Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Moderators: Debbie Hepplewhite, maizie, Lesley Drake, Susan Godsland

Post Reply
User avatar
Susan Godsland
Administrator
Posts: 4973
Joined: Thu Oct 30, 2003 11:10 pm
Location: Exeter UK
Contact:

Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Post by Susan Godsland » Thu Dec 20, 2012 2:11 pm

If you've been following my twitter feed you'll have seen that I've been in communication with a blog writer, Lucy Marcovitch http://lucymarcovitch.wordpress.com/who-i-am/

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:
Sorry, Lucy, but I’m not as keen on your blogpost as your other readers.
Here’s why:
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.
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:
Hi Lucy,
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.

john walker
Posts: 369
Joined: Sun Nov 16, 2003 10:46 am
Location: Buckingham
Contact:

Re: Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Post by john walker » Thu Dec 20, 2012 3:00 pm

Just a quick rejoinder on this.
Lucy emailed me to say that she is NOT anti-phonics at all and she tells me that she did NOT take down my subsequent comments because she disagreed. She simply doesn't want her blog to become the site of a dogfight. I think that's fair and I sympathise.
John Walker
Sounds-Write
www.sounds-write.co.uk
http://literacyblog.blogspot.com

lucym808@gmail.com
Posts: 4
Joined: Thu Dec 20, 2012 2:56 pm

Re: Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Post by lucym808@gmail.com » Thu Dec 20, 2012 3:01 pm

Hello Susan and other forum users. Thank you for alerting users to my post, and for sending John my way. I appreciated and welcomed his comments. My reason for unapproving his and Northernheckler's subsequent comments I set out to John in an email this morning. I received a nice reply from him and I would say we parted on amicable terms (not that we were ever not on amicable terms!) Here is the email I sent John, to show that there is no sinister reason for deleting his comments. We had a couple of other emails between us, which I'm sure he will share with you if you ask him. You will see that we are very much singing to a similar tune, even if the words aren't precisely the same.

Lucy


Dear John
Thanks for your comments on my blog post, which I appreciate. My blog is a personal one, written from the point of view of a writer and mother of young children - if you read previous posts you will see that I largely talk about reading and writing for young children and adults. I have also spent thirteen years as an educator in various roles, so my views on education come in from time to time.

My blog is for my own interest and that of others - I'm delighted when people take an interest and comment. However, I do not intend to 'sneer' or want to get involved in slanging matches between contributors. As a result of this I have removed your last two comments from my site, not because I don't think they are valid, but because my blog is not intended to be a vehicle for people to engage in arguments of that type. I would rather those sorts of comments were reserved for other sorts of forums. I hope you understand. I will also be writing to Northernheckler along the same lines.

lucym808@gmail.com
Posts: 4
Joined: Thu Dec 20, 2012 2:56 pm

Re: Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Post by lucym808@gmail.com » Thu Dec 20, 2012 3:02 pm

John and I seem to have cross posted!

User avatar
Susan Godsland
Administrator
Posts: 4973
Joined: Thu Oct 30, 2003 11:10 pm
Location: Exeter UK
Contact:

Re: Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Post by Susan Godsland » Thu Dec 20, 2012 3:14 pm

Thank you for the clarification, Lucy.

BTW, now you are a message board member we'd really like it if you joined in regularly ;-)

User avatar
Debbie Hepplewhite
Administrator
Posts: 3660
Joined: Mon Aug 29, 2005 4:13 pm
Location: Berkshire
Contact:

Re: Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Thu Dec 20, 2012 3:43 pm

Welcome to the RRF forum, Lucy! :grin:

Sadly, whenever any of us who have studied the teaching of reading, and phonics, to a great depth - and add to that masses of practical experience - attempt to comment on blogs where SP is either misunderstood, or misguidedly criticised, invariably so much emotion arises that the following discussion ends up being labelled as some kind of slanging match no matter what the postings.

Well - we can't win because if we do respond with information and conversation to address people's concerns or misconceptions, we end up with opposite comments and negative feelings - and if we don't address people's worries or misconceptions, different experiences, issues we're accused of which aren't accurate - then we're not doing a public service either in that we're avoiding the questions that arise for people. :roll:

For example, I've read through your blog postings and there was a lady concerned about accents and place names were given as an example. We have answers to that - and they're very straightforward - but I for one would not be inclined to add them to your post now in case I, too, was seen as someone who is doing self-promotion (as I am involved with two phonics programmes) and because you've indicated that you don't want your personal blog to become the site for people with different views and information.

Thus, we can't really be of any help to people who just might benefit from some knowledgeable SP comments. :???:

lucym808@gmail.com
Posts: 4
Joined: Thu Dec 20, 2012 2:56 pm

Re: Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Post by lucym808@gmail.com » Thu Dec 20, 2012 6:09 pm

Hello Debbie. It's a pleasure to be in contact with you! I appreciate what you are saying. However, I would be delighted if you would respond to the comment about regional accents - I don't think that being involved in two phonics programmes has any bearing on your response. Please do not credit me with the 'self-promotion' accusation - those were absolutely not my words!

I am very happy for my blog to contain discussion between people with different views - I knew that this would likely be the case when I blogged about phonics. However, I deleted the responses that I did because I could see that they were starting to turn personal (from one point of view - you won't have seen the post hopefully), and I did not want the audience reading my blog to be put off by an argument to which they would have no access (most of my readers and followers are other parents, with no educational expertise). I have read forums where that sort of argument develops, and found them quite unpleasant at times. I didn't want that to happen on my blog, which is one made up simply of my opinions.

This is not to say that I absolutely respect the expertise that you and your colleagues bring to this subject. I am very aware of your work, and of the detractors from it. I would be delighted if you would comment, and given that the comment you would be responding to is from a parent, I'm sure she would welcome the response.

User avatar
Debbie Hepplewhite
Administrator
Posts: 3660
Joined: Mon Aug 29, 2005 4:13 pm
Location: Berkshire
Contact:

Re: Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Thu Dec 20, 2012 6:37 pm

Lucy - what a lovely, encouraging response - thank you very much.

Give me a moment and I'll contribute some practical comments shortly, then.

:grin:

john walker
Posts: 369
Joined: Sun Nov 16, 2003 10:46 am
Location: Buckingham
Contact:

Re: Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Post by john walker » Thu Dec 20, 2012 6:41 pm

This is the quotation taken from one of Lucy's respondents.
Teaching in Milton Keynes for instance – how do I use phonics to teach children the different ways to decode the places Woughton, Broughton, and Loughton – (That’s Wuffton, Brorton, and Lout-on to anyone from outside the area) – or how do we get around the fact that some sounds are the same all over the country Pat, Bat, Cat – some vary consistently – Put, But, Cut – and others are very different – Path, Bath, Cath. In Norhern English, Pat, Bat, Cat, Path, Bath, and Cath all have the same vowel sound. In Southern English Path & Bath have a different vowel sound. But Cath has the same one. One thing is certain – Synthetic Phonics does not have it covered.
As every properly trained phonics teacher knows, accent is an important aspect of teaching phonics. It is also, for the untrained, a potential mine field. On Sounds-Write trainings, we urge teachers to teach (within reason) to the accents of the children in their school. Thus, to take the example above, the word 'bath' is /b/ /ar/ /th/ in the 'south', broadly speaking, and /b/ /a/ /th/ in the 'north'. Phonics has no problem at all in coping with this. The spelling <a> can represent the sound /ar/ in words like 'bath', 'path' and 'father'; it can also be /a/ in words like 'bat' and 'hatstand'. Many spellings in English can represent more than one sound. What's so tricky about that?
Similarly, Lucy's respondent's example of place names in Milton Keynes is just as easy to deal with. 'Broughton' is indeed /b/ /r/ /or/ /t/ /uh (schwa)/ /n/. However, in Northamptonshire, a place of the same name is called /b/ /r/ /ow/ /t/ /uh (schwa)/ /n/. Of course, if you'd never been to either of these places before, you might have to ask a local what they're called.
John Walker
Sounds-Write
www.sounds-write.co.uk
http://literacyblog.blogspot.com

User avatar
Debbie Hepplewhite
Administrator
Posts: 3660
Joined: Mon Aug 29, 2005 4:13 pm
Location: Berkshire
Contact:

Re: Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Thu Dec 20, 2012 11:42 pm

John - perhaps you could copy your posting on accent on to Lucy's blog?

It would save me the time and trouble of responding! ;-)

john walker
Posts: 369
Joined: Sun Nov 16, 2003 10:46 am
Location: Buckingham
Contact:

Re: Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Post by john walker » Fri Dec 21, 2012 11:16 am

Hi Debbie,
I don't think it would be a good idea for me to go back to the thread given that the person who asked the question was the very one (Northernheckler) whose hackles are likely to rise when they read another comment from me :roll:. It might also invite another intemperate response (from Nh) of the sort Lucy doesn't want.
John Walker
Sounds-Write
www.sounds-write.co.uk
http://literacyblog.blogspot.com

User avatar
Debbie Hepplewhite
Administrator
Posts: 3660
Joined: Mon Aug 29, 2005 4:13 pm
Location: Berkshire
Contact:

Re: Sid naps in a pit: making a din about phonics

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Fri Dec 21, 2012 1:56 pm

Fair enough, John - Dearie me - they lose your expertise then!

But then, don't we know that a lot of people don't accept any notion of apparent expertise anyway! :???:

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 57 guests