonics as the best way to teach reading. The lists of ‘consonant blends’ to teach and the ‘400 Words Sight Vocabulary Programme’ do not look like synthetic phonics. However, a closer look at the programme gives a different impression.

What is good about Everyone Can Read

· It is particularly suitable for upper primary and secondary school pupils with reading ages of 7 to 10 years. There are several excellent synthetic phonics programmes on the market for younger children and for older pupils with poorer reading skills, but not as many for this group.

· It is practical and obviously written by someone who understands what it is like to teach pupils with reading difficulties in school and how to encourage those pupils.

· The resources are well organised and easy to follow. They include manuals for the teacher, workbooks for pupils and CDs with optional resources, including templates for making games and resources to use with an interactive whiteboard.

· Assessment sheets are provided to establish a starting point for the programme.

· Central to the programme is the teaching of letter-sound correspondences, put to immediate use to read words by blending sounds and spell words by listening for the sounds in the spoken word.

· It teaches the alphabetic code, progressing from simple to complex, in a highly structured way.

· Every lesson includes revision, letter-sound correspondences, word reading, handwriting if necessary, word and sentence dictation and activities to reinforce learning.

· Lessons are interactive, multi-sensory, fast paced and follow a routine teachers and pupils can get used to.

· Words and sentences for reading and dictation include almost exclusively letter-sound correspondences that have been taught.

· It systematically teaches frequently used words with unusual spellings.

· Prefixes, suffixes and compound words are introduced early in the main structure of the programme, so pupils are able to read long words that include only what has been taught. In addition, two sections of the programme are devoted to reading, spelling and understanding multi-syllable words, by building from root words, prefixes and suffixes and discussing their meanings and derivations.

· A section on reinforcement activities has practical suggestions to supplement lessons.

Concerns about Everyone Can Read

· The section ‘400 words Sight Vocabulary Programme’ is partly based on the National Literacy Strategy High and Medium Frequency Word Lists, with no distinction made between words which are easy to decode and words with unusual spellings. Nowhere is it suggested that teachers should encourage pupils to use the phonics they know to read the easy words and help pupils identify the ‘awkward part’ of the words with unusual spellings (as recommended by the Reading Reform Foundation). However, a pupil following the core phonics programme is likely to use phonics to read the easy words and so to gain confidence. It is less likely that teachers help pupils to use phonics to identify the awkward parts of words with unusual spellings, although Suzanne tells me that she does do this.

It should be noted that there are similar lists of common words in ‘Letters and Sounds’ (the government’s synthetic phonics programme). It is true that teachers are clearly told in the guidance that “it is advisable to start from what is known and register the ‘tricky bit’ in the word”, but this guidance is not in the same place as the lists and there is evidence that teachers do not always take notice of it.

· With synthetic phonics, the emphasis is always on the phonemes in words and not on larger units. Everyone Can Read’ is based mainly on phonemes but it also teaches consonant blends, prefixes and suffixes as units.

There is a grey area between asking pupils to memorise numerous consonant blends and asking pupils to practise blending consonants so that they can read words fluently. On balance, the way consonant blends are presented in this programme is likely to help pupils blend sounds more fluently. The effect on spelling is more of a concern. Pupils are asked to ‘tap’ out the words, but they use one tap for each consonant cluster and not one for each phoneme. I would expect this to increase the risk of a child missing one of the consonants. For example, when spelling ‘splash’, one tap for ‘spl’ instead of three might result in ‘spash’. Suzanne has told me that this is not a problem; if a child misses a consonant, he is simply asked to listen to the word again more carefully; the teacher emphasises the sounds, and the pupil then self-corrects.

There is no advice given as to how to teach pupils to read prefixes and suffixes that have letter-sound correspondences not yet taught (e.g. ‘-er’, ‘-ly’). For spelling, pupils are told to refer to the board where they are written.

· Some of the games and reinforcement activities depend on teachers finding time to photocopy, cut and laminate resources. This is time-consuming and a problem for busy teachers. It is a problem with other phonics programmes too.

Evidence of Success

I have seen data from two small groups in different settings, showing remarkable pupil progress. The fifteen pupils involved started the programme with reading ages of 7 to 11 years and, after about three months, all except one showed good progress in standardised reading comprehension tests (NFER and GRT) and ten of them made over two years progress.

I spoke to a special needs co-ordinator from a large secondary school that uses Everyone Can Read. The school provides three half hour lessons a week for the weakest pupils in Years 7 and 8. They use the lesson structure and the games from Everyone Can Read and have found the programme practical and successful. A teacher from another department reported that one boy involved in the programme was really excited to find he could read a book in her lesson that he could not have read before.

To find out more about the programme and training, email everyonecanread@btinternet.com or telephone 024 766 74841.