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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. HAPPY CHRISTMAS - my daughter swinging around my chair insisted I wrote this for some reason. Elise thanks, I have great respect for those who really understand the phonics mechanics such as debbie and various others on here. And they are perhaps the most pragmatic because they are working with the educaion system as it is now. However I just wonder if 'raising the levels of lieracy' might help a lot of young people who are met by teachers in secondary school and whom I, as an early years and now primary teacher would not meet. BUT I just wonder if everyone was suddenly reading at level four at the end of primary would that solve all ills? or a majority of them? Or are there problems more deep seated? Perhaps secondary colleagues will have greater insight... or will they as they are really only passengers on the same bus, except perhaps with a bus pass which lets them a little more into the whys and wherefores of where they are going but can change nothing of the destination? Are there no children for whom the destination, and the stops on route hold no interest because they see through the cynical use of carrot and stick, target and test, children who have been failed not because they 'couldn't' but because our education system teaches them from a very early age to disengage, to line up, to march in time, to sing the same tune, to colour in when told and not draw outside the lines, to receive a smiley face and to not ask the awkward question, or not even to not understand and, cardinal sins of cardinal sins, to even be not interested in the maths, the fair testing of materials, the conjunction defintitions, the curriculum hoops to which they are put to jump.

    I think there is a greater and greater emphasis on instruction over education, to give children skills which do not really connect in with the concerns they have in real life, the real issues which they confront in their own families everyday. Rather than clarifying that they are connected with others, that they are important and can contribute, that out of any shared experience there are multiple refractions of possible understandings, not just one right way. Each refraction through the lens of an individual life needs to be given the perspective of time and opportunity to see where it fits in the greater hue which is the class group. I just wonder if we don't spend a great time teaching decoding skills, or maths or whatever and we don't teach children about themselves, we create a split which can be healed in relatively strong families but in weaker, more fragmented home lives mean that some children will never find sense and meaning.

    Perhaps as much research needs to go into helping teachers become big enough and deep enough to create classroom environments where no child is ever left behind, where there is no top. middle and bottom group, where all are in it together, to help each other, to learn from the experiences of others, to feel unique, accepted and even perhaps as far as feel love for their classmates and teacher. All of which naturally therefore need the time, space and linguistic tools to be expressed. The great tail of underachievment wags the dog. For we focus only on this narrow measure of what constitutes the acceptable. Yet no time is given to discuss this. Teachers who question the onward march, the target setting, moderating, table building culture find themselves judged by their ability to teach to a formula lesson as inspected by a set of waddling ducks who fly in in perfect formation , quack a great deal, try to tease out a few worms, then usually fly, off dropping liquid waste as they go, once more in perfect formation. It is a system which breeds cynicism and insincerity in its teachers, is it any wonder that a great deal of our young people are not so stupid that they don't see this? If this is so.... and maybe it isn't at all, but if it were does this reflect a wider malaise or at least characteristic of current british- or english- society. Do we see any correlation between saturday night fights, alcohol and lives which are lived collectively only in as much as we stand in the queue with others at sainsbury's and watch the same television progams in the individuality of our own homes.

    If phonics at four were the prescription, the vacine, the immunisaton against all this - and it looks as though a countrywide programme is about to be intitiated on the back of local trials, then maybe I will prove to be an abberation. It just doesn't seem that way to me. Somewhere perhaps we need to find a different value for living other than the vestiges of the industrial production model which guides our schools and our day to day interactions and which maybe has stripped our society of collective ritual and pushed us all into the race for individual success, profit and material advancement. Which whilst we no doubt benefit there is also an intangible sense of loss of something we can't quite define and perhaps is felt more highly by the still sensitive younger generation, some of whom then wonder is it all worth it. That race no doubt keeps us all in line and we fix our gaze on the varying finishing posts but as people on here point out there are a lot of losers. Teachers who try to hold up the forward rush, who try to take their eye of the finishing posts and listen to those children who too are not interested in the forward scramble, are usually villified. Others recognising the demise of so many losers devise ever earlier intervnsion programs which seek to keep all from the, at some time inevitable, distractions. An inevitabilty which is not even certain, some of us don't ever doubt, some of us begin late in life to doubt, others just don't even get started before the doubts kick in, and that's it we are rumbled, we're left behind- so what is the point. Do teachers know the answer to that one? MERRY XMAS. says my daughter. Why not, I say. Why ever not.

    ps does ANYONE know how I can maintain paragraphs? I am using the OPERA browser and all my paragraphs just disappear when I post.
  2. nomad

    nomad Star commenter

    You mean you don't KNOW? Or have you just been so blinded by the synthetics phonics hype that you are oblivious of the research?
    Try the research conducted by Maryann Manning and Constance Kamii, reported in the Journal of Research in Childhood Education (1st October 2000) "Whole language vs. isolated phonics instruction: A longitudinal study in kindergarten with reading and writing tasks."
    In this longitinal study thirty-eight kindergarden pupils were individually interviewed with reading and writing tasks in September, November, January, March, and May. Half of the children received phonics instruction, in isolation, from a teacher who identified herself as a phonics teacher. The other half received phonics instruction, in context, from a teacher who identified herself as a whole language teacher. It was found that the whole language group made more progress in both reading and writing, and with more developmental coherence, as evidenced by the absence of regression and confusion.
    If you are not aware of that research, then try Kamii, C., Long, R, & Manning, M. Kindergartners' development toward invented spelling and a glottographic theory. Linguistics and Education
    Stice, C. F., & Bertrand, N. P. (1990). Whole language and the emergent literacy of at-risk children: A two-year comparative study.
    or<font size="-1"> Tunnell, M. O., & Jacobs, J. S. (1989). Using "real" books: Research findings on literature based reading instruction. The Reading Teacher, 43, 470-477.
    Cunningham, A. E. (1990). Explicit versus implicit instruction in phonemic awareness. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 50, 429-444.
    Stahl, S. A., McKenna, M. C., & Pagnucco, J. R. The effects of whole language instruction: An update and a reappraisal. Educational Psychologist, 29, 175-188.
    or .............
    I am sure the above are available on the Internet. I have hard copies, and those are just the few copies I have in a file. I have many more.
    One reason why the research demonstrating the effectiveness of whole language, look and say and similar methods is relatively obscure is that the proponents of this approach, unlike those of synthetic phonics, do not have a product to sell. The likes of McGuinness, Lloyd, Miskin and Hepplewhite all have a marketable product in which they have a commercial interest, while those who promote a whole language approach just say "use real books". So, who is going to shout the loudest?
    I am not, and never have been 'against phonics'. The use of synthetic phonics (as well as analytic phonics) is just one means of getting children to read. So is the 'look and say' method. All this blathering about children being 'failed' by whole language methods is hype and rubbish. Those who shout it seem to forget that many generations have learned to read, and to read well, using 'look and say'.
  3. I found abstracts for most of these papers, nomad, thank you.
    What doesn't seem to be addressed in the material that is often cited in favour of different approaches to teaching reading is the children who fail to learn to read, or to read well, by whatever method is being investigated. They are consistently marginalised.
    Most children would learn to read, and to read well, I suspect, whatever method is employed, as long as they have plenty of opportunities to access meaningful text. It's the 20% who don't that are the most interesting, from a research perspective, and the most challenging for teachers and policy developers. In medicine and psychology it's invariably the exceptions that shed light on the rules.
  4. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

    I think this where there is a great deal of misunderstanding, no one is advocating that phonics is taught in isolation, of course it is taught as part of whole language experiences - quality books and stories, conversations/discussions/questioning etc. But for most children phonics is an essential skill that allows them access to the world of reading and writing. What those of us who work with young children see is the mixed methods, nothing to do with whole language, but encouraging children to guess from looking at illustrations rather than reading words can and often does cause huge problems for some children. Surely you don't believe that children should be taught to read the pictures rather than the words?
  5. nomad

    nomad Star commenter

  6. invincible

    invincible New commenter

    I wonder how I ever got through school with good spelling and reading results without SP...
  7. I can help to clarify the SP picture here and I'm pleased to have the opportunity to do so amongst people who seem to be saying that they have no problem with SP teaching 'but'.....
    If they have no problem, then what is the problem?
    Part of the problem on this thread seems to come from a rather bitter and personal attack 'on the likes of' myself, Ruth Miskin etc. who have written SP programmes. That is sad - because there is no need for such personal vitriole and it is not helping the issue of discussing what is best to teach in the classroom.
    I can explain various issues that seems to be causing confusion starting with the charge that SP proponents are not allowing children to have books.
    That is a skewing of the situation by deliberate intent or misunderstanding. I don't know which.
    We suggest that it is better to teach the children to be able to read the words in the books that they are being asked to read 'independently' - rather than giving them books that they are expected to read which have many or most words that they cannot read.
    The word 'independently' is key. We have seen children ourselves who squirm and struggle to read books that they are expected to 'read' themselves - and they resort to guessing or memorising often very challenging words because of the design of the books being dependent on repetitive and predictable text and dependent on pictures giving the clue as to what the words are.
    Further than that, teachers have been trained to tell children to guess the words from the pictures, the context, their predictability amongst surrounding words.
    Some children can do this and manage to learn to read as they go through book by book by book.
    Perhaps invincible (post above) was one such child for example.
    But many others don't manage to do this and struggle and fail and feel like failures from the outset of being at school.
    So, SP simply involves teaching our English alphabetic code explicitly and matching the code in the children's reading material - where they are being asked, expected, invited to read the books INDEPENDENTLY.
    If our English writing system is based on an alphabetic code, as it is, why does it cause so much upset to suggest that therefore we should organise that code and teach the elements of it systematically along with the decoding skill for reading and the encoding skill for spelling.
    SP teaching is discrete teaching to be able to teach the code and three core skills blending, segmenting and handwriting explicitly. These are very important skills. Once again, perhaps such skills have not been difficult for people like invincible, and others, but for many, many children these are skills in which they do well from explicit very small step teaching - and struggle when they do not get taught these things well.
    A close look at many primary schools will reveal a lot of weak spelling and weak handwriting, in addition to some children who are weak at reading advanced text. And a close look at secondary schools will reveal many pupils who are not adept at spelling, handwriting and reading advanced text.
    Sadly, much of this weakness is not addressed at source - but instead there is a hidden group of pupils (including many in the middle group) who have nowhere near the literacy levels that would serve them the best in the long term.
    Whilst the youngsters are provided with discrete SP lessons, they are also exposed to all manner of communication, language and literacy enrichment. There is no either/or. They get both. It is simply that we need to do a much more thorough job of teaching the alphabetic code knowledge and the three skills.
    And that's it.
    Everyone who jumps into this debate with an 'I'm alright Jack' attitude is arguably looking no further than themselves.
    Everyone who is personal such as making snidey comments about 'the likes of...' is surely missing the point of focusing on what works best.
    If such people THEN go on to add that they have no problem with SP but.... then what is their case?

  8. nomad

    nomad Star commenter

    You might also be interested in a recent piece of research on the accuracy of the Rose Report by Wyse D and Goswarmi U, (2008) Synthetic Phonics and the Teaching of Reading, British Educational Research Journal, Vol 34, Issue 6
    I have the full article in hard copy but I have found a version online here: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/section?content=a901727409&fulltext=713240928
    Interesting to note that the conclusion contains:
    As demonstrated here, the Rose Report's conclusion that synthetic phonics should be adopted nationally in England as the preferred method for the teaching of reading is not supported by empirical research evidence.
    The main research study which seems to have influenced the conclusions drawn by Rose (2006), namely Johnston and Watson (2004), does not enable any conclusions to be made concerning the optimal method of phonics instruction. In particular, it does not support the claim that analytic methods (from word to sound) are inferior to synthetic methods (from sound to word). This is because the children were not taught the same material or the same component skills by the two methods.
    In the Appendix to the Rose Report, Stuart and Stainthorpe argue, on the basis of their analysis of cognitive psychological research, in favour of a 'simple view of reading'. ....... However, reading is not simple. Reading is one of the most complex achievements of the human brain. Human brains that learn to read English may in fact develop extra neural architecture that is not developed by brains learning to read more consistent alphabetic orthographies (Goswami & Ziegler, 2006). In written language, as in spoken language, the ultimate aim is communication and comprehension. <u>We argue that teachers are more likely to help children to achieve this aim if government recommendations for practice are built on a rigorous synthesis of the full range of evidence, including research about different languages and effective reading teaching</u>.

    All worth reading and considering.
  9. As you say, worth reading and considering.
    This made me raise an eyebrow;
    Rose argued that empirical research evidence cannot provide the answers
    that he required, as 'In recent years, there has been a convergence of
    opinion among psychologists investigating reading that
    little progress towards understanding how reading happens in the human mind is likely to be made' (p. 75, emphasis added).
    That's bizarre. Who on earth did he talk to?
  10. Debbie, all this could be stood on its head and used in defence of other strategies. There are children who struggle with phonics. If given books when there are no other ways of decoding, no pictures, no repeats in the text etc. they are lost. They may have been taught phonics in a group with plenty of support, with the same games and flashcards and movements for letters over and over again (oh, yes, repetition), and everything else, but on their own, without support, they can't do it, or can't do it enough to apply it to texts which make sense and tell a coherent story.
    It is in the nature of learning that you need support when things are new to you, and the support is gradually withdrawn as you become more competent. Phonics teaching is one support, and most children benefit from it. But they also benefit from other supports, the ones you say lead to guessing. Don't you realise that there is guessing involved in using phonics? The big guess that is blending, the other guess which is about guessing the right sound from the choice available for each grapheme, digraph, trigraph.
    Why deny any child strategies (including phonics of course) which will help them access quality texts and develop the interest and fluency that will make them want to read, and want to learn?
    I think this is the problem with SP-only adherents. They will not give credence to any other methods of learning. Other strategies are called 'guessing' to discredit them, without a bit of simple reflection on SP's own use of 'guessing'.
    No doubt, if SP becomes the one-and-only method of learning reading, it will all go full circle and in 20 years time people will be saying "I'm alright Jack, I learnt by phonics, why advocate any other method?". And others will argue back, that that is all very well but there are children who SP fails - so let's do something about it.
    The only sensible way to go is to support children in reading using all the methods which will help them when reading a real coherent text (obviously at a simple level) 1 to 1 with an adult, so that they can then apply the strategies which are of most help to them in their independent reading.
  11. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

    pictures don't help children to read .... we read words not pictures
    and why can't decodable text have repeats?
    sorry but it's an odd statement
  12. thumbie - please do outline to me exactly which 'strategies' you advocate for children reading independently, then.
  13. Msz, Debbie's post implied that repetition was not helpful, presumable because children might remember the whole word instead of applying phonics.
    "We have seen children ourselves who squirm and struggle to read books
    that they are expected to 'read' themselves - and they resort to
    guessing or memorising often very challenging words because of the
    design of the books being dependent on repetitive and predictable text
    and dependent on pictures giving the clue as to what the words are."
    As for reading pictures: message and story are conveyed in pictures in many media and visual literacy is an important skill. Why else would children's books use pictures, if the pictures are not supposed to be 'read'? I'll agree we also have to read words, but reading words is not the only and exclusive skill involved in reading books. The words in stories have to convey pictures and ideas which we recreate for ourselves in order to understand. Or, in the case of children's books, which are there as a given. So if the pictures help us to understand the words - what of it? It's a stage in the acquisition of reading for meaning.
    As I said, children should be using the strategies that work for them, and the way they learn the strategies is through 1 to 1 support with adults who will point out the possibles and support the children's use of them. This gives the child a repertoire of strategies, with phonics as a powerful element.

  14. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

    actually I couldn't disagree more many of the issues we face daily is due to the highly visual world in which children live which is why it is so useful to tell children stories from memory rather than always read from books... the children have to actually listen a far <u>more important skill</u> IMHO
  15. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

    <strike> is</strike> are
  16. I totally agree that the pictures in children's books are important - and they often tell a different story from the one in print - a 'story within a story'. But there is a difference between pictures which enhance the story and pictures which are used to guess the words - and, yes, I say 'guess' deliberately because a guess is usually what it is if the child is not paying attention to the print and is, instead, suggesting a word he or she thinks might be the word.
    And often with such a 'guess' the word is wrong - and then this can skew further reading of the sentence - and, in effect, the child is making up his or her own interpretation of the story - with his or her oral vocabulary.
    So, how is a child to read a new and unknown word?
    There is much which is wrong with the guessing, or predicting, the words in children's reading books - and this does gives children the message that it is OK to guess and their eyes will move over the picture and dart all over the text - anything rather than study the word in question.
    Of course there are many variations of what children do to 'read' their books - I am confident, however, that I shall serve children well by teaching them the code well and by teaching them to blend - well.
    If, on the other hand, the teacher thinks it is fine to use a range of strategies which include guessing (sorry, predicting) the word from the picture, from 'reading on' and 'thinking what the word might be' and 'check the word that you guessed (sorry, predicted) with the first letters of the word (as described in the original ELS), then the children get the message that this is how reading works.
    This is doing a disservice to children - even if it gets them 'through the book and the next book and the next book'.
    At some point the children start to deduce the code, or chunks of words, for themselves, or they struggle and the struggle continues right through to adulthood.
    However, some people may be very adept at partial reading and deducing the meaning of the text. I suggest that there are untold numbers of secondary pupils right now who partially read their literature. They 'blurgh' over many words - especially when those words are not in their previous experience and their oral vocabularies.
    But then, they were taught to fudge and guess (sorry, predict).
  17. I would not for one moment suggest that listening is not an important skill, but I baulk at the idea that it is more important than looking . Listening is a form of paying attention. Paying attention can also be about looking carefully. Both skills have their non-attentive equivalents - sound which is heard but not listened to, and visual stimulus, which is seen but not looked at.The difference is nothing to do with the sense which is used, it is to do with the intensity of awareness of the person using the senses.
  18. Research suggests that expert readers use multiple cues in decoding and comprehending text. As far as the brain is concerned, a picture conveys information as much as text does - it's simply in a different, and more readily accessible format.
    Expert readers do not read every word of the text and often guess and mentally 'blurgh' - words are often primed by context and their neural representation is activated on the basis of a few letters. If the guess and 'blurgh' turns out to be a mis-match, because the rest of the letters in the word don't match it, or it doesn't fit the context of subsequent words, then the word is re-visited and re-read. However, expert readers guessing and 'blurghing' is not the same as novice readers guessing and 'blurghing' because they don't know how to decode the words. Clearly that isn't helpful.
    But it's important to make a distinction between children having the skill to decode and comprehend the text they are reading, and what they actually do whilst reading. Even when people can read well, their brain doesn't operate using neat, tidy sequential processes. Even the best readers are biased due to priming, easily distracted and make errors.
  19. Likewise, quite often, guessing from their imperfect phonic knowledge can be wrong (and their phonic knowledge is going to be imperfect until they have mastered the whole code and learnt to use that knowledge). Not encouraged to think about context, or the picture, or the repeat, children can end up with nonsense confidently reached by sounding out - they sound out to the nearest word that is in their own everyday vocabulary. And because they think that reading is sounding out they do not question the nonsense that results. They think this is how reading works. It is doing a disservice to children.
    Now. I am happy to say that SP is an excellent reading strategy, and to be in favour of teaching it as a first approach. But I do not believe in magic bullets. I can see benefits in other strategies that help get children access proper, interesting, rewarding books.
    You, on the other hand, are not willing to concede that other methods might have their uses. You use the word 'guessing' perjoratively, when it means, in this context, deducing from evidence.
    Being open-minded leads to progress and being narrow-minded leads to a dead end.

  20. If a word is not in their vocabulary they should be taught to work out what it means from context, or look it up in a dictionary. Being able to sound it out and pronounce it correctly is secondary.

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