Prof.Willingham's book on reading

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Susan Godsland
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Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by Susan Godsland » Tue Feb 03, 2015 3:28 pm

The wonderful Prof. Daniel Willingham has written a book about reading (published 1st April)

Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Raising-Kids-Wh ... 1118769724

There's a review here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/Karin-Che ... 98024.html
As important as the information in Why Kids Can't Read is, however, it felt stuck in the 1990s. I haven't heard the term "whole language" in a school in a long time, and most early elementary teachers know that they need to teach kids phonics in some kind of systematic way. The fact that fourth-grade reading has improved over the last decade indicates schools have at least begun to figure out early reading instruction.
Certainly, teachers have moved on from the hugely damaging whole language era of the 70s-80s-90s. What we have now, in nearly all schools, is a 'balanced approach' (US) or 'a range of strategies' (UK) with phonics being just one of a range of ways to decode words, the other 'ways' being various forms of guessing.

Willingham writes (p3) ''by around the fourth grade, most kids decode pretty well''

This is his evidence for that statement:
http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/readin ... -knowledge
In 2013, by 4th Grade, 65% of children were still reading below 'proficiency' level.

Sample questions used to assess reading - they tested comprehension, not decoding ability specifically.
http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/readin ... -questions

Of course there's a strong link between decoding and comprehension. As Willingham himself says, ''Students must be able to decode fluently before [comprehension] strategies can be effective'' http://www.aft.org//sites/default/files ... CogSci.pdf

It doesn't seem unreasonable to suggest that a significant percentage of the 65% of children with 'below proficiency level' comprehension scores were also poor decoders.

Older children's reading problems: discusses the '4th grade slump'.
Is it a knowledge gap, a decoding gap, or both?
http://nifdi.org/news-latest-2/blog-hem ... y-problems

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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by cartwheel » Thu Feb 05, 2015 2:00 am

I greatly admire Willingham's work, but his belief that ''by around the fourth grade, most kids decode pretty well'' has bothered me for some time now. I have found that even students who are performing between the 50th and the 80th percentiles on normed reading comprehension tests often have significant gaps in their decoding skills (no idea when "c" represents /s/; flumoxed by "y" in the middle of a word; somewhat surprised that "ch" can represent /sh/, e.g.). And the students below the 40th percentile often have large gaps in code knowledge and in blending & segmenting skills as well.

Jennie (U.S.)

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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by JIM CURRAN » Thu Feb 05, 2015 11:51 am

Thanks Susan,huge amount of research information here and I haven't read through it all yet but again and again the message is loud and clear,we must get reading instruction right from the beginning,remediation is not a substitute for prevention.

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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by moomintroll » Thu Feb 05, 2015 5:41 pm

Thank you for highlighting this Susan - I have just bought it and look forward to reading it. It seems the Kindle version is going to be out slightly sooner - on 9th March!

Anne :D

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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by john walker » Sat Feb 07, 2015 12:19 am

I have to say that I agree with Jenny (Cartwheel). Cognitive psychologists like Daniel Willingham and John Hattie, for whom I have the utmost respect, - that sounds rather cliched but I learn so much from their writing! -, are superb in the ways that they mediate important research, such as John Sweller's and Paul Kirschner's, but they aren't practitioners! And people who actually do the teaching will often find themselves, as they read their books, saying, yes, mmm, that's right... oh no, I don't agree with that!
I suspect I'm going to find the same when I read Willingham's new book. Knowledge and information is a sine qua non but if you can't decode...
I am currently teaching a fourteen-year-old buy who has very poor decoding skills. I've been teaching him for while but he commits all the errors you'd associate with mixed methods. When he's reading, from an encyclopaedia about animals, the number of errors makes meaning-finding very difficult. In addition, because he finds reading so difficult, he rarely reads anything because it's such a chore and, as a result, his general knowledge is appalling - i.e. he doesn't know what 'grazing' or 'cattle' means.
Catching up children like this is so very hard (as we all know) because the maladaptive practices are so ingrained. The problem lies in the kind of teaching they get in the early years.
John Walker
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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by chew8 » Sat Feb 07, 2015 11:16 am

I have slightly mixed feelings about this. My voluntary work has been mostly with Y3 children, who must be the equivalent of American 3rd-graders rather than 4th-graders, and of course I agree that some are very weak at decoding, but it is only some. When the full ability-range is considered, Willingham may be right that 'most' can decode 'pretty well'.

I would also want to unpick cartwheel's examples a bit. There are rules about when 'c' represents /k/ and /s/ respectively, but if I was taught this as part of the good phonics teaching I received at primary school, I don't remember it. I do remember 'hard and soft c' being mentioned, though, and I remember knowing that I might have to try both pronunciations, so that may have been what we were taught. In other cases, there may be no alternative to the trial-and-error approach on a first encounter in reading, even if one knows the alternatives - e.g. 'ea' (head/bead), 'ow' (now/snow), 'ou' (out/soul/soup/young) etc. This probably also applies to 'ch': because of the word 'school', most children would realise early on that 'ch' can represent /k/ - some might make correct deductions about 'chemist', 'scheme', 'chaos' etc., but others might need word-specific teaching. 'Chemist' occurs on one of the reading tests I use with Y3 children, and 'chaos' occurs on the other: it's quite common for good readers to read these words as starting with a /ch/ sound - I count this as wrong, but regard the children as lacking word-specific knowledge rather than as having a major decoding problem. Where 'ch' representing /sh/ is concerned, they might know 'chef', but I wouldn't expect them to read 'charlatan' correctly without word-specific teaching. I would also regard it as understandable if they needed help on a first encounter with 'machine'.

So I wouldn't under-estimate the importance of knowing the possibilities, and I think that this, plus a trial-and-error approach, is often enough in reading. It's not always enough, however, and that's where word-specific knowledge can be important. Word-specific knowledge is even more important for spelling, but even if it were possible for children to learn the spelling of 10 words a day throughout their time in school, they would not learn all the words they will ever need - good spellers must have absorbed much of their knowledge through reading. Having initially read 'chemist' and 'chef' with a /ch/ sound may then help with spelling.

Jenny C.

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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by Susan Godsland » Thu Feb 26, 2015 5:46 pm

There's an extract from Willingham's forthcoming book, in the TES tomorrow

https://news.tes.co.uk/b/tes-profession ... attle.aspx
“What sound do you associate with the letter 'p'?” Willingham asks. “You might think of it as 'puh' but that’s actually two sounds: the sound of the letter “p” and the vowel sound “uh”. The sound associated with the letter 'p' is actually just a plosion of air – your vocal chords don’t vibrate at all.

“And these individual speech sounds vary depending on the surrounding context. Try this: put your hand in front of your mouth and say 'pot'. You feel the puff of air when you say the 'p'. Now do the same thing saying 'spot'. The puff is stronger for pot than spot.

“So we talk about 'the sound the letter p makes' as if there were one sound associated with 'p', but that’s an abstraction, an ideal. Children who have trouble learning to read often have difficulty hearing individual speech sounds; children who more or less teach themselves to read hear them easily.”

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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by john walker » Sat Feb 28, 2015 10:21 am

I haven't read the 'taster' to Willingham's book in this week's TES yet and I'm looking forward to going out later and seeing if I can find a copy.
However, if the above quotation is anything to go by, we might have another case of an renowned expert in one field laying claim to expertise in another, because it is one thing to be highly knowledgeable about the way in which humans learn and quite another to know a great deal about the specificities of teaching reading. The following example is a case in point:
[quote]“So we talk about 'the sound the letter p makes' as if there were one sound associated with 'p', but that’s an abstraction, an ideal. Children who have trouble learning to read often have difficulty hearing individual speech sounds; children who more or less teach themselves to read hear them easily.”/quote]
Setting aside the fact that the spelling <p> doesn't make any sound at all and that it is an abstract symbol invented to represent a speech sound, all practitioners of good quality phonics programmes know that it is easy to teach children to be able to identify individual sounds in words. And, before people start writing to say that their particular child isn't able to do this, of course I concede that there are some (a very small percentage of) children out there who have extreme difficulty in isolating individual sounds. The fact is that, with good teaching, almost all children can.
/p/ is an abstraction at the kind of level of esoteric analysis of speech sounds Willingham seems to be talking about here. Yes, it is realised slightly differently in 'pot' and 'spot', but that doesn't mean it is more difficult to hear or that it is perceived as a different sound. For everyday teaching purposes it is easily and immediately identifiable to children being taught well. If, as I suspect, Willingham isn't a teacher of reading and spelling, he may not know this and I think he can't see the wood for the trees.
I hope that when I read the TES later today the article isn't full of similar misunderstandings.
John Walker
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http://literacyblog.blogspot.com

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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by john walker » Sat Feb 28, 2015 3:41 pm

So, now, several hours later, I've bought the paper and read the piece :smile: . What does Daniel Willingham have to say? Basically, that phonics is 'just one part of learning to read', that, in terms of balance, 'if the English language block of teaching is between 90 and 120 minutes, [he'd] hope to see 20 to 30 minutes devoted to phonics', that reading isn't 'natural' and thus must be taught, that phonics teaching should be undertaken in a 'planned and consistent way', and that 'every child does better with phonics'. What's not to like? :grin:
We may agree or disagree a bit with Willingham's emphasis - I hate the 'just' in 'just one part of learning to read' - but when he talks about 'balance', he doesn't mean guessing from illustrations, the shape of the word, the position of the word in the sentence. He simply means that we need to walk on both feet: teach decoding and teach lots of 'stuff' so that kids can understand what they're reading.
Anyway, that's how I read it... Now for the book!
John Walker
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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Sat Feb 28, 2015 6:08 pm

John said:
Setting aside the fact that the spelling <p> doesn't make any sound at all and that it is an abstract symbol invented to represent a speech sound, all practitioners of good quality phonics programmes know that it is easy to teach children to be able to identify individual sounds in words. And, before people start writing to say that their particular child isn't able to do this, of course I concede that there are some (a very small percentage of) children out there who have extreme difficulty in isolating individual sounds. The fact is that, with good teaching, almost all children can.

/p/ is an abstraction at the kind of level of esoteric analysis of speech sounds Willingham seems to be talking about here. Yes, it is realised slightly differently in 'pot' and 'spot', but that doesn't mean it is more difficult to hear or that it is perceived as a different sound. For everyday teaching purposes it is easily and immediately identifiable to children being taught well.
You are right, John. :grin:

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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by geraldinecarter » Sun Mar 01, 2015 2:05 pm

And, before people start writing to say that their particular child isn't able to do this, of course I concede that there are some (a very small percentage of) children out there who have extreme difficulty in isolating individual sounds. The fact is that, with good teaching, almost all children can.
I would second this. My estimate is that less than l% of children have severe difficulties in isolating sounds. A good systematic synthetic phonics programme tunes the ear, demonstrates the logic of the Code and allows sufficient practice for those who struggle.
we need to walk on both feet: teach decoding and teach lots of 'stuff' so that kids can understand what they're reading.
Beautifully expressed. Sometimes I think we have to emphasise this point over and over again ... and perhaps we don't do this because we take for granted that decoding is merely the first step on a quite subtle journey. It is foundational, therefore essential, but that doesn't negate comprehension, fluency, the root meanings of language and so on. Without firm foundations, too many children flounder and no-one appears to take responsibility.
I have to say that I agree with Jenny (Cartwheel). Cognitive psychologists like Daniel Willingham and John Hattie, for whom I have the utmost respect, - that sounds rather cliched but I learn so much from their writing! -, are superb in the ways that they mediate important research, such as John Sweller's and Paul Kirschner's, but they aren't practitioners! And people who actually do the teaching will often find themselves, as they read their books, saying, yes, mmm, that's right... oh no, I don't agree with that!
Daniel Willingham has been a beacon of light and his underestimation of the problem of poor decoders is painful....
/p/ is an abstraction at the kind of level of esoteric analysis of speech sounds Willingham seems to be talking about here. ..For everyday teaching purposes it is easily and immediately identifiable to children being taught well. If, as I suspect, Willingham isn't a teacher of reading and spelling, he may not know this and I think he can't see the wood for the trees.
I would second this. The problem has never arisen in my practice.

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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by Susan Godsland » Wed Mar 18, 2015 12:40 pm

Latest (spring) issue of American Educator includes an extensive piece from Willingham's book:

For the Love of Reading
Engaging Students in a Lifelong Pursuit
By Daniel T. Willingham

http://www.aft.org/ae/spring2015/willingham

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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by Susan Godsland » Fri Apr 10, 2015 6:03 pm

Another review of Willingham's book:

http://www.washingtonindependentreviewo ... ers-can-do
But it’s comprehension that may be the most complicated aspect of reading. As Willingham persuasively argues, reading comprehension is heavily dependent on a reader’s pre-existing knowledge and vocabulary. Just think about what it’s like to read a document that includes a lot of unfamiliar words and references, such as this abstract of an article in a scientific journal.

The book contains a brilliant illustration of the idea that reading comprehension isn’t a skill in the sense that learning to hit a baseball is. You can get better at baseball by repeatedly practicing strategies such as keeping your eye on the ball, Willingham notes. But understanding a text is more like “putting together a piece of furniture you bought at Ikea.” That is, whether you can understand a passage depends on its specifics.

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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by Susan Godsland » Sat May 09, 2015 9:35 am

https://gregashman.wordpress.com/2015/0 ... t-already/
I wasn’t at researchED New York but I understand that Dan Willingham gave a talk about how to convince people. No doubt, this has been informed by the interactions that he has had following his well-publicised views on the lack of evidence for learning-styles theories. However, it has been reported that he suggests that some battles are not worth fighting. He also takes a perhaps tactical line in his new book about reading. Whilst arguing for what is pretty much a systematic synthetic phonics approach, he also suggests that there are good aspects to be harvested from whole language approaches to learning.

I worry about this. The concept of balance in the teaching of reading has become shorthand for the use of multiple cuing strategies that involve all of the whole-language approaches such as guessing from context – including pictures – and guessing from the place of a word in sentence. It is commonly suggested that these should be tried first before resorting to very limited phonics strategies such as looking at the first sound in a word. Indeed, parents are often advised not to engage in the phonics component at all. This is not a good way to teach reading if for no other reason than it provides extremely limited practice of phonics. Remember, phonics is the proven technique and not multiple cuing (see national inquiries from Australia, the UK and the US).

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Re: Prof.Willingham's book on reading

Post by Susan Godsland » Mon May 18, 2015 5:20 pm

There's a smart review of Willingham's book on Amazon. I bet it's written by an RRFer!
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Raising-Kids-Wh ... willingham
What a shame, then, that this book is badly let down by the poor section on teaching children to decode (i.e., master the basic mechanics of reading). Given that Dr. Willingham is all about the data, I was pretty shocked to see him advocating "balanced literacy" for teaching reading. rather than systematic synthetic phonics. Honestly, the data showing that synthetic phonics is by far the best and most effective way of teaching reading is now so overwhelming that the advocates of "mixed methods" and "balanced literacy" are increasingly starting to sound like vaccine deniers.

Dr. Willingham seems to completely underestimate the number of children with basic decoding issues and the extent to which feeble and illogical reading methods are contributing to this. I actually gasped audibly at his statement that "But by age eleven, everyone, including the late starters, is a good decoder": Dr. Willingham, a large minority of children still cannot decode properly at age 11 and later, as any secondary teacher could have told you!

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