maizie wrote:Thanks for your repy, elsiep.
Can I ask, have you read Diane McGuinness's more recent books, Language Development and Learning to Read (2005) and Early Literacy Instruction (2004)?
I've read Growing a Reader from Birth
, which didn't appear to change the message from 1997.
elsiep wrote:What I meant about how the brain works is explanations such as Diane McGuinness’s in “Why Children Can’t Read” about the development of phonemic awareness (pp.180-183). McGuinness conflates the ability to pre-consciously detect and discriminate between phonemes with the ability to do it consciously (phonemic awareness). The clue is in the word ‘awareness’. A good deal of sensory processing is pre-conscious. Our brains can detect, discriminate between and retain information but we remain largely unaware of the process involved - all we are aware of is the end product, being able to recognise language, objects etc. McGuinness is quite right that in order to acquire phonemic awareness most children have to be trained in it, but her account gives the impression that because babies discriminate between phonemes they must have had phonemic awareness. As far as I know, there’s no evidence that they do.
maizie wrote:I think we are quibbling about semantics here, i.e the precise meaning of 'aware'.
Cognition research is about precise meanings. Whether a process is conscious (you can introspect about it) or subconscious (you can't) or pre-conscious (you can introspect with a bit of practice) is quite important if you're talking about how people process information.
Checking through the chapters on speech perception in Language Development I note that she talks mostly about 'discrimination'. 'Awareness' only seems to come into the picture once it has been demonstrated that children can isolate single phonemes in words at about age 3 (Fox & Routh). She is also clear that infant phoneme discrimination is an unconscious process (as I recall she was in her first book, but perhaps you are reading it differently) and that it does have to be 'trained' in initial phonics based reading instruction because it is unconscious.
It's not unconscious, it's pre-conscious, that's the point. An unconscious process is one you're totally unaware of and can't be aware of, like hormone levels or blood pressure. If a process is pre-conscious, you are not normally aware of it happening but you can become aware of it; like artists looking at what they actually perceive not what they think they perceive, or children becoming aware of phonemes.
In Why Children Can't Read
, McGuinness says (pp.180-181)
"Infants' ability to discriminate (tell apart) speech sounds which are absent in their native language starts to disappear during the first year of life." In the next paragraph she tells us that an experiment by Tees & Werker showed it hasn't 'disappeared' at all and that "this shows the awareness of the phonemes in one's native language is permanently stored in the brain. Even if these sounds have never been heard since early childhood, they can be recovered with relative ease provided they are taught
. This means that everyone can be trained to become aware of the individual phonemes in his or her language." (emphasis McGuinness).
This isn't a coherent account of the research.
- -Either the discriminatory ability disappears or it doesn't.
-In the Tees & Werker experiments, native English speakers also developed the discriminatory ability in Hindi if they learned it for long enough.
-The experiments show that the discriminatory ability emerges if you learn the language, not just if you are taught it or taught the discriminations.
-None of this means that everyone can be trained to become aware of the individual phonemes in his or her language.
McGuinness says "Once the infant has learned which sounds of her language to notice..."(p.181)
To me, her account reads as if she thinks there are active processes involved throughout; in the infants' discriminatory ability and in the recovery of it after it has 'disappeared'. McGuinness might have revised her account since, but teachers are still using her 1997 version. Susan Godsland did this in her article about dyslexia in SEN Magazine. It was her article that first prompted me to read McGuinness.
elsiep wrote:A number of teachers I’ve encountered via social media subscribe to the ‘speech is natural, reading isn’t’ model based on the flimsiest of evidence. They usually overlook the amount of teaching that goes into learning to speak (even if parents don’t think of motherese and word games as ‘teaching’) and the fact that many children learn to read efficiently on the basis of very little teaching indeed.
maizie wrote:We've been over this one before, too!
Yes indeed. That doesn't make my observation any less true.
maizie wrote:Correct me if I am wrong but it seems to me that the imperative to communicate, (in which spoken language ultimately plays a significant role) is innate. My 11 month old grandson is able to communicate a great deal without any spoken language. Yes, children have to be taught their home language but the drive to communicate is innate. Even without adult input children would learn to communicate in some way.
We have no idea. Children generally want to communicate. We know that. It would be interesting to find out if it's an innate desire or whether it's one that develops. But I can't see why that distinction is important enough to justify speculating about it.
maizie wrote:Yet if you were to merely surround a child with books without any explanation, modelling of their use/purpose etc. I suggest that the child would not have any innate urge to do anything with them apart from indulge their infant desire to thoroughly explore any object they encounter.
There's been a lot of concern in education recently about the speech development of pre-schoolers. Parents stick their kids in front of the tv and don't talk with them enough, that sort of thing. It's widely accepted that good speech development requires the active input of parents and carers. We know speech doesn't happen if children don't hear speech. In effect, teachers are agreeing that speech isn't simply 'natural'. Speech, like most other skills emerges from an interaction between the child and their environment.
I can't see any reason to think that reading is any different. Yes, if you were to carry out your interesting but unethical experiment, children might never figure out by themselves what the books were for, but they wouldn't learn to speak by themselves either.
I don't understand why the 'speech is natural, reading isn't' distinction is considered valid or necessary, especially if it involves speculation about what's 'innate' or not. As for the idea of communication being an innate 'drive', that's a Freudian idea long since superseded. To give Freud credit, he was well aware that his ideas were speculative and were waiting for biology to confirm or disconfirm them.
I perfectly appreciate that humans are cognitively capable of learning to read; they are capable of an enormous variety of processes which are at a huge remove from the processes they originally needed to perform for basic survival. Of course anything a human does is a 'natural' process in that they exploit the capabilities of their neurological and physical makeup in order to perform them but it still seems to me to be perfectly legitimate to separate the instinctive & largely unconscious behaviours from the 'learned' behaviours and to label them 'natural' or 'unnatural' as a layperson's 'shorthand'.
Because the distinction is speculative. You're guessing which is which. If you want to do that as a layperson, that's up to you. But we're not talking about 'laypersons' here; we're talking about teachers using this distinction to frame their pedagogy and national educational policy. Once we venture into that territory we have an obligation to base the theory and practice on evidence, not guesswork.