"I have some good news and some bad news for you", my child's teacher said to me.
"First, the bad news. Your child is displaying signs of having dyslexia and that is impacting negatively on his ability to read."
"But the good news is, your child will be fine. We have a plan in place to support him to learn to read."
If I was the parent hearing this news for the first time from my child's teacher, I would leave the meeting feeling worried but relieved. Finally, my concerns about my child's limited progress in reading had been acknowledged and the school was confident that my child could be supported successfully to learn to read.
For a teacher like myself, who has been involved in teaching reading to early learners for many years, there is also a good news/bad news scenario at play. The bad news is that so many students are falling below satisfactory reading achievement levels. The good news is that this reality is finally being acknowledged by schools and the Ministry of Education.
Unfortunately, my excitement at finally arriving at this point of acknowledgement is tempered by my awareness that delivering a successful solution for all students who are struggling to learn to read is not guaranteed.
My concern is that we have arrived at this point of acknowledgement through strong advocacy from proponents of phonics.
These advocates seem to be arguing that the implementation of a robust and universal phonics instruction programme will be the panacea to reverse the decline in reading achievement that we are witnessing.
While I support the use of phonics to teach reading, there needs to be a deeper understanding of how to teach reading effectively. My fear is that these advocates are wanting to see mandatory and prescriptive phonics instruction in all schools for all students. That would be a mistake.
Advocating for this approach flies in the face of the "evidence-based" teaching practice that these advocates claim as the basis for promoting phonics in the classroom.
For many children, learning to read comes naturally as a result of being exposed to language and texts in a fun and enticing way. But for some, this natural progression is insufficient. For these students a more direct and explicit approach is required.
To teach reading effectively, teachers need to have knowledge of phonics. Of course. But more importantly, they need to know how to make strong links between what and how they are teaching with the learning that is (or isn't) taking place.
Education researcher John Hattie tells us that effective teachers are those who are aware of the impact they are having on the students' learning and can make the necessary changes to continually improve their teaching practice. The evidence directs their teaching. Their teaching is responsive to the evidence.
Phonics? Sure. But real and inclusive growth in student reading achievement in schools will only come when teachers become skilled teaching practitioners. That is a different solution. And as far as I can see it is a long way from being acknowledged or implemented.
Reading achievement rates in New Zealand schools are falling. There is finally some acknowledgement of that fact. This is an important topic. We need to make sure that the solutions being proposed are going to be effective.
Needless to say, the value of improving how teachers teach is relevant to all curriculum areas and not just teaching young people to read.
• Mark Bracey is a New Zealand school teacher who blogs at his Ease Education blog.