Cartwheel - in reply to Susan Godsland 19.5.09 thread :
I feel compelled to respond to some particulars of Johnson's argument, in part because so many parents like myself, who are enamored with all that is "natural," often think that learning to read is a natural developmental process. I thought so too, until my dd struggled to learn to read (a situation which I rectified with code-based instruction).
Johnson does not cite actual scientific research or any sources of the ideas she presents in the body of her articles. She is calling herself the expert, based on personal observation. I looked at Johnson's Resources section. She doesn't include one single reading researcher there. Not one. Steiner (as in Waldorf Schooling) was not a reading researcher. I love much about Waldorf Schools. (TV: Avoid it. Creative play: Encourage it....) But reading written language is NOT natural. Written language is a human creation, and alphabetic language is a recent invention.
Regarding Johnson's list of symptoms showing lack-of-readiness for schooling, I suspect that there are many children with those "symptoms" who have difficulty learning to read. I also suspect that there are lots of children without those symptoms who have difficulty learning to read. A good 20-40% of children have difficulty. That number has been reduced to under 5% in schools using synthetic phonics and no other "strategies" for reading unfamiliar words. A number of reading researchers also estimate that the figure is about 5%. (Lyons. Shaywitz, etc.)
The ability to print and match a particular sound to a specific letter (phonics) in children is predominately a left-sided (analytic) brain activity. Developmentally, the left side of the brain doesn't fully start to develop or myelinate until ages 7 to 9 years.
The brain is plastic. It continues to develop over our whole lifetime. How it develops is very much connected to the environment and to the teaching/modeling that goes on.
When we teach children to read or write at an earlier age, we stress their mind and their body. I see countless children in my practice with headaches and stomachaches that miraculously disappear when they are taken out of an "academic" kindergarten or given an extra year in a developmental kindergarten that emphasizes movement.
I would get headaches if I were being taught to read via a list of 5-10 strategies, none of which were likely to help me learn to read accurately and fluently.
When we teach our children to read or write too early we force them to use the right side (hemisphere) of their brain. The right hemisphere is more intuitive and looks at the whole of things so the child usually has to guess at what the word could be without being able to easily sound it out.
Throughout her articles on reading and writing, Johnson ignores the method of teaching. The multi-cueing/balanced literacy/whole language approach actually teaches children to read and spell using the right side of the brain, just as if they were learning an ideographic written language. The best way to ensure that the connections are made in the left side of the brain is to teach the reading of an alphabetic language via a "grapheme-phoneme mapping" approach, not a whole word nor meaning-oriented approach. The brains of Chinese readers change when they learn to read an alphabetic language. (Perfetti, et al.) The brains of dyslexics change when taught with systematic phonics. (Shaywitz) I highly recommend Diane McGuinness' book, Why Our Children Can't Read, for her discussion of the various types of written languages. (It is often recommend on this message board for other reasons as well.)
So, Johnson insists that children shouldn't be guessing words; they should be sounding them out. Yet the predominate method of reading instruction in my locale includes telling students to "guess" and drilling students to learn "sight words" as wholes. All the examples she gives (e.g. seeing "bule" and "blue" the same) are actually symptoms of BL/WL/multi-cueing teaching, not of code-based instruction. I don't think this pediatrician has a clue about the type of reading instruction that goes on, and the type of reading instruction that rarely goes on in our schools.
Often the development of the proprioceptive system (sense of the body in space), vestibular system (muscle tone, balance, speech articulation, eye tracking, and convergence) as well as bilateral integration of the right and left cerebral hemispheres are compromised or blocked when children experience a c-section birth, suction forceps delivery, pitocin to stimulate labor, prolonged labor, or a very fast delivery.
I suspect that the vast majority of births now include one or more of the above. I will venture to guess that over 90% of births in the U.S. include at least one of the above. Virtually every parent of every child who is finding it difficult to learn to read can see this list as pertaining to them. But virtually every parent of every child who does not have difficulty learning to read can also see their situation here.
Please contribute past postings from the message board that you have have found particularly inspiring.
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