Yesterday Lucy informed me that her blog posting about synthetic phonics was now available to view.
I tweeted back that I was too busy to comment immediately but suggested that @SWLiteracy (John Walker) might like to do so.
Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics
http://lucymarcovitch.wordpress.com/201 ... t-phonics/
If you scroll down you'll see that John Walker did very kindly take the time to comment:
John Walker on December 19, 2012 at 6:12 pm said:
Lucy then responded to John and he continued the conversation, including commenting on 'northernheckler's post. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, Lucy decided to delete John's posting despite it being 'on topic' and polite. Here it is so you can make up your own mind:Sorry, Lucy, but I’m not as keen on your blogpost as your other readers.
While you are of course absolutely right in stating that ‘the English language is a difficult language in which to read and spell’, it isn’t difficult to teach if you understand how it works.
I’m sure that the Institute of Education taught you all sorts of things about Piaget and Vygotsky and even Bruner. What they didn’t do is to tell you how you can apply their findings in concrete situations, such as learning to read and spell. Otherwise, if they had, you wouldn’t say such things as to claim that words can be ‘unphonetic’. This is clearly not the case. All words contain sounds and all sounds have been assigned spellings – or we wouldn’t be able to produce endless numbers of new words and be able to read them. In fact, the way the writing system works is that the squiggles on the page we call letters (I prefer ‘spellings’) represent the sounds in our speech, of which there are around forty-four, depending on accent. Once you understand that it is the sounds that drive the code and that the spellings are anchored in the forty-four or so sounds, you can’t go wrong.
Spanish is indeed very easy to learn because it is much more transparent than English and this is – you’re quite right! – why the Spanish are relatively relaxed about when reading is taught. I put my youngest daughter into a Spanish school for her Reception year and they weren’t in the slightest bit worried about starting the class reading. With around twenty-two to twenty-four sounds and only just a few over thirty ways of spelling them, Spanish is a doddle to teach. That doesn’t mean you can’t teach English through phonics. You can if you you teach children how the alphabet code works (i.e. how the writing system relates to the sounds of the language) and the three skills needed to access it, and you teach it from simple (‘cat’) to complex (‘catastrophic’).
It is easy to parody early decodable readers which children are expected to ‘cut their teeth’ on, but these books are designed, in the early stages, to give children practice in what they have just been taught formally. Neither is their use meant to exclude rich, literary texts being read to children at home and at school. So, reading very simple sentences in the beginning is merely a step on the way to reading Scientific American and George Eliot.
Like you, I too think that spelling is important. Teaching reading and spelling are two sides of the same coin. The principal difficulty lies in the fact that, unlike Spanish, Italian, German, Turkish, etc, in English there are many ways to spell most sounds, and many spellings represent more than one sound. But, good spelling doesn’t come from voracious reading alone. You need to be taught to notice that we spell the sound in a certain way and not in another way. The way you learn this is through good quality synthetic phonics.
I didn’t at any point claim that you were anti-phonics, though your caricature of learning to read through the means of selecting very simple example sentences is likely to have the effect of making people who know nothing of teaching reading to sneer.
You suggest that the visual route develops first in some children. Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t bear this out. In the last trimester of pregnancy, babies in the womb are already tuning to the sounds and intonation of their mother’s speech. Not that I’m arguing for a focus on one sense. Again the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly against the commonly peddled misapprehension that there are particular kinds of learners. A good quality phonics programme should be integrating ‘what you hear with what you see’, and vice versa.
As for the IoH, they were part and parcel of the wholesale embrace of whole language teaching in the late seventies/early eighties, which many academics believe was responsible for the appalling decline in the reading and spelling ability thereafter. So, a healthy scepticism is something we should be careful to preserve.
Two things, NH:
First, I was asked to give an email address and web address before I posted. Both of these indicated clearly that I am John Walker of Sounds-Write. But, why do I have to be ‘more up-front’ about my involvement with S-W? What I was saying was not self-promotion, conjecture or mere personal opinion. What I wrote is supported by the entire linguistic community: writing systems are invented to represent the sounds in languages. Writing systems do differ, depending on the structure of the oral language in question. However, no language in the world uses a whole word method. In any case, as I’ve indicated, I wasn’t trying to promote S-W, which is why I didn’t bring it up. If I had, no doubt you’d have accused me of self-promotion.
Second, your assertion that autistic children learn whole words and whole sentences to learn to read is not supported in any of the scientific literature. You may be correct in saying that they are encouraged to learn some words by ‘sight’. This strategy soon breaks down and leaves them unable to decode less familiar, more technical and more abstract words.
As I have trained many teachers working with Downs and autistic children, I know that, taught properly, phonics is very effective in teaching them to read and spell very well indeed.