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Reading Reform Foundation (RRF) - Promoting Synthetic Phonics : Page Title

RRF Newsletter 52 back to contents
Snippets from the USA

·        Studies by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe the brain activity of children between the ages of 6 and 9 who at first struggled with reading and were then remediated. Their brain patterns were abnormal before they were remediated, but became like those of good readers once the remedial teaching had been given. The instruction had strong components in phonemic awareness and phonics. There is a recent easy-to-read book on the subject by Dr Sally Shaywitz, one of the leading researchers in the field: Overcoming Dyslexia, published in 2003 by Alfred J. Knopf in New York . What is not yet clear from this work is whether this kind of teaching, if given from the very beginning of school, could prevent abnormal brain activity from ever occurring in the first place.

·       In March 2004 on the internet, ‘Insight on the News’ posed the question ‘Is phonics-rich instruction, as pushed by the White House, needed in U.S. classrooms?’. Prof. Ken Goodman ( University of Arizona ) starts his reply ‘No. The whole-language method really works and has led to a golden age of children’s literature’. He follows this with an admission that many readers of Insight might ‘strongly believe that I am wrong when I say that my research shows that written language develops in much the same way as oral language’, but nevertheless continues to defend whole language. Prof. C. Bradley Thompson ( Ashland University , Ohio ) starts his response to the same question ‘Yes. The fad of whole-language teaching has led to widespread illiteracy among U.S. students’. He cites the whole-language contention that if children are immersed in rich literature ‘they will learn to read naturally, as though by osmosis’. Thompson gives three reasons for regarding this claim as ‘false and dishonest’: ‘children do not learn to read in the same way as they learn to speak’ (all human societies have developed spoken language but many have not developed written language); ‘it is a colossal fraud to suggest that 6-year-old children can discover on their own something as complex as the English writing system’; ‘it is not true that whole-language teachers immerse children in “quality” literature. Whole-language reading books are some of the most vulgar and infantile ever written in the English language’. Thompson quotes Goodman’s definition of reading as a ‘psycholinguistic guessing game’ and asks ‘How would you like to be flown by a pilot ... who looks at his instruments and confuses the similarly shaped words ‘attitude’ and ‘altitude’?’




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