Michael Rosen and I do not exchange greetings cards. The reasons are mostly political, but partly to do with teaching. We've recently agreed on The Guardian's comment threads on two points - the importance of non-fiction, and of the value of conversation with children as a means of developing understanding. So, a little more here on conversation.
The teaching techniques on this site help people learn to read by adjusting their thinking so that they can use both the regular and irregular features of English spelling to identify words. I've never been happy with the term "decoding" for this process, as there are so many irregular features in English spelling, and from so many different sources, that it lacks the consistency we are entitled to expect from a code. It is more akin to "fuzzy logic".
With learners who have previously failed, as most of mine have, the adjustments to thinking are often great, and the lessons can be intense. So, I developed a system of taking the pressure off by engaging them in conversations that were focused on their interests, sometimes linked to a point arising from the work, and sometimes not. I'd let the conversation run for as long as the learner - child or adult - wished it to, and then switch back without warning to whatever we'd been working on, causing electricity to flow along the new connections made in the brain, and stimulating memory. This approach had immediate teaching benefits, and was also amusing. Children would often learn to anticipate it, and would be ready to foil me with the right answer when I switchd back. Curses.
I begin the first session with new learners with an explanation of English spelling, its strengths and foibles, which explains all of the features of a word in terms of four broad categories - sound, information about another letter, groups of letters and history. So, bright eight year old, as she now is, had been interested in Armadillos from a project on South American animals, and we explored the origins of the word.
She also likes birds, and we worked in similar ways on the captions to the illustrations in Audubon's Birds of America - words such as wren, warbler, trumpeter swan - were reinforced by the striking and sometimes amusing images from the book, though it would have been too difficult for her to read these on her own. Conversation can be initiated by either the child or the teacher, but is not necessarily "led" by either. Teacher knows more than child, if only by virtue of having lived longer, and has the professional skill to present this knowledge in ways the child can understand (a nod to Jerome Bruner for his idea of "courteous translation"). Because the conversation is related to the child's interests, and usually involves a new slant on them, where possible through some beautiful book, it generates interest, enjoyment and satisfaction.
For one bright nine year old, the key was turned by a copy of the Duke of Berry's Book of Hours, still for me one of the most beautiful books ever, and the high point of medieval art. Showing her this wonder, and her appreciation of it, is something I recall very clearly, although it happened twenty-seven years ago.