Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Wed Jan 01, 2014 1:08 pm

http://www.dyslexics.org.uk/main_method_3.htm

Recently, Susan Godsland provided the RRF forum with a link to a new IMPACT paper which warrants a response as it is an extraordinarily weak paper full of nonsense, myths and misunderstandings.

There are so many people afforded publicity because of coverage in the media, however, all claiming to accept the need for some phonics teaching - but whose actions, words and papers reveal some considerable ignorance about the nature of good systematic synthetic phonics teaching or linguistic phonics teaching - and who repeatedly seem not to 'hear' any comments from SP proponents which aim to clarify any misunderstandings. Thus, although they claim to accept phonics teaching, you wouldn't believe it when you see what they say/write/moan about!

Davis's IMPACT paper now seems to be the basis of a conference - a conference which may develop into some form of anti-phonics bash if all the signs are to be considered.

So, reluctantly and begrudgingly, I set out to write a response to the Davis paper (which I may well still write) but in the meantime, a string of Twitter messages led to Susan Godsland's website www.dyslexics.org.uk which I always highly recommend as it is so packed full of information and references.

On reading the page above 'afresh', I consider that it has such a fantastic wealth of information providing a really good overview of some of the key factors for the ongoing debate about what best to teach and where we are with the research to date.

In effect, it addresses many of the issues raised in the Davis paper although of course it does not refer directly to the Davis paper itself.

I would like to say, also, that Susan Godsland's contribution to informing people is truly outstanding. She has provided important links to research for years via the RRF message forum, via her outstanding website and nowadays via Twitter!

As someone without a specific programme of her own, she has been able to provide an overview of various leading programmes and practices embodied within those many references to serious research and classroom findings.

Susan constantly modifies her website information as we have all continued on our journey of developments - so there is never anything out of date with Susan's information.

Well done, Susan Godsland - my personal admiration for your work knows no bounds. ;-)

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by Susan Godsland » Wed Jan 01, 2014 1:34 pm

Well, that's a good start to the New Year! Thank you, Debbie.

Here's a link to *that* Davis paper

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1 ... 2000.x/pdf

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by geraldinecarter » Wed Jan 01, 2014 6:54 pm

Yes -Susan's website is an astounding labour of love. We're all indebted to it and I'm glad that dyslexics.org.uk is now reaching a wider audience.

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by JIM CURRAN » Wed Jan 01, 2014 7:36 pm

Yes Geraldine, Susan's website is truly amazing. It needs the widest possible audience.

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by chew8 » Wed Jan 01, 2014 10:56 pm

One thing that Davis and other critics of synthetic phonics don’t seem to take into account is the evidence from non-English-speaking countries where s.p. is routine: people in those countries don't worry that this approach will mean that children won't read for meaning - they know that good decoding and good comprehension are perfectly compatible.

I’ve just been reading an article by Hutzler, Ziegler, Perry, Wimmer and Zorzi: ‘Do current connectionist learning models account for reading development in different languages?’ (Cognition 91, 2004). The authors state that ‘a pure phonics approach .... is the (extremely) dominant approach in countries with relatively regular orthographies like Germany, Italy, and Greece’ (p. 285). OK, they do go on to say that a pure phonics approach doesn’t work quite so well in English, but this is because of its relative irregularity, not because it makes reading for meaning far harder than in other languages.

Jenny C.

Toots

Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by Toots » Wed Jan 01, 2014 11:53 pm

The difficulties of learning to decode English using SP alone mean that good decoding is not the easily acquired skill it is in other languages. And failing to decode accurately stands in the way of reading for meaning. Bad decoding and good comprehension are not compatible.

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by yvonne meyer » Thu Jan 02, 2014 3:31 am

The difficulties of learning to decode English using SP alone mean that good decoding is not the easily acquired skill it is in other languages
:roll: :roll: :roll:

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by john walker » Thu Jan 02, 2014 10:28 am

I'd just like to endorse what Debbie and others have already said about Susan's most excellent work. Indefatigable is the word that most readily springs to mind. Susan has created what sometimes seems like my own personal Flipboard for Phonics. Thank you again, Susan, for all your wonderful work.
Thanks, too, to all the regular contributors to the RRF: Jim, Geraldine, Debbie, Yvonne, Maizie, Jenny and many others. Onwards and upwards in 2014! And, as Trotsky :lol: once said: Down with miserablism!
On the question of Andrew Davis: I was going to respond, particularly as he posted a link to his 'paper' on my blog but then I decided that it would take so long to pick it apart (There's just so much nonsense therein!) that it wasn't worth it and that there are far more important things to do. However, I am astounded to see from Debbie's posting that a conference may emerge from Davis's ramblings. I'll watch this space.
John Walker
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www.sounds-write.co.uk
http://literacyblog.blogspot.com

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by Susan Godsland » Thu Jan 02, 2014 12:37 pm

Thanks for the bouquets everyone.

You should know that if it wasn't for Debbie Hepplewhite, my website wouldn't exist.
I joined the RRF about 10 years ago in a state of near despair. I had recently read Diane McGuinness's book 'Why Children Can't Read' followed by Bonnie Macmillan's 'Why Schoolchildren Can't Read'. It was a rather slow ''Eureka!'' but I began to understand why so many children had trouble learning to read (my youngest son amongst them) and the power of synthetic phonics to help them.

At the time, I was a trustee and sole 'Dyslexia helpline' person for a home education organisation. Wishing to put my new-found knowledge into action, I wrote an enthusiastic article about Bonnie's book and synthetic phonics for the organisation's newsletter. To cut a long story short, my article never got published. According to the other trustees it was 'polemical' and indicated that I would no longer give callers unbiased and 'balanced' advice on the subject of reading, as required. As I wasn't willing to stop recommending synthetic phonics over whole language, I felt I had no option but to resign.

Serendipity struck; at almost exactly the same time as I was dropped by the home ed. group, I read about the RRF and saw Debbie's name in a short piece in the TES. I googled and found a contact email. In a series of emails, Debbie kindly answered my stream of questions about synthetic phonics at considerable length ;-) I felt reassured and supported. She encouraged me to put my then unpublished booklet about teaching 'dyslexic' children at home, on line....
Thank YOU, Debbie :grin:

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by maizie » Thu Jan 02, 2014 12:40 pm

john walker wrote:However, I am astounded to see from Debbie's posting that a conference may emerge from Davis's ramblings. I'll watch this space.
Not 'may' emerge, John. It has emerged!

http://community.tes.co.uk/tes_opinion/ ... 2219857=26
You are cordially invited to a seminar and wine reception to mark the launch of

To Read or Not To Read:

Decoding Synthetic Phonics

Wednesday 29 January 2014, 5.30pm to 7.30pm

Clarke Hall, Institute of Education, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL

Speakers:

Dr Andrew Davis, author of To Read or Not To Read

Prof Sir Tim Brighouse, former Commissioner for London Schools

Nansi Ellis, Head of Education Policy and Research at ATL

Dr Bethan Marshall, Chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English

Prof Michael Hand, editor of IMPACT (Chair)

Andrew Davis develops a powerful case against synthetic phonics, urging that some of its central ideas are conceptually flawed and that the very notion of evidence to support such strategies makes little sense. His arguments will be welcomed by the many educators, parents and children’s authors who have expressed grave doubts about the phonics revolution.

To attend, please register by Wednesday 15 January here.

Registered attendees will receive a complimentary bound copy of To Read or Not To Read on arrival at the launch. A soft copy of the pamphlet can be downloaded free from the Wiley Online Library here.

For further information, contact Steph Graham at pesgb@sasevents.co.uk

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by chew8 » Thu Jan 02, 2014 3:49 pm

Is anyone going to this seminar? If so, it would be worth preparing really cogent and well-expressed arguments beforehand.
Toots wrote:The difficulties of learning to decode English using SP alone mean that good decoding is not the easily acquired skill it is in other languages. And failing to decode accurately stands in the way of reading for meaning. Bad decoding and good comprehension are not compatible.
Good decoding is an easy skill to acquire in most other alphabetically-written languages because the first sound which children are taught to associate with each grapheme is usually the sound which will apply in all words they encounter from then on. This is clearly not the case in English, but isn't the sensible solution to take extra time and care over the teaching of decoding in English? That could ensure far less prevalence of the problem that ‘failing to decode accurately stands in the way of reading for meaning’.

I’ve been re-reading a 2013 article by Mark Seidenberg: ‘The Science of Reading and Its Educational Implications’ (Language Learning and Development, 9:4, 331-360). He makes the point that people too often misunderstand which reading skills need explicit instruction and which are acquired fairly naturally.
Seidenberg wrote:Everyone agrees that children have to acquire basic skills related to processing the visual code (e.g., letter recognition, learning about orthographic structure and the relationships between orthography and phonology), which provide a foundation for developing the ability to comprehend different kinds of texts for different purposes. Beyond this basic observation, there are two contradictory views.

Educators have assumed that basic skills are relatively easy to acquire, but comprehension is hard. Acquiring basic skills is mostly a matter of providing a literacy-rich environment with activities that engage and motivate the child. Learning to read was assumed to be like learning a spoken language. Children do not need to be explicitly instructed in how to read any more
than they needed instruction in how to speak a first language. In practice—a Whole Language K-3 classroom—this meant de-emphasizing instruction related to acquiring basic skills....

Comprehension, in contrast, was thought to be hard. The great fear was that children might develop basic skills and yet fail to comprehend texts. (Indeed it was thought that an initial focus on phonics would make it harder to become a good comprehender.)...

On the science side, the story is the exact opposite. Basic skills are difficult to acquire (mainly because of the partial and abstract way that writing systems represent spoken language) and thus the area where instruction matters most. Comprehension, in contrast, depends on extended experience using spoken and written language for varied purposes. Environments and activities that provide such experience can therefore promote comprehension skill. Ironically, this aspect of becoming a skilled reader more closely resembles spoken language acquisition than does the acquisition of basic skills.
It seems to me that the kind of faulty logic he describes has been a major problem in English-speaking countries, but not in non-English-speaking countries. It's probably the case that few schools in England now use a pure whole-language approach, but Davis and others still think that an initial focus on phonics makes it harder for children to comprehend well, and this concern is really not justified.

Jenny C.

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by JIM CURRAN » Thu Jan 02, 2014 4:25 pm

Thanks Jenny, the quote from Seidenberg is very interesting.I'd like to read the full article if it is accessible.

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by maizie » Thu Jan 02, 2014 4:30 pm

It's been mentioned before; in fact, I seem to recall quoting part of that passage in an earlier thread :mrgreen:

http://www.academia.edu/4472404/The_Sci ... plications

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by chew8 » Thu Jan 02, 2014 5:10 pm

Thanks, Maizie. I'm never sure which of the articles I have is available free on line, but this is evidently one of them.

Another interesting bit is this:
Seidenberg wrote:In shallow orthographies, reading aloud can be achieved without comprehending what is being said, indeed without knowing the language. I know this to be true because I proved it at my Bar Mitzvah. Modern Hebrew can be written with or without vowels. With the vowels included, the writing system is shallow: words have simple and consistent spelling-sound correspondences, which can be learned rapidly, comprehension not required. Fortuitously, Hebrew is a good “Bar Mitzvah language” (Seidenberg, 2011), as are Finnish, Albanian, Welsh, Italian, and other shallow alphabetic orthographies.

Seidenberg clearly knows that although decoding without comprehension is possible, it’s less than ideal. At the same time, however, he doesn’t argue that the scope for decoding without comprehension in shallow orthographies is a reason for not teaching beginners to decode in those orthographies. It’s arguable that if an early emphasis on decoding posed a real danger to comprehension, the danger would be greatest in the languages with the most transparent orthographies, and teachers and researchers in the countries concerned would be leading the field in warning against teaching decoding too energetically to beginners.

Jenny C.

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Re: Outstanding overview addresses nonsense in Davis's paper

Post by maizie » Thu Jan 02, 2014 5:34 pm

chew8 wrote:eidenberg clearly knows that although decoding without comprehension is possible, it’s less than ideal.
Isn't he really just saying that it is perfectly possible to be able to 'say' words in an unfamiliar language by knowing the 'code' even without knowing what they mean? This seems to me to be utterly self evident and, at the same time, completely irrelevant to the debate about teaching reading. After all, one could equally well learn a number of foreign words as 'wholes' and also not know what they mean!

Nice tweet today in response to the statement from the recent Scottish critic of SP; that " "pupils grow up knowing how to pronounce words without necessarily knowing what they mean."

"What an insult!" :grin:

(PS Struggling to word this grammatically :sad: )

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