Decoding

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JIM CURRAN
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Decoding

Post by JIM CURRAN » Wed Aug 26, 2009 1:34 pm

I was doing some work recently with a bright 11 year old who had managed to get an A in the 11+ which is still used here in Northern Ireland for selection. It was obvious that she had taught herself to read, when I asked her how she had been taught at school she said that she had been given lists of words to learn. On the Neale Analysis her Reading Accuracy score was just above her chronological age and on a single word reading test, where she had no context to help, her score was 11 months below her chronological age but it was in her spellings that her poor code knowledge was most obvious, on the Vernon Graded Word Spelling Test she scored 21 months below her chronological age. Despite her poor code knowledge her reading comprehension was 20 months above chronological age. She used her high level of intelligence, general knowledge, good vocabulary and language skills to compensate for her weaker decoding but I have an unfortunate feeling that as she moves through the Grammar school this weaker decoding may well catch her out.

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Wed Aug 26, 2009 4:32 pm

I suggest that this girl's reading, spelling and comprehension profile is probably typical of untold numbers of young people in our schools today.

Is anyone anywhere doing an investigation into the 'reading reflex' and spelling methodology of secondary students - especially those who start to struggle and who show increasing signs of disaffection with school?

chew8
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Post by chew8 » Wed Aug 26, 2009 5:33 pm

I did a lot of investigation of the spelling of students aged 16-19 while I was teaching that age-group from 1978-2000. I found that most of them were reasonably accurate both in reading aloud (though not 100% accurate) and in representing phonemes by plausible graphemes in spelling - the main problems in spelling were the choice of graphemes which though plausible were wrong and lack of knowledge of spelling rules, particularly those to do with adding suffixes. For example, students would spell 'safety' as 'saftey', 'completely' as 'completley', 'beginning' as 'begining', 'commitment' as 'committment' etc.,

There were always a few students, however, who did not know how to map phonemes on to graphemes in spelling - e.g. those who spelt 'sufficient' as 'saficated'. 'politician' as 'potliacn' and 'equipped' as 'errepet' (real examples). This was the sort of thing I had never encountered in my previous job, which was teaching secondary-school children in South Africa in the 1960s.

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Post by g.carter » Wed Aug 26, 2009 6:29 pm

This is the problem with Neale Analysis which was constructed during a pre-phonics age.
Conclusions. The NARA can underestimate the comprehension ability of children
with weak decoding skills and children who have some difficulty with open-ended
questions. The decoding and comprehension measures of the NARA cannot be
separated. These findings have important implications for the interpretation of the
measures provided by the NARA, in education and research.
www.bps.org.uk
* Correspondence should be addressed to Alice Spooner, Department of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, Preston,
Lancashire PR1 2HE, UK (e-mail: a.spooner@uclan.ac.uk).

chew8
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Post by chew8 » Wed Aug 26, 2009 6:47 pm

Geraldine - could you clarify which message you are responding to? It's clearly not mine, which is immediately above yours.

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Post by g.carter » Wed Aug 26, 2009 7:36 pm

Jim's post - but it was a ref. I found when googling for information about
the date that Neale was originally published. I used Neale a lot but never found it to be that helpful. But the New Reading Analysis (NFER published by Nelson) that I subsequently used has now been dropped, I believe.

Just thought it might be an interesting study.

JIM CURRAN
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Subject

Post by JIM CURRAN » Wed Aug 26, 2009 8:58 pm

Thanks Geraldine, that’s interesting and Alice Spooner’s observation about the Neale underestimating a poor decoders comprehension seem to me to be plausible. In fairness to the test construction they do recommend that the tester tells the child the correct word if the child can’t read it or gets the word wrong, this is an attempt to separate decoding from comprehension.
You are right about it being pre – phonics, it appears to be more tuned in to the miscue- analysis model of reading as presented by Whole Language advocates.

"I suggest that this girl's reading, spelling and comprehension profile is probably typical of untold numbers of young people in our schools today''.

Debbie I think that you are absolutely right and that's another part of the tragedy, many children give the appearance of being proficient readers but their poor code knowledge makes it difficult for many of them to achieve their real potential and forces them to choose the easy academic options when it comes to examination subjects.

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Post by yvonne meyer » Wed Aug 26, 2009 10:45 pm

I know a student who taught herself to read without any instruction in phonics. I tested her on Coltheart's list of non-words and she read the words perfectly. When I asked her how she knew how to say these words aloud, she showed me how she broke down each word into components that were like words she already knew.

Example; 'tr' like true, 'ope' like hope - trope. But then she pointed to the silent 'e' and said, I don't know what to do with that.

This student's spelling was fine as she appeared to have the determination and memory skills to soldier through word lists.

This student would appear to be the exception to the rule that everyone needs systematic instruction in phonics.

She is now in Year 11 and has hit the wall on handwriting of all things. She is not going to be able to get the high mark she deserves in her handwritten Year 12 exams as her handwriting is slow and illegible.

If she had been given systematic phonics instruction in her first two years at school, she would also have received proper handwriting instruction and this problem would have been avoided.

Instead, she has bashed away at the keyboard, producing masses of high quality essays and no-one has noticed that she can't handwrite.

Of course, everyone knows all year 12 exams are handwritten yet many secondary teachers insist that all work is computer-generated. When I brought this up at my son's school I was told that they don't teach handwriting in secondary school. I replied that they don't teach it in primary school either so when are students going to learn it, but I got no-where.

My point is that lack of direct, explicit and systematic instruction in the sub-set skills of reading and writing disadvantages all students although it does not disadvantage them equally. While some students do better than others, none of them do as well as they would if they had received effective instruction.

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Post by Judy » Wed Aug 26, 2009 11:28 pm

Yvonne wrote -
This student would appear to be the exception to the rule that everyone needs systematic instruction in phonics.
I think we would all agree that there is a percentage of children who don't need systematic instruction in phonics because they somehow 'crack the code' for themselves. My own offspring and my eldest grandson are examples of this. All excellent, fluent and accurate readers and spellers in spite of having been taught by 'look and say' and 'mixed methods' respectively.

.

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Thu Aug 27, 2009 12:19 am

Will we ever truly know how much better such children might have been if they had received a diet of systematic synthetic phonics?

And, as I have pointed out before, the notion of giving some pupils the phonics diet, and other children the mixed methods according to 'teacher judgement' is quite worrying - who would want that responsibility?

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Post by Judy » Thu Aug 27, 2009 9:07 am

Debbie, I'm not for one moment suggesting that some children should be given a 'diet' of phonics and others not. I am saying that some children don't actually need it to excel all round in literacy.

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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Thu Aug 27, 2009 4:59 pm

But the same goes for many aspects of education.

I think it is dangerous to promote the notion that 'some children don't need this' because it may look as if we are doing some children a dis-service to teach them the rigorous phonics 'if they don't need it'.

The truth is there are children who also don't need art lessons or PE lessons or music lessons at school perhaps because their natural gift - or the rich diet they get in these areas from home - raise them above the general level of teaching in the classroom.

There are arguably a great many children/students languishing in classes where the general teaching level is below their existing ability or natural requirement.

This is what needs addressing to be sure.

But, would these naturally talented children in whatever area be better served by excluding them from teaching basic skills and information in all of these subject areas?

This is where we do need to look very closely at the 'mix' of education children receive - 'the balance'.

There is a need for top down education and providing students with inspiration and raising awareness of the global picture of areas of study and creativity - but there is a real need to really ensure that no student is precluded from the basics of any area also.

I have so many memories of teaching whereby children were inspired by the top-down stuff and the 'ideas' of the projects promoted in the classroom - but apart from the very, very few utmost talented individuals, they all needed the experience of simple technical skills and activities. A lack of the basics held up these children's potential creativity more often than not.

I think we are failing in so many areas in most of our schools. For example, in how many schools is learning to play musical instruments still the domain of the rich and privileged - instead of a basic entitlement?

Rather than focusing on those rare talented individuals, I suggest we need to look at the very fundamentals of school provision to see the diet of all the subjects and how they address the range of natural talent amongst the students.

I deplore the 'gifted and talented' registers that are now mandatory to keep. Schools need to look to their provision for ALL children and not label them with 'learning difficulties', 'gifted and talented' etc.

I believe that we really must care and provide for children AS individuals - but that this needs to be accomplished for EVERY individual within the provision of the curriculum.

Perhaps we need a much, much closer look at our model of teaching methods and the timetabling of the curriculum etc.

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Post by Judy » Thu Sep 03, 2009 11:03 am

I think it is dangerous to promote the notion that 'some children don't need this' because it may look as if we are doing some children a dis-service to teach them the rigorous phonics 'if they don't need it'.
On the other hand, I think that if we insist that all children need SP, when it's clear that some learn to read and write perfectly well without it, we are playing into the hands of those who oppose SP as they can then argue, as I have, that there are children who don't need it.

And that's when we weaken our arugment because we open ourselves to being seen as fanatics, which turns people right off listening to what we have to say!

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Post by g.carter » Thu Sep 03, 2009 12:54 pm

I tend to agree with you, Judy. We are in danger of boxing ourselves in - for understandable reasons. But a light diet of SP might help spelling and language learning for the many who learn to read by osmosis. Perhaps we should recommend that a time-limit be put on specific SP instruction for children already reading?

What I would love to see is the introduction of Latin for 8 year olds ...this would give such an extra dimension to understanding our language, would help with spelling, learning other languages - and there is, I believe, one exciting and stimulating programme for young children?

All teachers need to understand the alphabetic code - and need to be rid of the nonsense of having 'Whole Language' practitioners who hack-handedly add a twist of phonics to a toxic mix, then train and act as advisors.

Oh my!

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Post by Susan Godsland » Thu Sep 03, 2009 1:18 pm

In response to Judy's comment: ''I'm not for one moment suggesting that some children should be given a 'diet' of phonics and others not. I am saying that some children don't actually need it to excel all round in literacy'', I've written the following as a sort of explanation, though I'm sure it can be improved upon, possibly more categories added?

‘English Literacy learners’ categories:

1. Learn to read well before school age without any explicit instruction, though a book-filled household and a parent willing and able to sit and ‘look at books’ often, from babyhood, is necessary. Early speech can be a marker. They intuit the Alphabetic Principle and quickly become excellent readers and spellers. Their reading abilities are obvious when they start school. They have inherited very high levels of natural phonological ability, plus a good auditory memory and a gift for visual detail.

2. Will learn to read whatever instruction is used– but need some alphabetic instruction (at home or school) to ‘kick start’ self-instruction- as with those in group 1., they will have intuited that a phonic strategy works best even if direct and explicit phonic teaching is lacking, in that case though a book-filled household and high, maternal interest/support with home reading is required; without systematic phonic instruction they can but don’t always achieve good spelling. If taught with synthetic phonics these children will race ahead and quickly become very good readers and spellers.

3. If mixed methods are used, these children will, initially, appear to learn to read well despite a slow start, especially if they have maternal interest/support with home reading. They will use a self-devised mixture of mostly, non-phonic strategies to get through the predictable/ repetitive text reading books. Those with a good visual memories (start quickly and confidently) may experience a ‘reading slump’ at age 7-8 as memory overloads, but those with higher cognitive/language ability may not experience problems until the secondary/higher education stage reached; nearly all have poor spelling. If this group of children receive good synthetic phonics teaching along with decodable books when they start school, they will achieve normal literacy levels and good spelling.

4. These children will struggle from the beginning if mixed methods used, but will learn to read straightforwardly, but more slowly than those in group 3, with expert, daily, classroom synthetic phonics instruction and decodable books.

5. Complete non-starters if mixed methods are used. They need expert, daily, classroom synthetic phonics instruction plus short, daily one-to-one synthetic phonics instruction from the very beginning of school as a prevention strategy. They fall very low on the bell curve of natural phonological ability and/or have other difficulties such as poor memory, cognitive disability….

The groups don’t have clear cut-off points; the boundaries between them are fuzzy.

The difficulty as I see it is that unless the child falls into group 1, parents and teachers can have no idea which group a child falls into until, perhaps, damage is done as a consequence of mixed methods teaching.

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