Dombey attacks synthetic phonics and advocates 'guessing'

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Susan Godsland
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Dombey attacks synthetic phonics and advocates 'guessing'

Post by Susan Godsland » Wed Apr 30, 2008 8:25 am

The official government line on synthetic phonics is far from universally accepted says Henrietta Dombey.

This is no magic bullet for teaching children to read
Every child also needs a third key, careful guessing from context, when synthetic phonics and spelling patterns fail. ... s.children

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Post by Susan Godsland » Wed Apr 30, 2008 8:56 am

The Clackmannanshire researchers wrote the following article for the RRF newsletter:

Fact and Fiction about the Synthetic Phonics Study in Clackmannanshire

Re. Comprehension: A follow-up study by the researchers has shown that 'The children in the Clackmannanshire study (taught by the synthetic phonic method) were reading words about two years ahead of what would be expected for their age. Their spelling was six months ahead of what you would expect for their age, and their reading comprehension was about right for age. However, although the pupils in England (taught by the NLS analytic method) from similar backgrounds were reading words about right for their age, their spelling was 4.5 months below what is expected for age, and reading comprehension was about seven months behind'.

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Post by elsy » Wed Apr 30, 2008 11:30 am

Off we go again...

Rhyme and analogy for should, would could? That's three words taken care of then.

I've been working hard with children still getting to grips with easy blending of CVC words. I haven't even begun to count the number of words open to them with just the simple code of the basic alphabet.

The big problem with guessing is that a guess can only be a guess. There is rarely any way of verifying a guess once you are a silent reader of chapter books and there are no helpful adults around.

The biggest advantage of phonics is it is a horse before the cart. With a multi-strategy approach it is hard to know which is the best strategy to adopt until you know the word. That's all very well for adults supporting beginner readers: "Oh, sounding out won't work here, Johnny, look at the picture and have a guess." It's not so effective when the child's reading alone. No wonder guessing becomes the predominant approach.

One thing that struck me while working with my strugglers one to one was how slow they were on the uptake when it came to analogy. I was using letter cards to make CVC words for them to read. If I presented a succession of words, changing only one letter at a time, they still needed to sound out the whole word first. eg cat, sat, bat, fat, hat or pot, pat, pit etc They could clearly see only one letter was changing and the position of the letter in the word made no difference.

(As an aside. was this a suitable activity? I didn't suggest they use analogy, just noticed they didn't. I do want them to look left to right all through the word but they are taking such a long time to crack automatic blending and I'm fairly confident it's because they can't, not because they think they shouldn't as they do recognise some words and say them straight off. Or are they seeing these differently, as wholes?)

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Post by maizie » Wed Apr 30, 2008 5:26 pm

ARRRGGGHHH! Have you seen this comment?

April 30, 2008 10:28 AM

The Government of Barbados is seriously considering implementing THRASS (Teaching Handwriting Reading And Spelling Skills) for all children aged three to nine, in order to increase literacy through the improved teaching and learning of English. This is because the Government of Barbados knows that synthetic phonics is important but, rightly, do not think it is the first approach. The first approach is to read favourite books with young children - along with singing and dancing to favourite songs.

Professor Dombey talks a lot of sense, heeded and agreed with by many - even if her sensible view is not that of the British Government!
Now, am I not mistaken in thinking that THRASS has been 'approved' as a 'high quality phonics' programme? Weren't they crowing about it on the TES EY Forum a few months ago? How is that compatible with their last comment?

Heaven help those poor children on Barbados...

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Post by elsy » Wed Apr 30, 2008 9:26 pm

In general we're not bad at teaching children to read; but we're markedly less successful at teaching them to like it. Ruth Miskin and others who insist on synthetic phonics as the one route of entry into reading have little to offer to address this real problem.

"Real problem?" We really should make the distinction between learning to read and write well and enjoying reading and writing.

Why should everyone love reading? Is it a particularly worthy pursuit? Is reading a novel more worthy a pastime than playing an instrument, or singing, or playing sport, or embroidery, or any other hobby?

I am well able to cook but don't especially enjoy it. I do it when I have to. I'm sure there are many keen cooks who find that attitude unthinkable. (I work with some!) My daughter finds cooking therapeutic - and her mother wasn't one who encouraged her at every opportunity.

I happen to think reading is a wonderful way to spend time and opens many doors but I can understand that others may not find the same pleasure and satisfaction.

Goodness gracious! There are already initiatives to encourage children into music. And what about science and technology? And sport? By all means we should be allowing all children the opportunity to try all these things and do well. But there is no Holy Grail of leisure pursuits so why this insistence that all children should LOVE reading?

(Elsy dismounts from her high horse, wanting to leave plenty of time for her book at bedtime!)

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Post by Elizabeth » Wed Apr 30, 2008 10:38 pm

It's true that some people don't like reading even though they can read easily.

But I've never met anyone who likes reading when they can't read easily.

The first step to enjoying reading is learning how to do it.

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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Thu May 01, 2008 12:22 am

I totally agree, Elizabeth.

A very bubbly Year 2 girl whom I am helping to get a rapid increase in the Alphabetic Code and blending and segmenting skills announced the other day, "I don't really like reading".

No wonder - every word was a struggle to read. She was actually very happy to blend and this is how she was 'getting by' - she would sound out '/g/ /i/ /r/ /l/' and still manage to get 'girl'. She would sound out '/t/ /a/ /i/ /l/' and still manage to get 'tail'.

I look forward to when she has learnt the digraphs and how to recognise and sound them out. Her blending skills are already amazing under the circumstances. By the way - she has no oral segmenting and spelling skills. (This is what often happens when children arrive from other schools I'm afraid to say.)

I told this lovely girl, "Just wait until you have learnt more of this Alphabetic Code stuff - I bet you end up loving reading!"

Let's wait and see then! ;-)

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do we have to read for enjoyment

Post by Bob Boden » Thu May 01, 2008 12:54 am

Hi Elsy,

A person who can read well may not like to read for enjoyment, but he probably does like to read for information so he can make a decent living.

In truth I can't remember seeing a child who had learned to read properly (SP) who didn't like to read.

If you have learned to read proficiently but don't care to exercise the skill then you probably don't like to talk to people either. But that's another problem.

Bob Boden

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Post by JIM CURRAN » Thu May 01, 2008 11:16 am

How many beginning readers or older poor readers has Henrietta Dombey worked with?

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Post by g.carter » Thu May 01, 2008 8:06 pm

This is infuriating. I tried to log on but the Guardian haven't sent me a confirming e-mail.
The little school I worked in in Sussex had some teachers trained under Henrietta Dombey's regime at Brighton University. Nothing about the alphabetic code - endless miscue analysis - enough to make you weep. The first head at the school asked me to go and work there as 'children were coming out of the woodwork at 7 unable to read - and they aren't dyslexic.' Boy, was she right.
Within a mile of Dombey's sea-front Brighton home there are some of the worst schools in the country. And how many tutors are there in Brighton picking up the pieces for those lucky enough to afford private tuition?

Am trying to find time to get involved with setting up teaching of friends' severely disabled Fragile X son - he's 25ish now. He would dearly love to read and it would make so much difference to the quality of his life - he actually hugs books and so wants to read about his heroes. Well perhaps Henrietta Dombey could be filmed assessing him and giving him a lesson and producing her plans for 15-20 lessons, and this compared to an assessment , lesson and plans from Fiona (SRS), for instance.

These people really need to be publicly called to account. Any filming could blot out identity to avoid embarrassment, etc.

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