Category Archives: Reform

Equal Opportunity? Not in today’s classrooms …

A disadvantaged child just wants to fit in – not be left out …


it is my understanding that the public school system was set up in the first instance to equalise opportunities for the children whose parents were unable to offer what the more affluent and educated parents could offer.

This is no longer the case. Current methods of “teaching” infants further disadvantage the already disadvantaged child, who needs direct and explicit instruction. Instruction that does not rely on a child having prior learning, experience of books, a wide vocabulary and parents who can read. These children deserve to be taught to read so that they have access to ALL of the above advantages.

A teacher using a direct instruction approach (in other words, a teacher who ‘teaches’) serves every student in the class. All learners benefit but most of all the disadvantaged child benefits. It is an inclusive system.

Further, it ensures that many children, who succeed initially due to a privileged background & much support, will, in addition, be well versed in the alphabetic skills that are required in grade 4/5. These skills are vital for a successful transition to multi-syllabic words. (See VAS Theory Eve’s Story)

Loss of equal opportunity for a large portion of the population is not only a huge loss to society, it is an enormous cost to English speaking nations across the world.


Shame …

Byron is an optometrist. One child in eight claims to experience difficulty seeing the letters on the chart – some would qualify for a blind pension (their combined test rusults show 100% vision).

They prefer to profess difficulty seeing than difficulty reading.

The video below shows the lengths to which one child went to hide his shame behind an auditory problem.

Lost in the rhetoric, jargon and processes …

My response to a linked in discussion ….









Oh yes Bruce, that’s exactly what infants would be better off with. Phonics first MINUS all the more sophisticated strategies in the early stages, where they are age inappropriate, confusing, misleading and counter-productive (IN INFANT GRADES).

Our teacher training university and collage professors are so tied up in the rhetoric and the processes that they have forgotten the real focus – the infant learner.

The irony is that much of what they advocate is essentially dependent on competent phonic skills for it’s effectiveness down the track.

Students who are competent in phonic skills:

a) have a minimal chance of failing (they don’t need high visual processing capacity – remember that developing infant boys are on average a year behind girls so it is no surprise that more boys struggle than girls. Phonics doesn’t require high visual memory – guessing strategies do).

b) students avoid the pitfall of later failure at grade 4 / 5 level when the words gets longer and more visually similar – they require chunking skills to progress (our high schools are full of students stuck at grade 4 / 5 as a direct & predictable result of incompetent infant teaching courtesy of teacher training institutions).

Analytic Phonics is NOT PHONICS – an effective phonics programme requires structure:
a) Sequence
b) Practice
c) Consolidation

Analytic Phonics fails all three criteria. It is applied ‘on the run’. It has recently gone overboard on complexity, which is then applied inappropriately in terms of poorly understood expectation levels & ‘during’ the writing process when attention should be on story making.

The same applies to the teacher reading to the class, when the teacher is advised to stop, look a word and talk about it’s structure! (Learning ‘in-context’ gone mad). For the children it’s like having to suffer the interruption of a TV Ad in their favourite programme. They just want to get back to the story.

This is BAD advice. Are the actual strategies, such as ‘scaffolding’ wrong? No, the strategies are great – when used appropriately – and backed by vital foundation skills.

1. Lay the foundation skills (free of distraction & confusion).
2. Keep your age appropriate expectation levels in mind (do the training colleges even consider/cover this?)
3. Add new strategies WHEN appropriate.

Why is this so hard for the Ivory Tower Brigade to understand? Or are they so lost in the rhetoric, jargon and processes that they don’t see the common sense OR the learner?

The evidence is clear – and it’s being wilfully ignored

images I am alarmed that teachers are still doubting that a crisis exists in teaching infants to read.
I refer readers to Britain where, in a study of 150,000 children (“Sponsored Reading Failure”) Britain’s foremost researcher Martin Turner uncovered the greatest peacetime decline in reading standards since records were kept and traced the decline back to the introduction of Whole Language to beginner readers.
Slip over the border to Scotland where the Clackmananshire Longitudinal Study compared outcomes of three strategies and found that not only did the phonics-first group come out on top in almost every aspect of reading but that 10 years later, they maintain that superiority.
Just in case you have trouble thinking this is not a deliberate act of academic and bureaucratic concealment, look at Australia where our national inquiry into the teaching of reading concluded 10 years ago that a phonics-first approach produced the best outcomes and yet 10 years later still doesn’t test phonic skills. You may be surprised to learn that the home of Goodman and Whole Language, (Tucson, Arizona), conducted the massive ‘Follow Through Study’ ($2 billion in today’s money) and found Whole Language-type teaching to be among the worst of all the teaching strategies in vogue. And judge the influence of our academics when I tell you that despite this finding, 4 years later Australian academics still mandated Whole Language in Australia. I could go on with the litany of failure but let me share some data from my practice. In part of a study of 3000 consecutive children I found that, after 3 years of schooling: 44% made more than 5 errors in the sounds of the alphabet, 29% confused letter names and sounds in 3 letter words (mad misread as maid), 15% confused b/d (bog/dog), 38% repeatedly misread 3 letter words for a range of reasons,10% made repeated guess-related errors on phonetically-regular 2 syllable words (e.g. picnic/picture), 88% made repeated errors on regular 3 syllable words (Eromanga, Continent etc), 70% repeatedly showed the signature, mid-word errors of a whole word guesser on 3 letter words (big misread as bag). etc etc.
In case you are still not concerned, you should know that the above data related to those cases where both the child and parent believed that the child was an ‘AVERAGE’ reader. The data on the ‘failing readers’ was even worse.
We hear similar reports from teachers on-line and during our lectures throughout Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA and Britain.
The full data-set can be seen at ; explanatory lectures and slide shows can be found at
What makes you think that we haven’t got a crisis?Byron Harrison
Chairman VAS Research P/L

Is there a ‘Reading Crisis’? Hell yes!

shutterstock_96578866This post is in response to several comments on Linked In  where writers were denying that there was a Reading Crisis.

There is a crisis. The reasons are complex and stem from inappropriate teaching in infant grades. Inappropriate in that they ignore the cognitive and sensory development of infant students. Many fail at the outset – most are boys as their visual development in particular is one year behind that of girls in infant grades.

This means learning won’t ‘click into place’ till later – it may even be a late as 9 yrs – what a shameful waste of critical learning time and the repercussions? Who pays the price? Not the curriculum developers – the child pays, the family pays, the community pays & the country pays.

On the other hand – Many with a high visual processing capacity from the outset succeed and do very well … BUT begin to struggle in grade 4/5 … they go on to enter high school with arrested literacy skills (reading, spelling & written expression).

We also know we have many high achieving students.

The differenece between the early student failure & what is now recognised as the “4th year slump” students and the achievers is – dare I say it – phonic skills.

A lack of phonic skills, which Common Core & all of it’s Whole Language predicessors have deliberately refused to test, is at the root of the Real Literacy Crisis that has infected the entire English speaking world.

Until we hold Teacher Training colleges to account for teaching/failing to teach the body of knowledge connected to our powerful alphabetic system and weed out the education bureaucrats advocation a primarily visual approach to reading in infant grades, the ‘crisis’ will persist. See for short videos on the issues above.


Who teaches Phonics in total isolation? No one I know of.

images-3I’m so tired of Critics of Phonics implying that by teaching phonics we ignore all other cuing systems.

What we DO advocate is that those cuing systems are not used or confused with phonic instruction.

You can’t teach phonics ‘in context’.

Like multiplication tables for mathematics, The alphabetic code is a separate set of skill that can be readily applied to words that have never been seen before.  Continue reading Who teaches Phonics in total isolation? No one I know of.