Teaching Early Reading and Phonics: Creative Approaches to Early Literacy – Kathy Goouch and Andrew Lambirth

This book is not for the faint-hearted.  It is not a manual.  It will not tell you how to teach phonics.  Firmly rooted in socio-constructivist beliefs and values, it argues passionately for a ‘whole language – whole child’ approach to the teaching of reading.  Every page is permeated with the authors’ holistic learning philosophy, underpinned by a practical understanding of the need to translate philosophy into secure pedagogy.  And this is where the challenge lies for the reader – a significant challenge if you genuinely believe in the current political one dimensional, reductionist view of synthetic phonics.

Goouch and Lambirth argue cogently for a multi-dimensional approach in which children make meaning from a range of texts and each child’s social, cultural and personal experience informs the process of teaching and learning.  Teaching reading, they contend, is not just about transmitting phonic knowledge but about a classroom practice which fosters a lifelong love of reading.  The central chapters outline a wide, practical range of strategies for resourcing reading, creating varied routines and crafting vibrant environments, all of which should embrace children’s home and school interests.

Two areas of this book provoked deep thought.  The first was the encouragement of teachers to consider their own reading preferences (teachers with no reading interest are often keen to adopt the narrow pedagogy of a single strategy approach) and also understand the need for all strands of reading to work in parallel – alphabetic and phonological knowledge, reading pleasure, how books work, vocabulary and language development and ranges of texts and authors.

The second area was the function and purpose of assessment.  The constricted approach of both SATs and APP, which reduce each child to a numeric value, is analysed and the case made for wider, formative assessment to include each child’s use of semantic, syntactic and grapho-phonic cues , positive and negative miscues, reading confidence, independence and reading interests.

This book should be read by everyone involved in teaching Primary English. Depending on your beliefs, it will be either an affirmative or challenging experience. What this book will not do is leave you feeling comfortable – hopefully it will provoke you into engaging in the debate.

This review first appeared in English 4-11 in autumn 2011

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