Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

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Susan Godsland
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Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by Susan Godsland » Sun Sep 19, 2010 4:14 pm

The RRF is lucky to have many supportive friends. One of them is Dr. Beth Robins who lives and teaches in the States but comes, originally, from England (my city, Exeter), and has taught here in the UK too.

She kindly permitted me to read her doctorate dissertation before publication, and now that it has been published, she's happy for it to be made available to all - fascinating content of interest to anybody involved in literacy education, especially those in English-speaking countries; in my opinion it's a real 'whodunit' page-turner...

http://www.rrf.org.uk/docs/Dissertation_Robins.pdf

BEGINNING READING:
INFLUENCES ON POLICY IN
THE UNITED STATES AND ENGLAND
1998-2010
by
Elizabeth Robins
Around the turn of the new millennium, and for the first time in their mutual history, the approach to beginning reading used in the classrooms of the United States (US) and England has parted ways. Through interviews with researchers, policy makers, and publishers, I sought to discover the story behind this divergence.

Influenced by low literacy rates, each government has sought to intervene in literacy education, but its approach and level of success is to some degree determined by governmental structure. The wealthier US provided much of the literacy research, including the meta-analysis of the National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000), that led to the Rose Report (2006). The Rose Report, eclectic and pragmatic by turns, also considered evidence provided by educators, publishers, policy makers; British research studies in synthetic phonics; and observation of best practice in schools. It concluded that the most effective approach to teaching beginning reading was synthetic phonics. In short order, the English government mandated synthetic phonics be used nationwide from September, 2007.

Meanwhile in the US, based on the findings of the NRP, systematic phonics was supported statutorily by No Child Left Behind (2001) and fiscally by Reading First (2002). However the federal system of state rights to education limited the extent and ease of its implementation, and the US continued with the balanced reading pedagogy previously common to both nations

Which nation is right? This is not an academic issue, for the future livelihood and well-being of all children depend on obtaining the basic right to read.

JIM CURRAN
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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by JIM CURRAN » Sun Sep 19, 2010 7:32 pm

My own feeling are that perhaps Dr.Robins overstates the effect of the Rose Report. What Governments mandate should happen and what actually happens in practice are not always the same.I feel that teachers in the UK are still very much attracted to the US " balanced approach" with its multi-cueing strategies and incidental phonics.

k-2read
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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by k-2read » Mon Sep 20, 2010 3:30 am

From posts I have read on the Forum and my own interviews, Jim may be justified in his apprehension that some teachers, teacher educators and local authority personnel in England continue to hanker after a Balanced Reading approach, despite the government mandated support of SP.

However, in the US where the average teacher has never heard of systematic, let alone synthetic phonics, and whose grasp of phonics is limited to teaching the basic sounds of the alphabet, often one-a-week, Balanced Reading (which is in fact most unbalanced) is an entrenched daily reality for most kindergartners. This is reflected in the appalling literacy rates. Despite oodles of money expended these remain at pre-1998 English NLS levels. Teacher ignorance is not bliss for the children in the US.

On another note, can anyone share what the results of the assessments of seven year olds, those who entered school in September, 2007 show? Is there any way of seeing if children of this age, the first synthetic phonic cohort, have made any gains ... or not? Or does the new evaluation system defeat any attempt at comparison with previous results?

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by chew8 » Mon Sep 20, 2010 7:36 am

k-2read wrote:On another note, can anyone share what the results of the assessments of seven year olds, those who entered school in September, 2007 show? Is there any way of seeing if children of this age, the first synthetic phonic cohort, have made any gains ... or not? Or does the new evaluation system defeat any attempt at comparison with previous results?
I posted the following on 18 September in another thread.
I wrote:I help voluntarily with reading at a junior school (Years 3 to 6). This year, 9 children out of the 93-strong intake have arrived with Level 1 for reading at Key Stage 1. In 2009 the figure was 0 out of 71 and in 2008 it was 2 out of 84. No child was below Level 1 in any of those years.

It looks, on paper, as if we have a lot more very weak readers this year, but I've now heard the reading of 8 of the 9 Level 1 children, and my subjective impression is that they are not as weak as the weakest in previous years. For example, in previous years we've had children barely able to read books with just one line of text per page, whereas this year the weakest that I've heard have been able to cope with 4 or 5 lines of text per page. I'm wondering, therefore, whether the Key Stage 1 assessment has perhaps been more strictly marked in 2010 than in previous years.

I'll know more in about a month's time, when the school will have done its usual objective testing of reading and spelling.
The junior school has tested its Year 3 intake each year for more than 10 years, using the Holborn reading test (straightforward sentence-reading - no comprehension) and the Vernon spelling test. About 75% of its intake usually comes from two main infant feeder-schools. The telephone enquiries I've made suggest that both these schools have made an effort to follow the Rose recommendations, though neither uses Letters and Sounds as its main teaching programme. The rest of the children come in small numbers from various other schools, only one of which (as far as I know) uses Letters and Sounds.

The Holborn and Vernon testing for this year hasn't yet been done but should happen within the next month. In the meantime, all that I have to go on is the Key Stage 1 results and the subjective impressions I get from hearing the children's reading. I've now heard 66 of the 93, and as I say, the weakest (the ones with Level 1 for reading in the KS1 assessment, of whom there are more this year than in 2008 and 2009) strike me as not as weak as the weakest in previous years. The Holborn and Vernon results may or may not confirm this. They will also allow me to compare this year's intake as a whole with those of previous years.

Jenny C.
Last edited by chew8 on Mon Sep 20, 2010 8:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

g.carter
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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by g.carter » Mon Sep 20, 2010 7:43 am

K-2 - That's a good question. The key stage 1 results this year have been very disappointing (I have only seen the figures once - and google is not showing up anything now from my search today). There are technical reasons, possibly, and Jenny has pointed these out. However, the overall picture is not good. Picking around for schools in deprived areas that achieve 100% level 4 SATs at 11, the ones I have seen have been Synthetic Phonics schools - Ruth Miskin or Jolly Phonics but the results, on the whole, are disappointing.

There is a huge backlash. What is more, because schools have become so prescribed, and many are focused on 'teaching to the test', the wider curriculum has suffered and student's interest in literature has plummeted. If we had performance indicators giving teachers and parents feedback right from the beginning AND the proposed decoding tests - but extended beyond year 2 - and teachers were professionally trained, then I think we would be in a very good position.

As it is, the position is very fragile. If the Coalition government collapses under the weight of forthcoming cuts then there is likely to be a return to something very like your 'balanced' literacy. It's frightening to read what's happening in the States and there's a heck of a lot to do here still.

chew8
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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by chew8 » Mon Sep 20, 2010 8:39 am

I've just heard about a school which has been using Letters and Sounds and where the first children to have had this teaching from the start of Reception have achieved much better Key Stage 1 results than past cohorts.

Jenny C.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by k-2read » Tue Sep 21, 2010 4:15 am

Thank you everyone for the feedback about the Key Stage One results. It tentatively sounds as though those who were weakest before are showing an improved understanding / reading level, but that in general the results may indeed be worse. How can this be? Is it a lack of training/implementation knowledge among teachers?

It also appears as though schools may have firmer data when they conclude their own testing using the same instruments as in previous years. Apples with apples. Maybe the jury is out until then?

I note the political reference. The coalition appears from afar to have diluted/compromised the Conservative committment to SP, which had been unequivocal in their manifesto. Though the decoding assessment alluded to would be a good move if it does come to pass, so there is hope. It is indeed a "fragile" time.

By the way, I am Beth!

chew8
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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by chew8 » Tue Sep 21, 2010 7:14 am

Hi Beth -

I don't think we know one way or the other so far. There is too much subjectivity in the Key Stage 1 assessment (done by teachers towards the end of the 3rd year of school) for it to be a sensitive enough measure of change.

If more schools would do the sort of testing that 'my' junior school does, we might have a better idea. I can't even be sure at present that I'm right about this year's weakest at this one school being better than the weakest in the past - I'm just going on the fact that they can read 4 or 5 lines of text per page, whereas the weakest in the past have struggled with just one line. Once they get above this level, it's very difficult to judge just on the basis of the texts they are reading. As I keep saying, however, I should have a better idea of the picture at this school once the usual testing of reading and spelling has been done. I still won't know for sure if this is representative, however.

Jenny C.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by Susan Godsland » Tue Sep 21, 2010 10:35 am

David H has very kindly put Beth's dissertation on the RRF server so now it's easy to access via a link:

www.rrf.org.uk/docs/Dissertation_Robins.pdf

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Tue Sep 21, 2010 3:04 pm

Hi Beth - well done for your dissertation. I have just read it! Gosh!

I don't think it is enough to look at test results alone.

We have always known the importance of attention to detail.

So, we would need to take a look at the content/methodology of teachers who claim to be 'doing' synthetic phonics relative to any assessment or test results.

I think there is now a general awareness of the notion of 'synthetic phonics' and a bigger take-up of providing this type of teaching in Reception and key stage one classes - but there are indications that there is a significant difference between a rigorous and systematic approach and a more woolly approach which is also, in truth, mixed in with the 'range of strategies' too - either by direct teaching, indirect adult support when children read books, or by default if the reading books are far removed from the alpabetic code taught.

My impression is (and this can only be an impression) that many teachers are still 'at sea' regarding how to deliver day in and day out synthetic phonics teaching - including as it moves towards being a spelling programme per se once children can read.

I am suggesting, then, that only when we know that infant teachers are providing good and systematic synthetic phonics teaching from, say, Reception to Year Two will we be able to look at test results with any confidence in identifying the reasons for them.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by Susan Godsland » Tue Sep 21, 2010 3:26 pm

Debbie wrote:
I don't think it is enough to look at test results alone.
I agree, and I'd like to add that whilesoever the following is wide spread in schools (RR isn't the only non-systematic, multi-cueing intervention going on in schools) the results of tests will be flawed.
WAVE 1
High ''quality first teaching‟ starting early, with Book Bands for guided reading and systematic phonics teaching through Letters and Sounds, underpinned by Reading Recovery principles.
http://www.rrf.org.uk/messageforum/view ... f=1&t=4647

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by cartwheel » Tue Sep 21, 2010 5:59 pm

In the US where the average teacher has never heard of systematic, let alone synthetic phonics, and whose grasp of phonics is limited to teaching the basic sounds of the alphabet, often one-a-week, Balanced Reading (which is in fact most unbalanced) is an entrenched daily reality for most kindergartners
wrote Beth in a post above.

This is certainly what I have seen in the U.S., although there are exceptions, which often seem due to the reading program the teacher's school uses. Viewing teacher message boards in the U.S., I get quite unnerved by many teachers' belief that phonics pertains ONLY to the primary sounds of the letters of the alphabet and to sh, ch, th, and wh. And teaching the correspondences is often done without any practice in blending. In addition, the correspondences are frequently taught long after students are expected to read words with those correspondences in them.

Spelling instruction frequently has no connection whatsoever to letter-sound correspondences. Practice during the week in preparation for Friday spelling tests consists of copying the words in "rainbow colors", putting the words in sentences, and other activities that make no connection to the sounds. I am not arguing against putting words in sentences, but SOME of the activities should actually help the student not only learn to spell the words but also to generalize the knowledge to the spellings of other words.

Jennie

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by g.carter » Tue Sep 21, 2010 6:10 pm

Thank you, Beth. I've only been able to dip in and out of your dissertation, so far, but it is a very informative and also a riveting read - not easy to achieve! I get distressed when I hear of any kids getting muddied SP teaching here but as Cartwheel says, the situation in the U.S. is absolutely dire. At least that's how it seems from this side of the Atlantic. We are tantalizingly close to getting it right - but there are still a lot of destructive forces and your dissertation helps to put the recent history of the National Strategy into context.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by k-2read » Wed Sep 22, 2010 1:57 am

"We are tantalizingly close to getting it right - but there are still a lot of destructive forces ..." (g.carter)

This is closer to my impression of the situation in England, than the more pessimistic though no doubt realistic situation in some schools/districts, that Jim portrayed. However, I am by nature an optimist! I almost feel/hope in England that now the "cat is out of the bag" regarding synthetic phonics it can't be put back in again. However, that is not to undervalue the continuing efforts needed to be aware of the "significant difference between a rigorous and systematic approach and a more woolly approach, which is also, in truth, mixed in with the 'range of strategies' too ... far removed from the alpabetic code taught" (Debbie).

Thanks Jennie for sharing your observations about the situation in the US. It is a great pity that Reading First was not continued, funded, and the difference it was making, with its fully funded professional training, fully understood here. There are pockets of hope, though. My own state of Illinois has enjoyed a grassroots phenomenon of the spread of Jolly Phonics in individual classrooms, schools and increasingly whole districts. It hops from one district to another as word of its results spread. There's definitely another dissertation waiting to be done about this phenomenon! I think it parallels ten years on what was happening in England from the early 1990's.

Personally, thank you for the kind words about my dissertation. Though I do appreciate Jim's point that my little intro. was bit glib in connecting the dots - 1,2,3 - between the Rose Report and SP implementation, I hope the rest of this story is more fully covered in the work itself (Thank you, David!).

Beth

PS Another problem here is that the main reading organization, the International Reading Association, supports Balanced Reading. It is most influential, and is the most widely read teacher publication here.

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Re: Beginning reading: policy influences England v USA

Post by cartwheel » Wed Sep 22, 2010 5:00 am

Beth, is it your impression that the teachers in Illinois who are now using Jolly Phonics are teaching blending as well as the letter-sound correspondences? That may seem like a silly question, but I have read here and elsewhere that JP in the U.S. is primarily being used for the latter purpose, not the former.
Have you seen teachers or schools follow up on JP by teaching some or much of the rest of the code?
Any idea how many schools are using JP in Illinois?


- Jennie

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