'Other strategies' for word identification

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maizie
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'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by maizie » Thu Jan 01, 2015 12:16 pm

There seems to be a bit of a focus on 'other strategies' for word identification at the moment!

Gordon Askew has just posted an excellent blog on the topic of 'guessing' words from context:

'Your guess is(n't) as good as mine'

http://ssphonix.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/ ... ne_31.html

(All Gordon's blog posts are well worth reading :grin: )

While, from another forum comes this post by Dr Steven Dykstra, psychologist and founding member of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition. (Reproduced by permission of the author)

I find this a very memorable image:

"It appears to me that the dominant approach to reading instruction does not rest not upon any established science of reading, but rather floats over a great, gaping hole with no science or data to support it."

People have called for a scholarly discussion, let's see if we can have one. That will depend, of course, on whether there is any scholarship on the other side of this debate.

Can anyone who uses or supports the use of guessing cues offer any data from any source that shows teaching those strategies improves reading in any way?

This isn't a rhetorical question. It is an important inquiry on a matter of central importance to education. It is reasonable to expect a response. I believe the systematic avoidance of this issue is at the heart of our national inability to improve literacy.

We've had two national, scholarly reviews which addressed the role of phonics and other decoding skills in reading. There were other major reviews reviews and analyses going back almost 50 years which did much the same thing. All of them had very much the same findings. In that same time there hasn't been so much as one study, much less a review, to even consider the contribution of guessing strategies to reading and reading development. Guessing has been associated with poor reading, but those weren't studies of the consequences of teaching the strategy, only descriptions of how children attempt to read.

In spite of this, the practice of teaching children to guess at words has dominated reading instruction for over 40 years in this nation. Even as more and more teachers incorporate direct instruction of phonics and related skills, they most often do so in combination, or "balance", with guessing strategies, leaving emerging readers to decide for themselves which strategy they should use each time they come to a difficult word, and offering no guidance for that decision. Our best evidence indicates we're teaching children to mimic the poorest readers and hoping they figure out a better way, later, more or less on their own.

In order to support the practice of guessing, professors and various well known reading gurus have taught a series of well known falsehoods about reading which, if they were true, would make the use of guessing strategies both rational and necessary. These include the claim that only 50% of English is decodeable using phonics, that skilled readers don't look at all the letters, and skilled readers often use guessing strategies to identify words. There are many more.

It appears to me that the dominant approach to reading instruction does not rest not upon any established science of reading, but rather floats over a great, gaping hole with no science or data to support it.

Once again, can anyone offer any evidence to support those strategies, or to challenge my thesis? I think that's a worthy question. And if there is no evidence, have we reached the point that these practices should be eliminated from education and the people who practice them retrained to follow better, more effective methods?

Steve Dykstra, PhD
Psychologist
http://www.wisconsinreadingcoalition.org/

elsiep
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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by elsiep » Fri Jan 02, 2015 10:11 am

  • maizie wrote:There seems to be a bit of a focus on 'other strategies' for word identification at the moment!

    While, from another forum comes this post by Dr Steven Dykstra, psychologist and founding member of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition. (Reproduced by permission of the author)

    In order to support the practice of guessing, professors and various well known reading gurus have taught a series of well known falsehoods about reading which, if they were true, would make the use of guessing strategies both rational and necessary. These include the claim that only 50% of English is decodeable using phonics, that skilled readers don't look at all the letters, and skilled readers often use guessing strategies to identify words. There are many more...

    Steve Dykstra, PhD
    Psychologist
    http://www.wisconsinreadingcoalition.org/
    I'm aware that the piece by Steve Dykstra might have been taken out of context, but he apparently fails to make a distinction between the strategies skilled readers use and the most effective strategies for teaching novices to read. It's a crucial distinction because what the 'professors and various well known reading gurus' have claimed is broadly correct.

    - A substantial proportion of English words are not unambiguously decodable using phonics - that's self-evident.
    - Skilled readers do not look at all the letters - clear from decades of studies of reading errors.
    - Skilled readers do use what might be described as 'guessing' strategies in that they use multiple cues to decode when reading.

    It doesn't follow that the best way to teach novices to read is to teach them to mimic skilled readers' strategies.

    Nor does it follow that because the best way to teach novices to read is by using systematic synthetic phonics, that skilled readers use SSP when reading.


    elsiep

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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by JIM CURRAN » Fri Jan 02, 2015 6:18 pm

According to a major computer study of 17,000 words (Charlton,1989) no less than 84% of the words were spelled according to a regular pattern,and only 3% were so unpredictable that they would have to be
learned by memorisation.

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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by maizie » Fri Jan 02, 2015 8:05 pm

elsiep wrote:Skilled readers do use what might be described as 'guessing' strategies in that they use multiple cues to decode when reading.
I have always taken 'guessing' to mean that you don't have a clue as to what the correct choice is and you just plump for something. Your statement seems to imply that you assign a quite different meaning to the word.

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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by elsiep » Fri Jan 02, 2015 8:50 pm

maizie wrote:
elsiep wrote:Skilled readers do use what might be described as 'guessing' strategies in that they use multiple cues to decode when reading.
I have always taken 'guessing' to mean that you don't have a clue as to what the correct choice is and you just plump for something. Your statement seems to imply that you assign a quite different meaning to the word.
I'd be prepared to bet that using multiple cues is what Steve Dykstra's professors are referring to.


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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by maizie » Fri Jan 02, 2015 9:19 pm

I admit that I interpret 'multiple cues' as our old friends 'guessing from context, pictures and initial letters' to aid word identification. I'd also assume that, as he is in the US, the 'professors' he references are probably in the Frank Smith/Ken Goodman 'psychlinguistic guessing game' mould.

But if you'd clarify just what you mean by 'multiple cues' it would help. We may well be talking at cross purposes.

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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by elsiep » Fri Jan 02, 2015 9:56 pm

Skilled readers use multiple visual & auditory cues to decode words. Cues include letters that look similar, words that are a similar shape or begin with the same sound pattern, sounds that sound similar, context, illustrations etc.

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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by maizie » Fri Jan 02, 2015 10:17 pm

Ah. The psycholinguistic guessing game?

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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by kenm » Sat Jan 03, 2015 3:34 am

elsiep wrote:Skilled readers use multiple visual & auditory cues to decode words. Cues include letters that look similar, words that are a similar shape or begin with the same sound pattern, sounds that sound similar, context, illustrations etc.
This (unskilled?*) reader has an internal voice that sounds the letters. The sounds usually become words in my spoken vocabulary. If not, I can sometimes deduce a meaning from the morphology combined with a smattering of latin and greek. Letters that look similar but are not are a hurdle to be overcome (I recall meeting some unfamiliar orthography when transcribing 16th C. lute tablature as an undergraduate exercise). Syntax usually distinguishes homographs; context is sometimes necessary for this purpose. I can't map what I do onto what you describe.

* I am one of the slower readers in my immediate family, at c. 300 words/minute on light reading. Scientific American goes a bit or a lot slower, depending on the familiarity or novelty of the subject, with breaks from the main text to peruse their excellent, heavily annotated illustrations and rereading of earlier text to remind me of definitions and the elaboration of abbreviations.
"... 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: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by chew8 » Sat Jan 03, 2015 9:30 am

I, too, can't map what I feel I'm doing when I read on to what elsiep describes. For starters, hardly any of what I read has illustrations, and I can't be using those if they're not there. The fact that I can read words in isolation suggests that I don't make much use of context to identify words when I'm reading running text, though I accept that I do use context to decide on pronunciation in the case of homographs (e.g. 'wind') and meaning in the case of homophones (e.g. 'main'/'mane') - but most of the words I read are not homographs or homophones.

This is not the sort of thing that people usually mean when they advocate encouraging young children to use context for word-identification, however. An example that has always stuck in my mind was on a National Literacy Strategy video. A weak reader hesitated over the word 'soft', then started sounding it out- before she could finish, the adult interrupted and said 'What would make sense?' In fact the context wasn't at all helpful in this instance - the child's chances of identifying the word by sounding it out were vastly better than her chances of getting it from the context.

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by elsiep » Sat Jan 03, 2015 10:38 am

Whether or not individuals can map what they are aware of doing as they read onto the phenomena I've described, is beside the point. Individuals vary in the strategies they employ. Also because reading is an automated process for most adults, it's difficult for us to introspect with any accuracy on what mechanisms we are actually using.

What I listed was what cognitive researchers found when they were trying to figure out what skilled readers actually did when they were reading. Those findings emerged over a number of years and clearly informed the strategies widely advocated for teaching novice readers that Steve Dykstra refers to.

The mistake the advocates made was to assume that novices learn best by mimicking the strategies used by experts. It's a common error, still being made in education and training and not just in relation to learning to read.

The fact that mimicking what experts do isn't the best way for novices to learn, doesn't mean that skilled readers don't use those strategies. There's a vast amount of research revealing that they do - as a group, that is.

Individuals do deviate from group averages, but that doesn't negate the research findings about general principles.


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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by chew8 » Sat Jan 03, 2015 11:07 am

I agree that once reading is automatic it's very difficult to introspect on what one is doing.

I'd find it helpful, however, to have some references for articles explaining 'what cognitive researchers found when they were trying to figure out what skilled readers actually did when they were reading'.

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by maizie » Sat Jan 03, 2015 11:37 am

chew8 wrote:I'd find it helpful, however, to have some references for articles explaining 'what cognitive researchers found when they were trying to figure out what skilled readers actually did when they were reading'
I agree, Jenny.

We could start with Stanovich & West, in the 1970s,(reported in 'Progress in Understanding Reading') who found that skilled readers depended mostly on phonological cues when reading.

No doubt there is more up to date work on this.

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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by chew8 » Sat Jan 03, 2015 11:57 am

What makes Stanovich and West doubly interesting is that they started out believing that skilled readers relied a lot on context but their own research forced them to realise that this assumption had been wrong.

Jenny C.

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Re: 'Other strategies' for word identification

Post by elsiep » Sat Jan 03, 2015 2:46 pm

chew8 wrote:I agree that once reading is automatic it's very difficult to introspect on what one is doing.

I'd find it helpful, however, to have some references for articles explaining 'what cognitive researchers found when they were trying to figure out what skilled readers actually did when they were reading'.

Jenny C.
I'd strongly recommend investing in Snowling & Hulme's "The Science of Reading" as a resource. The first five chapters are on word recognition. Chapter 3 by Stephen J Lupker is a good review of the findings related to visual word recognition.

You can get a feel for the extent of the research from the Google books preview http://is.gd/D5Ksv9

Otherwise, try searching <<word recogition>> on Google scholar.

Also, Max Coltheart would have a reading list, I'm sure.

If I can think of a review paper that's online, I'll let you know.

elsiep

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