Fluency

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elf
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Fluency

Post by elf »

The Y1 class I taught last year have moved on to their new teacher. She is complaining that some of the children in the lower half of the class are not reading fluently. I have taught them to decode words so that is their main strategy. They can all decode well but sometimes they will still sound out words. When they do I ask them to read the sentence again. She maintains that if they are not reading fluently, they are not reading.

I do understand what she is saying but the children do understand the text so surely they are reading. I am sure they are much better readers than they would have been if I had used other methods. Is there something I should be doing to improve fluency?

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite »

This is a very good question.

There are cases when children can sound out when they don't need to because they think they ought to or because they've developed an automatic habit of souding out even if they could remember the word and just say it.

This is not necessarily what you are describing in your circumstances.

If children do seem to be stuck at the stage of unnecessary sounding out and never moving forwards with recognising words, then sometimes it can simply be a case of having a chat with them to explain how they might sound out 'in their heads silently' when they don't recognise a word, and stop sounding out where they do recognise a word and don't need to do it.

It's surprising sometimes how children can take us so very literally and not realise that they are 'allowed' or 'able' to get on to the next level of skill.

Otherwise, it is practice, practice, practice in blending (and building up code knowledge) which improves fluency.

But also, oral comprehension skills can also make a difference. So, a reader who is reading a book at the right level in terms of both decoding and comprehension has a greater chance of sounding 'fluent' than one who is struggling with decoding and/or understanding the material.

You are absolutely right to persist with synthetic phonics and don't let anyone put doubt in your mind.

Sometimes, I think, the tendency of teachers may be to give the reader text level material and to stop giving word level material as well.

I think there is a place for all levels of reading.

There is continuing to learn about each letters/-sound correspondence - which is often neglected beyond simple code.

Then there is the practice of blending at word level with a cumulative word bank.

And then there is decoding sentences and text. Re-reading this if necessary can be a good way of building up fluency.

Keep confident.

JIM CURRAN
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Subject

Post by JIM CURRAN »

Hi Elf, you are doing a great job. That’s what all the research says and that’s also what my own experience of teaching older poor readers also confirms. Accuracy comes first and then fluency which takes lots and lots of practice. The reason that some children are not fluent is because they are still practicing their code skills.

The year 2 teacher should consider herself very fortunate, if like me the children came to her in year 8 with limited accuracy and no fluency because they had been taught to read by a mixture of methods with an emphasis on guessing then she might have something to complain about.

Research by Linnea Ehri ( 2004 ) clearly demonstrates that words can only become “sight words” through the phonological route and this is the case even for so called irregular words. The memorisation of words encouraged by whole language advocates only lead to overload and confusion.
Sight word reading is what your children are aiming for and it is what you are preparing them for by using a synthetic phonics methodology. When you teach the alphabetic code in a structured and systematic way you are laying down the foundations for fluency, automaticity and good comprehension.

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maizie
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Post by maizie »

There was a theory that somehow there was a 'finite' amount of processing involved in 'reading' and that if too much of it was taken up with 'decoding', then there would not be enough processing 'power' left for 'making meaning'. This is often used to denigrate the teaching of decoding. I don't think it is a valid theory, though I can't point you at the 'disproof' of it :sad:

I do know that I work with 2 boys who decode a story word by word, but are more than capable of keeping up a simultaneous critique/commentary on what they are reading. So they are understanding perfectly well, despite the word by word decoding.

I expect your colleague is doing what so many people seem to do; confusing the characteristics of a 'skilled reader' with the necessary skills/conditions for skilled reading (if you see what I mean :???: )

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Post by JIM CURRAN »

“There is no research evidence indicating that decoding an 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 decoding automatically leads to meaning activation ( Ehri, 1977; Stanovich, 1986b ) when meaning of the word is adequately established in memory.” ( Stanovich, Progress In Understanding Reading page 395 )

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Peter Warner
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Re: Subject

Post by Peter Warner »

JIM CURRAN wrote:Research by Linnea Ehri ( 2004 ) clearly demonstrates that words can only become “sight words” through the phonological route and this is the case even for so called irregular words. The memorisation of words encouraged by whole language advocates only lead to overload and confusion.
Sight word reading is what your children are aiming for and it is what you are preparing them for by using a synthetic phonics methodology. When you teach the alphabetic code in a structured and systematic way you are laying down the foundations for fluency, automaticity and good comprehension.
That's powerful stuff, Jim, and it raises a question I hope you can help me with.

1) Question

Words can only become 'sight words' through the phonological route simply because alphabetic text is a phonic code: by definition and design, that's how an English speaker is limited to perceive it. So Tommy spots the 'd' at the front of a short word, and he shouts 'dog!' because the picture on the page has a dog. Some might say he responds to a sight word, but it still depended on his phonic perception of the initial grapheme 'd'.

When Japanese children learn kanji, there is no phonic element in most of the initial characters they are taught (there are phonic elements in most kanji). They learn by direct instruction and memory the way to pronounce those basic stroke patterns. This would seem to be a true non-phonetic image-based 'sight word' procedure.

NOW, when children who are unfamiliar with the English language and English language sounds encounter English text, wouldn't it be possible for them to adopt the same sight word strategy as they do with kanji? That is, memorize the letter pattern, without perceiving the underlying phonic code? Many primer flash card sets even have the text under the image in upper case, further reducing the easy perception of phonic information. Further, these words are often introduced to the foreign language students without any reference to phonic anything- they are pumped out just like kanji patterns.

Of course the results are disastrous, but what I'm asking is if English text words could be memorized as stroke patterns without regard to phonic perception, if the student was unfamiliar with the phonic content conveyed by the code itself. Didn't dolphins learn to recognize some words? Of course, true sight memorization is a severe limitation, something less that 2,000 words (McGuinness).


2) Request
Research by Linnea Ehri ( 2004 )
Can you provide a link to that please? I've got constant arguments with colleagues down here who are committed to Whole Language methods and materials, and so I'd love to get my hands on precisely this kind of research. Ultimately, what it tells me is that there is no such thing as an image-only sight word (to a native reader). I've argued precisely that from a common sense viewpoint, but it would be nice to have documentation as well.

3) Comment
“There is no research evidence indicating that decoding an 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 decoding automatically leads to meaning activation ( Ehri, 1977; Stanovich, 1986b ) when meaning of the word is adequately established in memory.” ( Stanovich, Progress In Understanding Reading page 395 )
Wow. What that tells me is IF the word is part of an acquired SPOKEN vocabulary of the reader, accurate decoding will automatically lead to accurate identification and comprehension. The key issue for a foreign language teacher is then to keep the active, spoken, meaningful vocabulary ahead of the exposed printed vocabulary, for the decoding strategy to remain sufficient for reading comprehension. The operative phrase of that quote to me is known word.

Thank you, Jim.

Best regards, Peter Warner.
Peter Warner
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English in Japan
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The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Proverbs 9:10

briangilbert
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Re: Fluency

Post by briangilbert »

elf wrote:........... but sometimes they will still sound out words. When they do I ask them to read the sentence again. She maintains that if they are not reading fluently, they are not reading.
................. Is there something I should be doing to improve fluency?
As you describe it they are reading, except their pronunciation is weak. Elsewhere on this forum someone said that the pupil after sounding the letter-groups should join them smoothly to sound the word. Initially they will do this out loud but can progress to doing it mentally.
If they have access to a PC and a Talking Dictionary program they can hear how any word sounds as a whole. MS Encarta has this facility on the Internet but in a US accent. Collins Talking Dictionary seems unavailable in the UK but is shown as available from the USA.
Brian Gilbert
http://www.brian-gilbert.com/mmbgrd/index.htm
http://www.brian-gilbert.com/teach/index.htm

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Post by chew8 »

Brian -

If my understanding is correct, the problem under discussion here is not weak pronunciation - rather, it's that the children are getting the words out rather slowly and haltingly. There is nothing wrong with this in the early stages of a synthetic phonics programme, but we do want children to move beyond it after the first year or two, so that they 'read like they talk', so to speak.

I agree with the following from Debbie:

'If children do seem to be stuck at the stage of unnecessary sounding out and never moving forwards with recognising words, then sometimes it can simply be a case of having a chat with them to explain how they might sound out 'in their heads silently' when they don't recognise a word, and stop sounding out where they do recognise a word and don't need to do it.

It's surprising sometimes how children can take us so very literally and not realise that they are 'allowed' or 'able' to get on to the next level of skill.'


In my voluntary work with Year 3 children at a local school, I have had just one case of a boy who was one of the children described in Debbie's second paragraph - he had been taught good phonics (actually 'Jolly Phonics') at his infant school but he was still sounding out most words unnecessarily, albeit very quickly and accurately. After the first couple of sessions, I suggested that he should do the sounding out in his head so that all I would hear would be the final product - he caught on immediately, and from then on what I heard was fluent reading.

Jenny C.

palisadesk
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Re: Subject

Post by palisadesk »

Peter Warner wrote:Of course the results are disastrous, but what I'm asking is if English text words could be memorized as stroke patterns without regard to phonic perception, if the student was unfamiliar with the phonic content conveyed by the code itself. Didn't dolphins learn to recognize some words? Of course, true sight memorization is a severe limitation, something less that 2,000 words (McGuinness).
The answer to this question is Yes. Students can memorize many thousands of English words based on some visual features (stroke pattern or whatever), as you suggest, but clearly without reference to phonological characteristics of the word (the possibility of a phonological component in such cases can be empirically excluded if the student knows no GPCs). Remember that D. McGuinness gives a limit to the number of "abstract symbols" that can be memorized (nowhere in her books does she cite explicit references or specific evidence -- it may be a hypothesis of her own, not a verified fact), but she does NOT equate this hypothesized memory limit to a specific limit on the number of English WORDS that can be memorized, even though many assert that she says this. It has become a sort of urban legend, like alligators in the sewers. I am not aware of any hard data on how many "sight words" in English a reader can memorize, using primarily visual cues. The literature on teaching students with severe hearing loss or language disabilities such as autism might shed light on this question.

The most outstanding example of this phenomenon that I have personally evaluated was with a student aged 13-14 who had never heard of sounding out and blending, was not aware that English letters had a phonemic connection (knew letter names), could not sound out even 2-letter combinations, could relate a "sound" only to the letters in her initials (may have been simply a fortunate coincidence), in short, did not have any alphabet knowledge whatever. Yet according to extensive testing her sight vocabulary was in the 11-12 year range, estimated between 8 000 and 10 000 words based on inventories from the Fry list. She did not present as a "reading delayed" student but was referred because of difficulties with written assignments (she turned out not to b e able to encode any words at all). This student, who spoke a non-Western language, had been taught an exclusively visual approach to English reading. She did not even use the first letter of words as a phonological cue, because she was not aware of the phonological information carried by letters. This student had strengths in the memory for patterns and visually-presented information as assessed by cognitive testing. The good news is that she was able to learn and apply phonemic decoding skills rapidly when taught to do so.

I have seen few cases as clear-cut as that one, because most children are taught the GPC's of at least the basic code consonants. However every year I see two or three children who have missed this instruction (usually they started school abroad) or who happened to have been instructed with a "sight" approach such as Edmark. However, in cases where children are introduced to a visually-based system in their own language -- as you describe -- it would be reasonable to expect many would attempt to apply the same strategies to learning English unless specifically instructed otherwise.

Ehri's research, as far as I can tell, is with students instructed in North American schools, who would be using phonological information even if not shown explicitly how to do so ("part-word assemblers" and "letter name readers" would be doing this as well, albeit not efficiently). Certainly this is the most time-effective and least labour-intensive way of going about it and , as tests of the "Stroop Effect" show, likely to become an automatic and subliminal procedure.

Susan S.

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Post by drummer »

maizie wrote:There was a theory that somehow there was a 'finite' amount of processing involved in 'reading' and that if too much of it was taken up with 'decoding', then there would not be enough processing 'power' left for 'making meaning'. This is often used to denigrate the teaching of decoding. I don't think it is a valid theory, though I can't point you at the 'disproof' of it :sad:
Hi Maizie

Isn't this from Stanovich? I believe it is actually a pro-phonics theory to explain 'barking at print' as a stage that some children might go though. It is an argument for even more decoding practice so that such children achieve greater fluency and therefore reduce the processing power required for decoding. It is absolutely not an excuse for giving up on phonics - quite the opposite.

I have always likened it to learning to drive a manual car. When you first start lessons it is nigh on impossible to remember which pedal is which, which gear is which, coordinate the use of everything plus look where you are going etc.

After a while the mechanics become much more automatic, you hardly need think about them. Now you are able to take in much more information about the world around, is the roundabout you are approaching clear? Are the children up at the next junction looking where they are going etc etc.

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Post by Peter Warner »

Susan wrote:
Remember that D. McGuinness gives a limit to the number of "abstract symbols" that can be memorized (nowhere in her books does she cite explicit references or specific evidence -- it may be a hypothesis of her own, not a verified fact), but she does NOT equate this hypothesized memory limit to a specific limit on the number of English WORDS that can be memorized, even though many assert that she says this. It has become a sort of urban legend, like alligators in the sewers.
Thank you for that clarification, Susan. It rings true. There was a thread on that precise issue last year as I recall, and we were unable to locate any reference in Mcguinness's writings to a source for that 2,000 number. Your distinction of abstract symbol and word is helpful as well.

The reading-as-memorizing-the-contents-of-the-phone-book analogy she uses frequently does however illustrate the point that there is some limit to how much vocabulary can be retained as images, so attaching the 2,000 number to that illustration might be considered an understandable error on the part of her audience.
The good news is that she was able to learn and apply phonemic decoding skills rapidly when taught to do so.
That's encouraging.

Best regards, Peter Warner.
Peter Warner
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English in Japan
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The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
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maizie
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Post by maizie »

drummer,

It is indeed from Stanovich; It was one of his early theories. However, I think it is now regarded as too simplistic and not reflecting the way decoding and comprehension 'happen'. I can't quote a source, though.

While it may be used by some phonics proponenets as a 'justification' for children not appearing to be able to comprehend simultaneously with decoding, it is also used by 'antiphons' to justify the 'barking at print' myth.

Personally, the children I find who 'bark at print' are the ones who are profoundly ignorant of the meanings of words (a bit like the way I read French :sad: ). It has nothing at all to do with their reading ability and everything to do with their vocabulary knowledge. As I said earlier, I have very slow 'decoders' who understand perfectly what they are reading.

I always find this 'barking at print' accusation rather ironic. Why should the ability to read words accurately and fluently be viewed as a reading 'sin':?: T he words are said in such an accusing manner "They're only barking at print, you know". So it's preferable to make it up as you go along and guess your way through a text, then?

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Post by Elizabeth »

I'm writing to confirm some of what has been said by others on this thread from my experience of one pupil.

I teach a boy who sounds out words slowly, although he is getting quicker since I asked him to try to sound out in his head. Someone at his school thought this meant he wasn't understanding what he read and needed to memorise whole words to improve his understanding. I think she must have assumed he wasn't understanding without asking him any questions about the text. When I have questioned him, he has always shown he understands. Not only that, but as he has a very poor memory, his only way of understanding a text if he forgets a whole word is to sound the word out again.
Elizabeth

Elizabeth
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Post by Elizabeth »

[
Remember that D. McGuinness gives a limit to the number of "abstract symbols" that can be memorized (nowhere in her books does she cite explicit references or specific evidence -- it may be a hypothesis of her own, not a verified fact), but she does NOT equate this hypothesized memory limit to a specific limit on the number of English WORDS that can be memorized, even though many assert that she says this. It has become a sort of urban legend, like alligators in the sewers.
I have often quoted 2000 as the number of shapes that can be memorised :oops:. Then I've gone on to say that children's understanding of spoken vocabulary is likely to be in the tens of thousands. I've used it as one way to illustrate the fact that learning words as whole shapes is not going to get children far with reading.

Can any of you suggest something similar that I could say that would be valid and would make the same point?
Elizabeth

palisadesk
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Post by palisadesk »

Elizabeth wrote: Can any of you suggest something similar that I could say that would be valid and would make the same point?

I usually point out two verifiable facts in this context.

First, if memorizing words were an effective way to learn to read, we would expect to see many profoundly deaf children become successful readers and writers, since sight word memorization is usually the primary strategy used with this population. In fact, similar data from around the world suggests that most people with severe hearing impairment (from birth) achieve no more than a Grade 2/3 level of literacy by the end of secondary school. Using cued speech, Signed Exact English and other strategies has improved outcomes for some, but in fact the limited ability of profoundly deaf children to understand and use the alphabetic code severely impairs their ability to master written English, even when they become proficient at expressive language via Sign. Written English is a visually-mediated SOUND-based system.

Second, whatever the limitations of memory are -- and we just don't know what they are, because there is no data on this that I have ever seen -- children need a much larger reading vocabulary immediately available to them than they will be able to memorize. Many children lack the memory ability to memorize even the "Dolch Words." In secondary school the required vocabulary ranges into the tens of thousands of words. A child who has mastered phonemic decoding skills can read new words easily. Memorizing words is not a generative strategy -- that is, it's a dead end. It doesn't lead anywhere. Memorizing word A won't help you with Word B. Decoding is generative -- it leads to new learning and new applications. My fluent 2nd grade decoders can easily read college-level words like defibrillator, ostentatious, syzygy, preprandial. Naturally they did not know what they meant, but so what? When the time comes they will have an advantage because they can easily recode the word and store and retrieve it phonologically.

In other words, you can explain to people that decoding is a much more versatile tool, it unlocks hundreds of thousands of words, and reduces the load on memory so that the child can concentrate on meaning. It's also empowering to the child. S/he can approach a new word with a confident "I can figure this out," rather than the defeatism and learned helplessness of "I don't remember that word."

Susan S.

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