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2006 Conference/AGM

Date: 4th November 2006
Venue: Novotel, Birmingham
Topic: Birth to Eight Matters: Reading Between the Lines

Our 2006 Annual Conference and AGM got off to an excellent start with Prof. Lesley Abbott OBE (Manchester Metropolitan University), our current President, reminding us of the importance of words such as ‘matters’ and ‘communication’ in relation to both TACTYC and the early years. View presentation [1]

Dr. Dominic Wyse (University of Cambridge) then challenged delegates to think in depth about the Rose Report and its underpinning research in relation to the learning and teaching of literacy – and, in particular, phonics. He felt that we should be concerned as early years educators that synthetic phonics has been emphasised as ‘discrete’ and separated out from contextualised reading which his (and others) examination of the literature suggests produces better readers. Dominic expressed his concerned that Rose offers no definition of ‘reading’ or of ‘synthetic’ or ‘systematic’ but makes many assumptions, most of which are not supported by background literature. He led delegates through various pieces of research (including the Clackmannanshire study) and concluded that we must act politically NOW to remove the levels of prescription and government control over teaching methods and not adopt a ‘make it work’ attitude (often prevalent in the early years). View presentation [2]

Prof. Henrietta Dombey (University of Brighton) followed on from this by emphasising the need to look at what makes successful readers and led delegates systematically through research from several sources which identified what effective teachers do to promote literacy learning. Henrietta provided a wealth of information and examples about the most effective teaching and learning contexts and the attributes of successful literacy teachers and learners. She went on to share examples with delegates of how the English spelling system differs from nearly all other languages in the world, for example, ‘a’ can be said in many different ways (cat, many, hard, wake … and so on). She emphasised that vowel sounds in English are not easily susceptible to a phonic approach and that our spelling system is based on meaning not on sound, and shared examples of difficulties from the 50 commonest words. View handout [3]

During the lunch break, the final Jenefer Joseph award was made to the Robert Owen Nursery School and accept by Judy Stevenson on behalf of herself and colleagues – congratulations to everyone concerned on an excellent ‘creative week’ which was explained and evaluated to great effect. Jenefer herself presented the award and expressed her delight that the JJ Award had run for the last five years and promoted high quality creative experiences for adults and children alike. (TACTYC’s new award – ‘Innovative Learning Journeys’ – is currently out for consultation amongst members and information will appear on the web early in 2007.)

The Annual General Meeting also took place after lunch with information on the current state of TACTYC provided by the Chair and Treasurer/Membership Secretary. The Chair’s paper can be found here [4] as well as the report [5] on our Early Years Journal.

Delegates split into ten lively and stimulating discussion groups during the first part of the afternoon and a résumé of their exchanges can be found here [6]. As can be seen, the topics ranged widely and provoked much challenge, thinking and reflection – if few solutions!

A hard-hitting and very stimulating finale was provided by Carmen Mohamed (a consultant from Leicestershire) who provided delegates with much food for thought about the issues of children, literacy, and particularly phonics learning and teaching (View Handout [7] and Presentation [8]). She stressed the importance of spoken language and vocabulary to literacy development and deplored our current trend of seemingly change for changes sake. Like Dominic, she emphasised the need for integrated, cohesive and inclusive systems for teaching and the enjoyment needed if children are to gain lifelong pleasure in books and reading. Similarly, both Carmen and Dominic feel strongly that teachers need to reclaim their professional voices and to speak out against practices of which they don’t approve.

This was a very successful conference (according to the evaluations – see below) and well attended with around 140 early years enthusiasts.