The Reading Wars

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Goodenough
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The Reading Wars

Post by Goodenough » Fri Dec 31, 2010 10:06 pm

I had a depressing conversation with my sister this Christmas.

She told me that she had intended to get me a book on reading as a present. She deliberately looked for something other than phonics as she wanted to provoke me! She said that she was taken aback by how vehement, not to say virulent the anti-phonics writers she looked at were. She said phonics was described in one book as a sinister plot to keep lower classes from reading!

She decided instead that she would look for a pro-phonics book but again the ones that she looked at seemed to her to be very passionately against anything but their own specific method. According to my sister, more than one book implied that she herself couldn't really read since she wasn't taught using phonics.

My sister is not a teacher and has no children, she has no real interest in any of this and she didn't remember any of the authors or books she looked at but the term "The Reading Wars" when I mentioned it made a lot of sense to her based on her searching.

We are a long way from convincing everyone that synthetic phonics works and that it doesn't mean that children won't learn to enjoy reading.
Eileen

g.carter
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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by g.carter » Sat Jan 01, 2011 12:17 am

E. I've had very similar experiences recently and it's been quite a sobering time especially when it's from friends in the Ed. business who are very supportive of what I've been doing. It's incredibly hard to get the balance and the tone right. Most children can learn without phonics if the school is well enough structured - my class-mates and I did so with a little analytic phonics, and my children and theirs did in the phonics- free ILEA zone of the late 70s, early 80s. But on the whole the last 50 years have been an unmitigated disaster. The Ed establishment blames parents, children, neurological deficiencies, immigrants, society. or as here in Oxford, 'harsh marking by teachers'! and connects phonics to target setting, stifled curriculum,teaching to the test.

This is so unfair as the reason this very constricted utilitarian curriculum was introduced, in the first place, was because so many children were failing to read, to understand grammar etc.etc. SP is such an economic way of teaching children and sticks with the logic of the alphabetic code.

Somehow we've got to marry literacy and literature and campaign for freeing the curriculum once every child is reading by end of year 1 - with only a very small percentage needing further skills'-based SP teaching after this. Otherwise we're bashing our heads against a brick wall. And it's bleeding obvious whether children can read or not. Why do we have to construct all these complex tests? Let's hope that the decoding checks for 6 year olds are extended to checks during the first 3-6 weeks of SP and 'light' decoding checks at regular intervals, thereafter.

And let's hope that in Eire - the three Reading Recovery centers are closed down. What a frightening waste of money - apart from the fact that RR leaves many children with limited 'sight' word vocabulary.

chew8
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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by chew8 » Sat Jan 01, 2011 10:48 am

Geraldine wrote:Somehow we've got to marry literacy and literature and campaign for freeing the curriculum once every child is reading by end of year 1 - with only a very small percentage needing further skills'-based SP teaching after this.


I agree, but I think that not all RRFers sing from the same hymn-sheet on this.
Geraldine wrote:Let's hope that the decoding checks for 6 year olds are extended to checks during the first 3-6 weeks of SP and 'light' decoding checks at regular intervals, thereafter.
I'm all in favour of regular decoding checks from very early on, but I don't think they can be national checks as different programmes cover grapheme-phoneme correspondences in different orders. What has been covered in the first 3-6 weeks in one programme would not necessarily have been covered in other programmes, so I think that early checks need to be programme-specific. In choosing the end of Year 1 for the national screening check, the government has probably gone for the first point at which all schools can reasonably be expected to have covered the necessary ground regardless of which programme they use.

Jenny C.

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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by Goodenough » Sat Jan 01, 2011 2:17 pm

g.carter wrote:
Somehow we've got to marry literacy and literature and campaign for freeing the curriculum once every child is reading by end of year 1 - with only a very small percentage needing further skills'-based SP teaching after this.
This makes sense to me. There has to be a way to find common ground and to stress how wonderful the reading experience of children can be once they have actually learned to read. Some people seem almost to believe that teaching phonics means that children are condemned to just do phonic exercises and nothing else for ever.
g.carter wrote: And let's hope that in Eire - the three Reading Recovery centers are closed down. What a frightening waste of money - apart from the fact that RR leaves many children with limited 'sight' word vocabulary.
I agree. One of these centres is in Limerick which is a hour or so of a drive from me. I don't know of any children being taught by RR trained teachers though. I suppose the training is confined to those who live near the centres. In general the teachers I know have little awareness of Reading Recovery so I don't think it has spread all that widely. Unfortunately SP hasn't spread all that widely either.

Eileen
Eileen

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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by Derrie Clark » Sat Jan 01, 2011 4:27 pm

This is brilliant Geraldine; love it. :-)
And it's bleeding obvious whether children can read or not. Why do we have to construct all these complex tests?
You would have thought so wouldn't you? Assessment should be part of the teaching process. But then you have to know your subject.

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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by chew8 » Sat Jan 01, 2011 5:11 pm

I agree that assessment should be part of the teaching process, but that kind of assessment needs to be programme-specific, showing whether the children have mastered what they have been taught at any given point. Over and above that, however, I think we also need non-programme-specific tests that allow us to make comparisons between programmes. We need to know whether some programmes are better than others at producing children who are good readers and spellers by any standards, not just by the standards of the programme by which they have been taught.

Jenny C.

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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by g.carter » Sat Jan 01, 2011 5:55 pm

It takes v. little time to produce programme specific tests - Dick has done them for some SP programmes and, of course, programme makers could construct them and RRF or government could recommend a psychometric specialist, working with an all- around SP specialist, like you, Jenny, and Elizabeth N.

Surely the government could recommend this form of accountability? Waiting until the end of Year 1, does mean that decoding tests can be constructed that cover all alphabetic code programmes - and that's obviously a tremendous step forward. BUT if we wait that long before assessments are made that has inherent dangers for the slow-to-decode children. These children need to have daily extra help for a few minutes with a well-directed Teaching Assistant within just a few weeks of starting. Children who are left behind at 6, or who slip under the radar, are normally feeling very vulnerable, anxious, defensive, frightened, or bewildered. Sometimes this fear and hopelessness can start earlier. It doesn't have to be so, if we show some metal and produce tests for the leading SP and SP-linguistic programmes.

Another consideration is that the plethora of half-baked programmes now being spewed out could also submit themselves to SP checks - if they are labeling themselves as SP programmes.

Finally, if some sort of order and consistency isn't applied to checks, and children do slip through the net, then maverick 'Catch-Up' followers can legitimately push for their confidence-building, praise-at-all costs, multi-strategy approach. At the moment, most people don't read between the lines (or know the history of slippery utterances etc.) and may think that it is the SP people who are unreasonable - after all Catch-Up programmes all profess to 'do phonics'.

chew8
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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by chew8 » Sat Jan 01, 2011 6:42 pm

I think that we really do need a national screening check at the end of Year 1 which is fair to all programmes, but this shouldn't imply that no assessment need take place before that. I know that one or two highly-placed people are very much in favour of frequent assessment from early on. The right message should also be sent by the fact that Letters and Sounds recommends that assessment should start at an early stage and be ongoing; the first sample assessment it provides is for the end of Phase 2 - i.e. about 6 weeks after the phonics teaching starts.

I hope that it will be made clear that the best preparation for the Year 1 test, including the non-word items, will just be normal good phonics teaching - teaching children to work out all words by sounding out and blending, and making frequent checks to identify any children who are falling behind so that they can be given extra help. I don't think it's the job of the government, however, to provide the earlier programme-specific assessments.

Jenny C.

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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by Derrie Clark » Sun Jan 02, 2011 12:12 am

Efficient assessment through teaching avoids the repeated testing of children. A good systematic cumulative linguistic phonic programme delivered by a trained teacher does this. Certainly, in the Sounds-Write approach, a clear record of skills and knowledge can be maintained so anyone can see at any point in time a child's progress through the word level and what the child needs to be taught next.

I do agree though that there needs to be some standardised assessment. We just need to be clear about what the assessment is for. As Geraldine alludes to, it's not really about informing us whether a child can read, teaching practioners should really be able to know whether a child can read or not - it's 'bleeding obvious'! (Isn't it??? o-O)

chew8
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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by chew8 » Sun Jan 02, 2011 8:55 am

Don't you think though, Geraldine and Derrie, that there are still quite a lot of teachers out there who think it's 'bleeding obvious' that children can read because the children know lots of 'sight' words and/or are good at guessing at words from pictures and context? Isn't this why we need a national screening check specifically on decoding?

Jenny C.

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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by Derrie Clark » Sun Jan 02, 2011 10:36 am

Yes, I agree with you Jenny and I have debated the prevalence of this with you on many occasions. I noted earlier that "you have to know your subject". What a shame, given all the evidence base over the past decades, that it is not "bleeding obvious" to the very people whose role it is to educate children.

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sun Jan 02, 2011 1:04 pm

As RRFers know, I'm not in the same camp of those who suggest we can fold up SP by the end of Year One 'apart from the few'.

Synthetic phonics in its modern day format teaches spelling equally with reading - thus, I suggest that SP needs to continue even when children can read. A systematic programme can address both reading and spelling (and handwriting) for all the children as a continuum.

There's a thread on the TES primary forum now about Year Two spelling - and it is looking like some teachers continue with phonic 'spelling patterns' and dictations whilst others revert to, or teach, 'Look, Cover, Write, Check' procedures perhaps with little understanding and no training about the SP teaching principles.

You only have to follow the TES forums to realise how many teachers, for example, change year groups within a primary school and find themselves teaching Reception, Year One or Year Two with no prior knowledge and experience of SP teaching.

You can also see that there is no national standard or methodology across the country. It is, literally, pot luck as to what the teachers teach and how they teach it.

Children are still very young by the end of Year One. Do people REALLY consider that the job is done - even for reading - of our very complex English alphabetic code by the time the children are SIX? I am incredulous at this point of view.

I have experience of re-introducing synthetic phonics teaching with Year Two children, many of whom were already excellent readers.

Nevertheless, using the Burt word reading test pre and post-teaching, in just one term even the most able children made remarkable strides.

They may well have been able to read long and challenging words in reading books which were within their oral vocabulary, but they did significantly better on word-reading the longer words - even those not within their oral vocabularies - after the SP programme was re-introduced.

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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by chew8 » Sun Jan 02, 2011 2:37 pm

Debbie wrote:As RRFers know, I'm not in the same camp of those who suggest we can fold up SP by the end of Year One 'apart from the few'.

Synthetic phonics in its modern day format teaches spelling equally with reading - thus, I suggest that SP needs to continue even when children can read.
I think there's a difficulty here. The line you take, Debbie, apparently ignores what is a perfectly valid point of view: that 'synthetic phonics' is so called because of its focus on teaching children to read words by synthesising (blending) grapheme-prompted phonemes - it's about decoding, not encoding. Spelling may fit in nicely with this when children are taught to do it by the reverse process of segmenting spoken words into phonemes and representing the phonemes by graphemes, but many well-informed people would regard this as parallel to, rather than part of, teaching synthetic phonics. You may not agree, but you should at least accept that it's a view which is logical, and according to which it's quite reasonable to regard 'synthetic phonics' teaching as coming to an end when children know how to read words by synthesising grapheme-prompted phonemes. Most children can be doing this after two years in school even if they are not yet secure on all the more advanced grapheme-phoneme correspondences.


Jenny C.

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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by Derrie Clark » Sun Jan 02, 2011 6:01 pm

that 'synthetic phonics' is so called because of its focus on teaching children to read words by synthesising (blending) grapheme-prompted phonemes - it's about decoding, not encoding.
I think this is the nub of it. What definition is being used of synthetic phonics; what the focus is on (ie what is being emphasised/valued - in this case reading); and the implicit assumption that 'synthetic phonics' according to this definition is sufficient to get children reading (and spelling/writing). This is typically where the explicit teaching stops anyway. I guess all points of view have validity but what about efficacy? Perhaps that is what is being debated here?

I would refer readers once again to this piece that Susan G has previously alerted us to:

"No excuses! All children can learn to read and spell" at:
http://www.theliteracyblog.com/
(Notice the comments on this piece by the way.)

These children received systematic teaching of a linguistic phonic approach through Years R to 2. With nearly half of them finishing Year 2 with a spelling age of >11 years. The High Schools would love to have pupils coming in at this level, let alone the Year 3 teachers.

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Peter Warner
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Re: The Reading Wars

Post by Peter Warner » Sun Jan 02, 2011 6:53 pm

Jenny objectively described:
a perfectly valid point of view: that 'synthetic phonics' is so called because of its focus on teaching children to read words by synthesising (blending) grapheme-prompted phonemes - it's about decoding, not encoding. Spelling may fit in nicely with this when children are taught to do it by the reverse process of segmenting spoken words into phonemes and representing the phonemes by graphemes, but many well-informed people would regard this as parallel to, rather than part of, teaching synthetic phonics. ...t's a view which is logical, and according to which it's quite reasonable to regard 'synthetic phonics' teaching as coming to an end when children know how to read words by synthesising grapheme-prompted phonemes.


I can see how that view might develop.

This is another reason why I never describe my own approach as 'Synthetic Phonics', although I share most of the sentiments of this RRF community. One of the essential points of Diane McGuinness's prototype is to teach writing (encoding) at the same time as reading (encoding). This is simply because the code is reversible (it can't be a legitimate code otherwise), and using it from the start in both directions reinforces and accelerates the students' learning and confidence. This might be another subtle distinction with Linguistic Phonics.

I promote 'alphabetic code instruction' in an explicit systematic manner, and avoid using the word 'phonics' completely: it has too many variations and carries far too many concepts. In my last two hour presentation on teaching the alphabetic code, I managed to not say that word, not once.

I see no reason to quickly abandon explicit introduction and practice of the graphemes. So long as the encoding and decoding activities are tied in with comprehension (which isn't that hard to do, if the curriculum is thoughtfully designed), I see no harm and lots of benefits.

Best regards, Peter Warner.
Peter Warner
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English in Japan
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