Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

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Susan Godsland
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Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by Susan Godsland » Thu Jan 09, 2014 11:15 am

I'll leave the rest of you to comment on this latest blog posting from Sue Cowley:

Cause for Concern

http://suecowley.wordpress.com/2014/01/ ... r-concern/

Keep in mind that she recently wrote this post about using word shapes to read:

S h a p e s

http://suecowley.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/s-h-a-p-e-s/

'Old Andrew' responded robustly to Cowley's 'Shapes' blog posting:

http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.c ... al-debate/

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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by maizie » Thu Jan 09, 2014 12:22 pm

I found it depressing as she is working from the premise that teaching SP is 'mandatory'. If it is, I somehow missed that information :???: Just another bit of misinformed phonics mythology doing the rounds...

Equally depressing were all her retweets from people who thought this blog was 'spot on'. :sad:

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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by chew8 » Thu Jan 09, 2014 1:26 pm

It would be quite easy to check whether people are right when they claim to read whole words by their shape - devise a whole-word-shape test and see how many they get right.

Many years ago (at a Campaign for Real Education conference, I think) Mona held up word-shapes on cards and showed that several words would fit each outline.

Jenny C.

Toots

Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by Toots » Thu Jan 09, 2014 3:02 pm

Sue Cowley has clarified what she means about recognising word 'shapes' on the comments section of her blog:
Hi there, No, it’s not the shape around it, if you took the letters away the word wouldn’t be there anymore. I kind of ‘see’ the pattern that the word makes as a unit in my head. It’s quite hard to explain but if you imagine visualising a friend’s face in your mind, with all the features that make it unique, then that is a bit like what I see. It’s not really the letter string, it’s the overall pattern of the letters that make up the word. Also, I haven’t mentioned it on here, but some words also have a kind of texture, or scent, a bit like how some people describe synaesthesia although I don’t really get the colour thing that is often mentioned when people use that term.
http://suecowley.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/s-h-a-p-e-s/

chew8
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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by chew8 » Thu Jan 09, 2014 5:22 pm

If it's 'a bit hard to explain', as she says, and all rather indefinable, it's hard to see how it can be taught to others.

Jenny C.

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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by maizie » Thu Jan 09, 2014 6:22 pm

When she started tweeting for people to tell her how they saw words I had a think about it and, quite honestly, I think I probably 'see' the over all 'pattern' of the word, as I suspect, most skilled readers do. As well as subvocaalising it as I read. But where, I think, Sue Cowley is mistaken is that she is doing what the original Whole Word theorists did and assuming that because this is the end result, the apparent seeing words a 'wholes', this is how children should be taught to read.

We don't seem to be able to get away from the myth that phonics taught readers somehow consciously sound out every word they see when they read. I have always theorised that we must be doing something of the sort, i,e processing each letter, else we would not be able to spot the differences between very similar words such as 'trial' and 'trail', 'diary' and 'dairy'. What people who pour scorn on this theory don''t ever seem to take notice of is when I clearly say that we do this unconsciously.

But however we see words as skilled readers does not detract from the fact that the most effective way yet known for most people to become skilled readers is by way of systematic, structured synthetic phonics instruction. The end result is not incompatible with the method of getting there.

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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by JIM CURRAN » Thu Jan 09, 2014 6:58 pm

"But however we see words as skilled readers does not detract from the fact that the most effective way yet known for most people to become skilled readers is by way of systematic, structured synthetic phonics instruction. The end result is not incompatible with the method of getting there."

Well put Maizie.

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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by volunteer » Fri Jan 10, 2014 5:13 am

Yes. Never did understand when I was first trying to find out how to teach my children to read all this stuff some people said about "shape". Everyone seemed to have a different idea what it meant and I really couldn't see any logic to it. It made me think that if it literally was "shape" then children would have to learn to read again and again in every typeface and handwriting style that there is.

I do notice that if a whole passage is in capitals I read far more slowly. But this is nothing to do with shape - just really to do with the fact that these are different symbols for letters and we get far less practice in reading upper case than lower case. I'd be slow reading modern Greek for the same reason right now.

Why has Sue Cowley strayed into the teaching of reading when it is not her current expertise?

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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Fri Jan 10, 2014 11:32 am

http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-netw ... ading-list

Sue Cowley's blog piece has now hit the media with admiration it seems.
Questioning phonics teaching

One of the best blog posts I read this week on teaching methods was from author and trainer Sue Cowley.

The piece begins with her setting the record straight for anyone who thinks she is anti-phonics:

"I refuse to let anyone label me as a 'phonics denier'. For the avoidance of doubt: Phonics is a very effective method for teaching the majority of children to decode written language and all teachers should know how to use it properly.

"However, I do have concerns and questions about the current policy of mandatory systematic synthetic phonics. I refuse to be silenced in expressing these concerns and questions, no matter how vociferous my critics."

She then goes through her argument in detail, sparking each point with quotes ranging from Mahatma Gandhi to John McCarthy.

It's a thorough piece that raises lots of questions and food for thought.
What strikes me as truly extraordinary and distinctly lacking in logic and humanity (but not unsurprising considering the history of the reading debate) is that all these begrudging blog posters and journalists choose to write from the point of view that the government is so wrong to strongly promote the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics for beginners (that is, the alphabetic code of our language comprehensively and the phonics skills required for reading and spelling) instead of taking the opposite tack which is to say 'about time' that governments promoted something which 'of course' beginners should be taught well and 'how could it be' that teachers were not 'always' expected to teach the alphabetic code and phonics skills required for our written language.

So, what is it that truly bothers them?

They now ALL seem to say they are in agreement with phonics teaching. Well, thank goodness for that although it's truly hard to get that impression is it not!

But they ALL seem to say they don't agree with the government promotion or expectation that teachers should teach SSP.

And they ALL seem to be saying that some children should not be taught phonics if it doesn't suit them in some way or if they struggle with phonics they must need 'something else' (but it's the SAME alphabetic code they need to know for their lifelong reading and spelling skills).

It is a very, very rare beginner who seemingly has a gift to lift any and all words off the page with total ease and who can ALSO spell well with a photographic memory of word-by-word.

And if a learner is a struggler of one description or another, then that learner still needs to have the knowledge and tools to be able to lift the words off the page in large numbers - including words not known in oral vocabulary - all the more reason to teach the code and skills well.

So, the indignation of the detractors is somewhat multifold but appears largely to be based on:

Not wanting government to tell them what to do.

Not wanting government to tell the teaching profession what should be taught in beginners' classrooms (and let's not forget that the teaching profession abandoned phonics altogether through various approaches - or minimised phonics to a great degree - even demonised phonics in some cases - we had to lobby long and hard to get phonics on the agenda).

Not wanting to think that they, or teachers, got it wrong previously to have to be told, more or less, what they should teach - or how they should teach it - and equally for the lecturers in our universities who promoted (and still do in many cases) methods which research HAS shown damages at least some children in their reading capacity when this amounts to a lot of guessing the words.

And let's not forget that the phonics battle continues throughout the English-speaking countries so still needs strong lobbyists to draw attention to this fact.

And very worryingly but often painfully obvious, is the people who make the biggest fuss in the media about the 'imposition' (as they call it) of phonics provision frequently show their very limited knowledge of the alphabetic code and how it is possible to unpick it and teach it very well for virtually ALL the children.

When you consider much of what they write DESPITE their protest that they DO agree with phonics teaching, you don't really get that impression - and it seems apparent that what they think children receive should be a pick-and-mix approach dependent on the individual teachers' views and experiences of what they think works (perhaps influenced by the training they have received and the trainers' views - or indeed their lack of training) - and perhaps what they have always provided in their classrooms, or for their children - or that children need different approaches because of their individuality.

And so incensed are all these adults about these various issues, instead of being so very pleased that our young children are now being supported by government to get the best possible education in the alphabetic code and phonics skills (the code of our language) - in the form of teacher-education and financial support - that they go to extraordinary lengths to discredit the prevailing research and classroom practice.

And then when a simple word-reading check is introduced, instead of thinking what a GOOD IDEA to help us evaluate the effectiveness of infant teaching and learning within our individual settings and compared to other settings across the country in different circumstances, and what a GOOD IDEA to use some simple nonsense words so that the children are more likely to be on a level playing field as the words are more likely to be new to all of them - they attack the 'imposition' of the check and the thinking behind the check making a huge BIG DEAL about the use of nonsense words.

And yet surely ANY dedicated infant teacher or any other educationalist WOULD WANT TO KNOW whether they are being a really effective teacher in something so fundamentally important - that children can lift the words off the page relatively readily to SET THEM UP for lifelong technical reading skills.

It all rather beggars belief doesn't it.

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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by kenm » Fri Jan 10, 2014 11:40 am

volunteer wrote:I do notice that if a whole passage is in capitals I read far more slowly. But this is nothing to do with shape - just really to do with the fact that these are different symbols for letters and we get far less practice in reading upper case than lower case.
That's one of the reasons, but lower case letters differ more than capitals do because of their ascenders and descenders. The same is true of some designs of numerals, as explained in Comrie's preface to the Chambers "Six figure mathematical tables", published 1955. When editing this new publication, derived from 19th C. hand calculations, Comrie chose to continue with the old-style numerals, with ascenders and descenders (also known as "non-lining" or "text" figures), and reported that the proof checkers found them much easier to read than the numerals of constant height ("lining") that were already common in newspapers and advertising.

For this reason, I use the Georgia font for letters and web pages. The editor that I now use for writing computer programs, gedit, has a version of Georgia that clearly distinguishes the zero character ("0" in this font) from "o" and "O".
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by Lesley Drake » Fri Jan 10, 2014 12:03 pm

Debbie,

I think that is the best posting EVER!

You nailed it girl!

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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by geraldinecarter » Fri Jan 10, 2014 1:55 pm

Just read this and the TES piece. Wouldn't the debate open out if responses were put on the TES post ? These would reach a much wider audiene.

My only quibble with Debbie's excellent points is her statement that it's very, very rare for children to lift words from the page and be able to spell. I think that it's not that rare and that c. 60% of children to learn to read with very little instruction. If a school concentrates on reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, encouraging wide reading, paying attention to detail etc. introduces music and/or second language then the majority of this 60% will have good spelling before they leave primary school - that's what happens in schools that had this sort of discipline and high expectations even during times when there was little phonics teaching.

All children benefit from knowledge of alphabetic code, and c. 40% need a good deal of practice and around 10% need a huge amount of practice. Most of what Sue Cowley said takes no account of the dismal failure over the last decades but I am in sympathy with her statement:

Code: Select all

I worry that the balance between ‘learning how to read’ and ‘learning why we would want to read’ is tipping... the pleasure in reading comes out of rich, challenging, interesting stories, full of meaning.
I think we have a lot of bridges to cross to demonstrate that SSP is vital for many, and useful for everyone.

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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by Susan Godsland » Fri Jan 10, 2014 4:25 pm

Sue Cowley's blog posting brought this to mind:
When I come into contact with practising teachers and teaching assistants on the Sounds-Write literacy training courses, I am constantly coming up against people who think that their personal opinion, based on nothing but their practice and beliefs, has the same validity as research in the field of teaching reading and spelling.
According to Caroline Cox*, there are four principal grounds on which teachers justify their practices. They are: 'tradition (how it has always been done); prejudice (how I like it done); dogma (this is the 'right' way to do it and ideology (as required by the current orthodoxy).'
Unless and until the teacher training institutions educate student teachers in the importance of evidence-based practice, many teachers will continue to base many of our educational practices on mere whimsy.
*Quoted by David Hargreaves in his well known 1996 TTA lecture 'Teaching as a research-based profession: possibilities and prospects'.
http://literacyblog.blogspot.co.uk/2009 ... based.html

http://eppi.ioe.ac.uk/cms/Portals/0/PDF ... ecture.pdf

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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Fri Jan 10, 2014 6:36 pm

Geraldine wrote:
My only quibble with Debbie's excellent points is her statement that it's very, very rare for children to lift words from the page and be able to spell. I think that it's not that rare and that c. 60% of children to learn to read with very little instruction.
First of all, I think that my reference to 'very, very rare children' might have been misunderstood - I'm not talking about children who get plenty of experience from home, are articulate, and who partially deduce the code for themselves (over time) and partially get by through intelligent guesswork, but I'm referring to those children who may have some kind of 'ism' which is rare and which does not appear to involve any conscious or subconscious use of phonics at all.

But I don't even agree that 60% of children learn to read with very little instruction.

And of the children who appear to read with 'fluency and expression' many who do not get explicit phonics instruction tend to be those who read all the in between words inaccurately, and whose mature-sounding reading dupes the adult listener into thinking the child has good enough long-term skills - possibly because the child has apparent fluency, possibly expression and appears to get the gist of the text.

The profile of many of these children may be such that they are silent 'skippers' - substituting words that maintain the flow of the reading according to their spoken language.

But eventually, at least some of these children will 'skip' not to maintain fluency or because they don't even realise they have made many little errors, but because they do not have sufficient alphabetic code knowledge and blending skill to decode well enough new, longer and more challenging words.

At least some of these children will stall out at some point - which could be Key Stage Two or even at secondary school - and their teachers and parents may be totally unaware by this state of affairs.

There may also be a mis-match in their ability to spell well or write as ambitiously as they appear to read.

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Re: Sue Cowley blog: Cause for Concern

Post by john walker » Fri Jan 10, 2014 9:16 pm

And they ALL seem to be saying that some children should not be taught phonics if it doesn't suit them in some way or if they struggle with phonics they must need 'something else' (but it's the SAME alphabetic code they need to know for their lifelong reading and spelling skills).
:lol:

And that's it really! Spot on, Debbie.
If it's 'a bit hard to explain', as she says, and all rather indefinable, it's hard to see how it can be taught to others.
Quite, Jenny
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