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Synthetic Phonic Myths

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 5:44 pm
by Susan Godsland
So many myths about synthetic phonics that we collected some of them here:
  • Is already ‘at the heart of the NLS’

    Is old fashioned, dull and boring ‘drill’

    Is not developmentally appropriate for under-5s.

    Trains children to ‘bark at print’ with no comprehension

    Not appropriate for children with a strong visual or kinaesthetic ‘learning style’.

    As part of ‘natural development’ children see words as wholes at first, then onset and rhyme and, finally, individual letters, so teaching must follow this order too.

    Only advocated by child-hating, conservative ideologues.

    Scripted programmes don’t allow individual teachers to make their own professional judgments.

    Excludes exposure to other literature.

    English spelling is too irregular to use phonics.

    Most teachers are already using SP and have always done so.

    Phoneme awareness training is necessary before children access print.

    Too formal and prescriptive for young children

    Not been tested properly or thoroughly enough

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 6:16 pm
by Judy
' just the latest swing of the pendulum, which will most probably swing back the other way just when the poor teachers have got used to it'.

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 6:42 pm
by elsy
I would go further than
Excludes exposure to other literature.
and say

Denies books to beginning readers.

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 6:54 pm
by maizie
......turns children off reading.

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 7:31 pm
by bwking
...Is specifically too demanding for kids with 'deprived backgrounds', ie in inner city schools, especially boys and extra-specially, black boys.

Ignores the fact that MEANING relevant to the kids' environment is the right priority for their self-directed efforts at literacy.

Is being promoted mainly by people with a vested commercial interest in textbook and reader sales.


Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 9:51 pm
by Lesley Drake
Is being pushed by an unbalanced bunch of phonics phundamentalists who are arguing over how many angels are on the head of a pin.

Is opposed by the voice of academic reason.

Is not suitable for EAL children.

Goes against the government's personalised learning agenda, promoting as it does, teaching whole groups of children the same thing at the same time.

Doesn't promote segmenting and therefore creates a failure rate which other paradigm shift programmes don't get.

Why did I think we'd only need ten top myths?

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 10:50 pm
by Lesley Drake
Apologies if this makes the page go all skwiffy. ... 6#Post2642

Scroll down, averting your gaze as you go past Dolfrog until you get to

fonically challenged a lovely little gem from someone called G Watts, a reading recovery teacher, Primary Literacy co-ordinator, ex-Ofsted registered inspector and Primary head Teacher.

How many myths can you spot, eagle-eyed ones? (if my link works.)

Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 10:55 pm
by Lesley Drake
I find the statement "phonics (as first strategy)" in Core areas of learning in literacy needs careful definition. Synthesising every word in early reading is very damaging to early readers. As a Reading Recovery teacher I came across many children who had been led to believe that "sounding it out" was what reading was about and were hopelessly lost because of it. Some even attempted to "sound out" high frequency words that could not be synthesised phonetically even though they knew what the word said! Initial phonemes are very powerful in narrowing a reader's choice of words predicted from the meaning of the text. A full sythesising of a word should only be resorted to if other cues do not produce a meaningful result. It is getting to the MEANING of the written code that is important not the decoding in isolation. Phonics are very misleading anyway in that it is impossible to split a word up into its component letter sounds. Syllables can be separated but not letters. This can be shown with a recording - there are no breaks where you can cut a word into its parts, apart from syllable boundaries. What we need to teach are links between "stretched" sounds in words so that children can associate a grapheme with the stretched sound that they can hear. To focus a child on phonics alone is a retrograde step in the teaching of reading and I despair that the Rose Report is being used by the Government and the back to basics lobby to impose simplistic dogma not based on any empirical study. Although the searchlights model was not fully understood it is a pity that it has been dropped as it did at least show that readers need to orchestrate cues from several areas when getting to the MEANING of what they are reading. May we be delivered from a new wave of Gay Way reading with all its meaningless unnatural texts that make real reading a farce. Have we learned nothing from the pendulum swings caused by reactionary camps of the past? Let's take the holistic approach and learn from all the insights gained from the teaching of reading over the last 30 years (G Watts, Reading Recovery teacher,Primary Literacy Co-ordinator, ex-OFSTED registered inspector, Primary Headteacher.)

Posted: Sun Mar 12, 2006 1:05 am
by g.carter
'All children are different and need different approaches...' was constantly trotted out to me.

Where, I repeat, are the critics pointing to the success of their mixed methods - not with the 70%-80% who learn to read without much trouble just by getting the practice in, but the remainder - they are being marginalised beyond belief by those who want to keep the status quo.

Posted: Sun Mar 12, 2006 11:21 am
by ealteacher
re 'barking at print'
My class of new to English children who have no literacy in first language are just beginning to read on Ruth Miskin's programme.
Problem is of course that there is a discrepancy between their ability to decode words and their understanding of the language in the text.
Which allows other teachers to trot out the phrase 'barking at print' which then of course (unless you have a firm understanding of coding and have a position of authority) opens the way to the programme being undermined.
Has anyone got any good ways to counter 'barking at print' (it always sounds so smug to me) but good ways which would be powerful against this ultimately weakening argument.
Pat Oxley-Wakefield (ealteacher)

Posted: Sun Mar 12, 2006 11:28 am
by Susan Godsland
There is this quote from Stanovich, found in RRF newsletter 50 p8.
'There is no research evidence indicating that decoding a known word into a phonological form often takes place without meaning extraction. To the contrary, a substantial body of evidence indicates that even for young children, word recognition automatically leads to meaning activation..when the meaning of the word is adequately established in memory.

Posted: Sun Mar 12, 2006 12:41 pm
by maizie

Re 'barking at print'.

I can 'read' aloud a passage of French text, with a reasonable approximation of the correct pronunciation, because I know, from my dim & distant 'O'Level studies, how the French Alphabetic Code works. I don't understand/know the meaning of more than about one word in 6, and I struggle with syntax & grammar. This is because I don't have a working knowledge of the 'meaning' of French words.

Surely your children are in the same boat? They will only attach meaning to words that are already in their (limited) oral English vocabulary. Developing their expressive language skills shouldn't be confused with teaching them to decode.

Would they get 'meaning' from the words any better if they were taught them as sight words?

I would give the 'barking at print' brigade a passage of French (or a language that they don't speak), or, better still, a language written in cyrillic script, and ask them precisely how they would go about extracting 'meaning' from it without either being able to read the words (in the case of cyrillic) or knowing what they mean (in the case of the unknown language).

The other thing is to tell them very firmly that you cannot extract 'meaning' from the squiggles on the page until you know precisely what word the squiggles represent. The chances are that the children couldn't even 'predict' meaning from context because they wouldn't 't know what the context words meant either!

This is such unbelieveably sloppy and illogical thinking. They are only trotting out phrases parrot fashion without thinking about what they really mean. When you come across the identical 'barking at print' phrase in a Dfes booklet, as I did in the Dfes Guidance on Miscue Analysis;
Of the two readers, the first was more proficient. This is not because of the number of miscues but the kind of miscues. By examining the miscues of the first reader we know that s/he searches for meaning. S/he is not just ‘barking’ at print, i.e. either reading word for word, decoding as s/he goes,(this is really interesting - it implies that barking at print is seen purely as decoding, and worse, reading every word (!), seemingly not to be encouraged, rather than decoding without comprehension, which is an entirely different situation. m.)
you realise that you're up against some very powerful indoctrination!

In other words, they're BARKING :D

Posted: Sun Mar 12, 2006 12:45 pm
by Judy
Purely anecdotally, I think you only have to see the different expressions on a child's face when they have decoded a word which is within their spoken vocabulary and a nonsense word, or one which is not within their spoken vocabulary, to confirm that the above is true!

Posted: Mon Mar 13, 2006 7:49 am
by ealteacher
thanks Susan, Judy and Maizie.
In the case of new to English and Literacy children especially when they arrive at secondary level, I don't see that we can do anything other than teach the code as quickly as possible. It is probably inevitable that they will not understand some or most of what they are reading.
It is also probably inevitable that they will not understand some or most of their national curriculum lessons also.
Is it too easy to say it comes with the territory?
What is the alternative?
Pat O

Posted: Sat Mar 25, 2006 3:38 pm
by Lesley Drake
Michael Rosen never fails to disappoint: how many SP myths can be spotted in his latest letter to the Grauniad?

Friday, 24th March

John Bald ( Letters, March 22nd ) and other defenders know full well that if a drug were to be administered to children with the paucity of evidence thrown up by the experiment that synthetic phonics was put through, there'd be injunctions against it. The conclusions drawn from the experiment fall down on the basis of the cardinal sin of any research: they failed to compare like with like. The conditions under which the children were given the programme were not held constant and will not be replicated in all the other schools where synthetic phonics will now be taught. Meanwhile, we know one thing: schools are now places where less and less time is spent reading and listening for pleasure. For those children who have parents who give them that enjoyment, it matters, but not terribly. For the rest, books are that thing you do where you have to answer boring questions about adjectives and character.

Michael Rosen

He can't bear even to name Clackmannanshire such is his distain for it, yet he fails to list the superior research to support the position of maintaining the status quo of mixed methods. Seems whole language doesn't need to justify itself in the eyes of the progs.

Then he seems to blame the status quo for making schools into places where reading is all about dissecting extracts of novels and boring the pants off children. But Michael, you can't have it both ways. The NLS is all about "doing comprehension" because that's what all the whole language lovers like...making meaning from text, analyzing it and so on. Can't blame synthetic phonics for that.

And lastly the patronising bit about working class parents. It doesn't actually say wc of course. I'm using my inferential skill and making meaning here base on my knowledge of the prog mind-set.

I bet he had to answer a few boring questions himself while taking his finals at university. Hasn't put him off reading though, has it?

I feel another "Bah! Humbug!" coming on Michael.