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What to say when Parents say their child doesn't learn phonetically

Discussion in 'Primary' started by Dalian Daisy, Nov 15, 2010.

  1. The main reason for so many non-readers is not any particular teaching method but the irregular sounds for identical letters, like the o in the following words:
    wolf, womb, won, wonder, word, work, world, worm, worn, worry, worse, worship, worst, worth.
    If a 'closed' o, as in 'pop' (as opposed to an an open one, as in 'bone, tone, so, go') always had the same sound as in '<font size="2">block, blond, blot, bob, bog, bomb, bond, boss', we would not have nearly as many non-readers as we do.</font>
    <font size="2">The variant pronunciations for identical graphemes are also the reason why no phonics (analytic, synthetic, systematic) works as well in English as in other languages.</font>
    <font size="2">I used to think that this would make advocates of SP really keen supporters of improvements to English spelling, and was quite shocked by their dislike of my work.</font><font size="2"> All I have done is show in detail what English spelling is really like.</font>
    <font face="Times New Roman">Reading problems:</font>
    Summary of main and variant spellings:
    Listing of all exceptions:
    http://englishspellingproblems.blogspot.com/2010/11/english-spelling-rules.html<font size="3"> </font>
  2. f
    The word the tes knocked out was the one for a male chicken!
  3. What is most likely to happen is that if the child knows that the letter 's' represents the sound 's', the neural representations of all the words beginning with 's', sound or letter, are activated. The most frequently used in spoken language or in written language will be activated most readily. Children with poorly developed working memory are quite likely to be unable to inhibit this activation. They might even have an inkling that the word doesn't say 'sad', but 'said' is the first word to spring to mind and they can' t think what else it might be. If they have an eye movement deficit, they might not even have registered that there is an 'i' in 'said'.
    I have reservations, not about SP as a means of teaching reading, but about its magic bullet properties. The research evidence suggests that SP is the most effective way of teaching reading. It doesn't suggest it will succeed in teaching all children to read and I have an uneasy feeling the proportion of children with reading problems will not change significantly. I also have concerns about the way the phonics test is likely to be used. As feedback for teachers and parents it could be very useful; as a performance indicator it could be very damaging.

  4. My impression on reading through the posts is that there is a tendency to get too hung up on individual words and how these can be approached.
    First of all, there is the 'scale of things'. SP opens up the door to thousands of words which a look and say approach does not even begin to touch.
    We have traditionally had the 45 'sight' words in Reception, for example, which many of us have witnessed many children not even knowing by late key stage 2. That speaks volumes for highlighting such a group of words and flogging them to death as 'wholes'.
    In contrast, SP teaching can introduce hundreds of words cumulatively even in reception - literally hundreds.

    But it does much more than this:
    Good SP teaching leads to a very flexible and unafraid reader. 'Tweaking' or modifying pronunciation of the sounded out graphemes is a feature of the teaching. Some on here would call that a form of 'guessing' - that's their choice of describing it.
    I suggest that what this does is help children to realise pretty early on that the reading system is tricky and that it is OK to make mistakes - and that it is OK to try sounding out graphemes in different ways. For example, the single vowel letters in their short vowel sounds and if that doesn't work, try the long vowel sounds.
    When we provide good SP teaching, we get a different 'product' of reading profile for the children. They get very efficient at sounding out, they get very efficient at 'discerning' the real word, they get very efficient at orally segmenting the word. It really is very impressive to see this happen.
    I sometimes wonder if there isn't a lot of scepticism on this forum because so many people contributing to it just haven't witnessed the outcome of good SP teaching - or have never really provided good SP teaching because they have been that busy not letting go of their plethora of access to words - for example, mixing onset and rime phonics with SP phonics and mixing the process of sounding out and blending with guessing words from various clues.
    The latter processes are often the only way to access books when the books are of the look and say (predictable and repetitive text type and so it is a self-fulfilling thing).
    By the way, I'm typing very fast so there'll be lots of typos no doubt.
    SP proponents are not giving their pupils dry diets - they have very rich language and literacy diets. They acknowledge that children can learn differently - some children, for example, quickly remembering words just read - and other children needing to do plenty more reading and sounding out before recalling commonly used words. There is no denial to all of this.
    Regarding discussions about individual words - in some ways this can serve a purpose to clarify how different teachers would approach the words - but it may depend on whether it is for reading or spelling in the main. For example, I would approach the words 'said' and 'again' and all the other words listed such as 'curtains' by sounding out 'ai' as /ai/ and then tweaking the pronunciation as I have described above.
    I would introduce these common words at the same time as introducing 'ai' as a letter/s-sound correspondence where 'ai' is code for /ai/ and point out the words as specific words. If children can recall letter/s-sound correspondences, then they are going to be able to recall specific words - but I would still not be approaching this as look and say (whole word shape) because the 's' is straightforward and the 'd' is straightforward.
    So, in our English language we know there are numbers of words which need special attention but there are many more which don't - especially when the alphabetic code is taught comprehensively and well.
    As for mashabell providing yet another long list of words which include the letter 'o', why on earth would she mix the list of those words where 'o' is code for /o/ and those words where 'o' is code for /u/ or /oo/ and so on?
    Yes, SP does not make our English language any different, but it goes a very long way to equipping our children with great capacity for reading and spelling - beyond just a shrug your shoulders and give up on the language and the struggling children.
    It is a form of really organising the alphabetic code and of really equipping the children with core skills to become more proficient at reading than they would be without the SP teaching.
    The trick is for teachers to know when to let go of some of their old and contradictory practices and when to try something which so many people acclaim as raising their past standards.
    I have recognised that the world is full of begrudgers and fudgers - people who say, 'OK, I recognise the need for phonics teaching, AH BUT.......'.
    We have not yet given our country's children a chance with phonics teaching, and the begrudgers and fudgers are raising their heads everywhere.

  5. Debbie, the way you talk about phonics as though it is something new is astonishing. Of course phonics works - it's about the basic units and code of written/spoken language. Anyone who thinks you can learn to read without reference to that is a crank. It totally escapes me why anyone would not 'believe' in phonics.
    On the other hand, phonics is hard for children. They have to remember so many different combinations and versions of letter/sound correspondences, with no meaning to hang it all onto (although we have tried to support all that by using gestures and little stories a la Jolly Phonics).
    You say children remember the correspondences readily. In my experience some do, some don't. Even when they do, the act of remembering and applying a succession of possibles as they read is not always going to be very supportive of reading for meaning. Some children are so hung up on sounding out every word they come to (sometimes the same word repeatedly) that they lose all track of any meaning. Ask them about what the sentence is about? They are lost. Sometimes they look quite puzzled by the question.
    While mystified why anyone would deny the usefulness of phonics I am equally mystified why anyone would deny the other cues to children. Words are not only successions of sounds, they are units of meaning.
    Please don't call me a begrudger or fudger, I haven't thrown insults at you. The fact is, I disagree with the emphasis of your approach. That's my opinion, and using insults to discredit an opinion is not feature of reasonable argument (it's a bit Brainjim [​IMG].
  6. Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that (the bit in bold), all words can be accessed through phonics, at least to arrive at an approximation.
  7. I regret using my expression 'begrudgers and fudgers' in this context and I really apologise.[​IMG]
    Perhaps I'm just long-term frustrated with all the discussions - despite the fact that I think the discussions are very, very important - and very interesting.
    My expression was not intended as a personal insult - or even 'personal' at all, although I can see that that is how it could seem.
    If a child can decode a word in his or her oral vocabulary, the meaning is automatically activated. If the child decodes /k/ /a/ /t/ 'cat' and knows what a 'cat' is, then the decoding has supported comprehension.
    I don't know why anyone thinks that phonics is anti meaning because this is nonsense.
    If a child struggles to decode a book fluently, then perhaps the child's stage of learning is not ready for that book.
    Many teachers tend to give children books to attempt to read largely independently very early on. 'To read independently' is the key issue here.
    In such books, children invariably have to use any strategy possible to get the words - but these are frequently the 'multi-cueing' reading strategies that amount to guessing the words - and which take children's eyes away from the words.
    I remember a resource which came out as part of the National Literacy Strategies materials. This was a photocopiable resource which was a set of 'cue' cards of different 'reading strategies'. There were 14 different cue cards if I remember correctly.
    So, a young child is handed 14 different ways of reading books! Which strategy, or strategies, should the young reader actually decide to 'choose'?
  8. I don't regard phonics as being anti-meaning. As I said in an earlier post, reading words accurately is essential to understanding the meaning. However, sometimes phonic decoding gets in the way of children accessing the meaning because it is focused on sounds, which do not carry meaning. If we allow this focus to become too important in our approach to reading with children we will fail to support the child's task of discovering meaning - not just of individual words (1 word on its own only carries limited meaning), but of sentences, stories and texts. I am convinced that a major problem in comprehension is that children do not listen to themselves when reading. In applying phonics they will listen to the individual sounds and the blended word, because they want to read it right, but they have trouble accessing the whole sentence and beyond.
  9. Sorry to continue being pedantic, but that's not always the case. There are several types of agnosia, where someone is familiar with a word, and what it means, but can't access it especially when under sensory stress. Donna Williams, who had a diagnosis of autism, gives a vivid description of visual agnosia brought on by flashing neon lights. You don't have to have to be diagnosed as autistic to experience this. And some children are hyperlexic - they can read fluently with no understanding of what they are reading. So although I agree that, obviously decoding does support comprehension, comprehesion of read material doesn't always follow.
  10. This sounds to me like someone's theory of what happens in the reading process. Is that so, or is it what is known to happen?
    Would you then postulate that going a bit further through the word and finding that the second letter is 'a' would activate neural representations of all words beginning with 'sa'? And that if you looked as far as 'sai' it would activate all the neural representations of words beginning with 'sai' etc. etc. And perhaps, at some stage in this process, the brain would start invoking context as a prime for what the word might be?
    It sounds a bit tortuous to me, but if this is proven to be how word recognition takes place I shall have to go along with it...

  11. It's known to happen. But, again, the brain isn't a computer. Its default mode of operation is not to process information in a logical, sequential manner, although it can do so. Networks of neurons are just that - networks. Think veins on a leaf or blood vessels. Lots of connections activating simultaneously. Ones that are used most frequently, or have recently been activated, or are most important to the reader get activated more strongly than others.
    Word representations and their associations are activated by letters other than the initial letters, but not in strict sequential order as if they were in some sort of dictionary. I would strongly recommend getting hold of a copy of Snowling and Hulme's book 'The science of reading' and looking through the first section. The work on reading errors is very informative about how accurate reading takes place.

  12. not here - but i have posed many questions in general that have not been addressed
    1. number of words you can recognise without sounding out - was it 1000 or 3000 - like, when was the last time anyone here sounded a word out in everyday reading? no - me neither - so what's the validity for this statement (maisie)
    2. synthesis: i have a 17yo 3A* daughter who could read logos/ads at 3 and could sound c- a -t but could not synthesise them to cat - she was so distressed i hired a tutor to teach her whole words reading - she has told me she still can't synthesise and uses words-within-words and dictionaries to help with new words, and she still has daft mis-pronounciations - tell me she's unique - yeah right - but i'm a ;liar till maisie can evaluate her personally, i gather
    3, oh yeah - she is dyslexic - so this was the answer for her dyslexia - sure
  13. Sorry, but what evidence do youi have for that statement?
    If a routine has been created to consciously do 'letter->sound, letter-> sound, letter-> sound -> blend all the sounds, why would that not have created a network which reproduces the same procedure?
    I'd be a little bit upset if, while driving, my brain wouldn't let me perform the gear changing procedure (which is automised to the extent that I do not have to think about each component part) correctly because it was dotting around all over the place in it...

    The bit that always worries me is that most reading research in the last few decades has been carried out on a population which has been taught mostly by whole word/ look and say methods. This produces quite different responses and errors from those made by SP taught readers (or those readers who have 'intuited' the phonics for themselves). Whatever a reader's brain does in response to written words is surely influenced by the way they have been taught to read?
  14. I'm sorry you feel so aggrieved about that. It's just that I have been told all sorts of things about children's reading skills (or lack of) which have turned out to be not quite the true picture. That doesn't make the people who told me those things liars, they were just seeing something from a different perspective. Sometimes they are right, sometimes I am, but nobody can make an informed judgement from something written on a message forum.
  15. well - apparantly you can
  16. But do you remember that bit, before you could gear change automatically, when your gears were all over the place, you had to look at the gear stick, your foot would not work in synch with your hand and your head was spinning? Don't forget children are learning to read. They are not going to be systematic, they are going to be chaotic, because they are trying to remember and co-ordinate all the component bits of information. They will grab hold of the easy bits they already know to try to solve the problem of the unknown word, and gloss over the bits they find more difficult. They may have a stab at bits they are unsure of. They are very likely to kangaroo down the road in the early stages.
    This is completely understandable and happens in spite of the expertise of the teacher and their fantastic method. Children may have been taught systematically all the letter sounds, how to blend etc etc but this is not a guarantee that they have learnt it all. They may be confident on one day and have forgotten the next. Your vision of the ease of learning by SP, and all your talk of rigorous and systematic ignores the fact of children. The teacher may be rigorous and systematic but the children are higgledy piggledy.
    Someone above flagged up the problem of blending. Some children can learn all the sounds - they have good memories and they learn to make the right sound to match the symbol, and even remember the alternatives. However the sticking point comes when they have to try to blend the sounds. There does seem to be a group of children for whom this just does not click painlessly into place (I feel like that reverse parking).
  17. Children will generally learn what they have been taught. You teach them to be chaotic, then they will be chaotic.
  18. maizie - have i missed your citation for the limit on the number of words anyone can remember by sight? this is at least my third time of asking
    also - wrt to my daughter who can't blend/synthesize - for at least the third time, she is 17 and it is she who now says so, not me as a parent
    you do not seem to wish to address my comments directly
  19. Oh, I am so sorry. There has been so much going on on this thread that I must have missed your request. Try Prof. Diane McGuinness (1998) 'Why children can't read' . I believe there is reference to it somewhere on this site, too: www.dyslexics.org.uk
    No, I don't now as you seem to be intent on flaming me.
  20. When I was a psychology student in the 1970s, there was already a substantial body of research on reading errors (ie the errors that expert readers make in certain situations); the Stroop effect, priming and masking effects and so on. It was apparent then that the order of letters was not the only factor involved in reading words.
    When my son had problems learning to read, I tried to catch up on the reading research that had taken place during the intervening years. It's vast. It was very difficult to piece together. But because I was interested, I got a copy of Snowling and Hulme's book from the library because review books like theirs can highlight areas of work and make the search easier. I've read the first section 'Word recognition processes in reading' which contains chapters by Coltheart, Plaut, Lupker, van Orden and Rayner, and a few other chapters. They told me what I wanted to know about my son's reading abnormalities, and have helped me identify which researchers are doing work that might be relevant. I can access most of their work through Google scholar.
    In answer to your specific question, here's a quote from Lupker's chapter, 'Visual word recognition: Theories and findings' (references omitted) on prelexical coding.
    That's a good question, but it assumes the brain does only one thing at a time, and no other processes (visual, auditory, semantic) can interfere with that routine.
    But that happens. You try thinking about changing gear whilst changing gear. Or taking an important (hands-free) phone call whilst doing so. Or doing so when you have flu. Other things can interfere with automated processes. The brain dots about.
    That is also a good question. But the research on reading errors goes back to the mid-19th century and no-one appears yet to have slapped their forehead and gone "Of course! Subjects A and B make totally different errors because they were taught to read differently." That's because reading errors are remarkably similar across individuals, and across different cognitive functions. Primacy effects (first impressions are lasting impressions), recency effects (I've just seen one of those) and salience effects (that is so relevant to me) crop up across all human cognition.
    It would be interesting, but difficult, to explore the effect of the method of learning to read, because a lot of adults wouldn't remember how they were taught to read, and intuitive methods or hotchpotch methods vary considerably.

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