Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

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john walker
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Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by john walker » Mon Nov 12, 2012 7:16 pm

First, the shortcomings of SP when it comes to the complexities of the English language. Of course these have always existed. It is this complexity which makes English more difficult to read and spell than some other languages. I don't think there is any way round this difficulty, and I don't think SP can provide a way round.
Yes, there is! By teaching children the code, how to understand how the code works, and the skills necessary to use it.
Where a grapheme represents more than one phoneme there is no way for the reader to know, for sure, which phoneme is being represented in a word s/he is reading. If the reader knows the alternatives he can get close but cannot be certain. Another skill needs to be brought to bear alongside his phonic knowledge. This could be the use of context, checking against known vocabulary or asking someone else. None of these strategies are part of SP or are contained in SP principles, although a teacher might encourage the learner to use them.
Let's take the example of <ea>. The child reads the sentence; 'Last night I ate a tasty steak.' First, they read the word 'steak' as /s/ /t/ /ee/ /k/. What is their brain doing? Obviously checking on all of the words to determine whether they make sense. 'Steek' makes no sense, so they try /e/. That doesn't work either. Finally, they try /ae/. Now, 'Last night I ate a tasty /s/ /t/ /ae/ /k/ does make sense. But, I hear you say, how will they know that <ea> can be /ee/, /e/ or /ae/? Simple! Because that's what we teach them when we teach phonics. And, of course, they check against their lexical repertoire. What rot to say that checking against known vocabulary is not part and parcel of teaching phonics. Written language is a representation of spoken language and the code isn't operating in a vacuum. And, if the word is not within one's compass, yes of course one resorts to the dictionary or someone who is likely to know. It happens all the time and, to me as to most of the people reading the posts on this website, this is bleeding obvious.
Where a phoneme can be represented by more than one grapheme there is no way for the writer to know, for sure, which grapheme represents the phoneme s/he wants to write. If the writer knows the alternatives she can get close but cannot be certain. Another skill needs to be brought to bear alongside her phonic knowledge. This could be checking against her bank of known and recognised similar words, checking in a dictionary, applying a rule she has been taught, or asking someone else. None of these strategies are part of SP or are contained in SP principles, although a teacher might encourage a learner to use them.
There is a way for a writer to know how to spell sounds in words. It's to do with being taught them - in the context of words. The would-be writer also needs to be trained in noticing which particular spelling we use when spelling a word and they needs lots of exposure. Then, as we all know, there are patterns in the language which, so Diane McGuinness argues, the brain recognises. And, horror of horrors that a child might spell a word incorrectly! What happens then? Well, as this Year 4 teacher said to me the other day at Hunsbury Park Primary School, 'You know what, John, even if they don't use the accepted/correct spelling, they can always use a spelling that is phonically plausible and that gives them fantastic confidence. Confidence to be able to write anything.'
And you can say that phonics
simply does not solve the problems posed by the complexity of the 'code'
until you're black (pots) in the face, but I know it does and, what's more, I can hardly find a word in anything that Diane McGuinness that doesn't ring true and can't be tested successfully against reality - i.e by teaching.
John Walker
Sounds-Write
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Toots

Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by Toots » Mon Nov 12, 2012 7:47 pm

Where does that leave claims that SP is sufficient to decoding? Only sufficient to the child who can discriminate the right word from one s/he doesn't know yet, who can use context to check that out, or check out alternative readings. These are not universal skills which every child who is starting to read already possesses. And it is because this is 'bleeding obvious' that it is clear that SP is not sufficient.

If, in order to test SP decoding you have to create a situation in which it is in a vacuum ie a nonword test, I take that as proof that SP decoding, in itself, is separate from the other skills you mention. Further proof is that children will decode without any reference at all to meaning, and think they've got it right. Checking against lexicon is not automatic.

I'm wondering if you want to change the meaning of SP?

By the way, most of the children I have taught over the last few years would not have known what a steak was.

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Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by john walker » Mon Nov 12, 2012 8:19 pm

I don't call Sounds-Write a synthetic phonics programme. It's called a linguistic phonics programme and I certainly won't quibble with my SP colleagues over the term. We call it that because the sounds in our speech are represented by little squiggles on the page we call spellings. These spellings can be spelled with one, two, three or four letters and, amazingly, they can also represent more than one sound. In addition, all sounds can be represented by more than one spelling, usually quite a number. And, yes, that's what makes reading and spelling in English difficult to teach. But it can be done and we do it. And, I imagine that a number of other colleagues who contribute to this forum do too.
Children don't possess all sorts of skills, knowledge and understanding of all sorts of things. That's what we're there for: to teach them.
These skills are separate, just the same as the skills of coordinating one's foot on a pedal while changing gear in a car is a skill, which one must be able to do in order to drive a car. We combine that skill with other skills, some of which are essential, yet none of which constitutes 'driving' on its own.
And, though you obviously simply don't believe it when people tell you, I've never met a child yet who, when told the word they are going to read isn't a real word, are in the slightest bit phased by it. Here's a nice nonsense word for the reader: 'oscitancy'. Actually, it isn't really a nonsense word. It's real. It's one of Dr Johnson's and it means 'yawning or unusual sleepiness', which is usually brought on when I see all this nonsense about non-words.
I'm sorry that your children wouldn't have known the word 'steak'. Now, when I were a lad ...
I think it's rather apt that you didn't know how to pronounce Quijote because you seem to be tilting at an awful lot of windmills on this forum.
John Walker
Sounds-Write
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http://literacyblog.blogspot.com

Toots

Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by Toots » Mon Nov 12, 2012 8:28 pm

I do begin to feel I am tilting at windmills, as in unresponsive, insentient objects. And I confess to always feeling Quixote was genuinely heroic, if barmy. I'd prefer to be him than a windmill, any day. ;-)

I agree with you entirely about children needing to learn groups of skills, that's exactly why I can see that SP needs to be used alongside other separate strategies and skills to contribute to reading.

Oh, and by the way, you might take note that my mention of non-words above has nothing at all to do with children being fazed by them.

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Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by john walker » Mon Nov 12, 2012 10:18 pm

I'm not sure you understand the significance of the allegory. The windmills are imaginary enemies of one's own making (and Quijote was a charming and romantic but misguided fool; so I'm not sure I'd identify with him too strongly). What the windmills aren't are the respondents to your postings. At 393, it would appear to me that they are anything but unresponsive.
John Walker
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http://literacyblog.blogspot.com

Toots

Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by Toots » Mon Nov 12, 2012 11:15 pm

I was appropriating the allegory for my own dastardly ends.

I don't know if it counts as responsive if a person just writes stock answers to arguments that haven't been made. However, I concede, several people have been genuinely responsive.

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Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by SLloyd » Tue Nov 13, 2012 7:41 pm

Just popping in for a quick word. I cannot understand what all this worry is about non-words. I read them all the time as I travel through the countryside. They are the names of villages and most of them have no sense at all!

Sue

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Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by Anna » Tue Nov 13, 2012 9:35 pm

Toots, we all agree with you that English is a more complex language that some other European languages which have mostly 1:1 phoneme to grapheme correspondence ( known as transparent languages). Synthetic and linguistic phonics programmes recognise this fact and explicitly teach children the alternative spellings for a sound and the alternative pronunciations for a spelling. I'll find a link to Debbie's alphabetic code charts, which explain this extremely clearly. SP and LP methodology has no problem with a child trying out the alternative pronunciations which they have been taught and using the context to tell them which one makes a real word which fits in the passage. Even with single words, they can be asked if that makes a real word and they then try an alternative pronunciation which is in a real word. Beginning readers are unlikely to be reading words outside their spoken vocabulary or names but if they did, they would still get a plausible pronunciation and an adult would need to tell them the correct one. The nonsense word part of the phonics check allows for any phonetically plausible pronunciation of a word.

This is worlds away from the guessing strategies which mixed methods/ searchlights encourage such as guessing from context, pictures or first letter/s. This leads to maladaptive strategies such the child saying what they think it is before they even look at a word or guessing a word which fits in the context which may or may not start with the same letter. Just one example, I am tutoring a Year 2 pupil. He mostly decodes his BRI decodable books very accurately now, after a term of lessons, but occasionally still reverts to guessing from the context. This happened just yesterday when a contextual guess slipped in. I can't remember the word but it made sense in the context but looked nothing like the word on the page. I reminded him to look at the word and work it out and he then read it correctly. :grin:

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Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by maizie » Tue Nov 13, 2012 10:08 pm

Anna wrote: SP and LP methodology has no problem with a child trying out the alternative pronunciations which they have been taught and using the context to tell them which one makes a real word which fits in the passage. Even with single words, they can be asked if that makes a real word and they then try an alternative pronunciation which is in a real word.
I think that this is what toots thinks makes SP 'insufficient'.

Toots

Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by Toots » Tue Nov 13, 2012 11:49 pm

I am aware that the idea is that you teach the alternatives. The problem is that this does not guarantee that the reader chooses the correct phoneme/grapheme/word. Context and/or a check against vocabulary have to be added to the mix, as you point out. So the strategy of using context or checking against vocabulary has to be taught.

I think what is happening here is that you are attempting to claim that this strategy is part of SP/LP when clearly it isn't, because it is not the outcome of segmenting and blending GPCs. But if you concede that this separate strategy needs to be taught alongside LP/SP you will be admitting that mixed strategies do need to be used. It ties the whole SP argument into a knot.

However, this inconsistency isn't very significant. What is significant is that the decoding part of this multi-strategy approach is being over-emphasised by the government with their nasty little phonics check.

Of course, when you test nonwords, you are not supplying any context for the reader to use, and they cannot check against their vocabulary. You cannot measure how well the child can check it's a known word, or notice mistakes in what they have read (because it doesn't make sense), and self-correct. Preparing a child for the test would not need any preparation or teaching concerned with vocabulary or meaning, and children can pass the test without showing they can do this, and fail the test despite the fact that they may have this skill (which is a strong element of the skilled reader's repertoire).

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Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by maizie » Wed Nov 14, 2012 12:13 am

Toots wrote:I think what is happening here is that you are attempting to claim that this strategy is part of SP/LP when clearly it isn't, because it is not the outcome of segmenting and blending GPCs. But if you concede that this separate strategy needs to be taught alongside LP/SP you will be admitting that mixed strategies do need to be used. It ties the whole SP argument into a knot.
I'm afraid that this is complete rubbish. You have a very narrow interpretation of what the initial teaching of reading with SP 'means' and are determined that only your interpretation is the 'true' one. Bizarrely, you perpetually argue against your interpretation, not the reality, of SP teaching and ignore all SP practitioners who tell you that you are mistaken.

As far as SP practitioners are concerned, 'mixed strategies' means:

Teaching words as 'wholes'
Guessing words from pictures or context
Teaching 'word families'
Teaching onset and rime

And please do not respond by telling me what I really mean because I do not rate youir skills as a mind reader.

Toots

Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by Toots » Wed Nov 14, 2012 12:41 am

Well this is the definition of systematic phonics which Jim Rose chose to include in his review:

"In a paper presented at a seminar on phonics conducted by the DfES in March 2003, Linnea Ehri wrote:
What is Systematic Phonics Instruction? Phonics is a method of instruction that teaches students correspondences between graphemes in written language and phonemes in spoken language and how to use these correspondences to read and spell words. Phonics instruction is systematic when all the major grapheme-phoneme correspondences are taught and they are covered in a clearly defined sequence."

It says nothing whatsoever about checking words against vocabulary or context.

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Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by geraldinecarter » Wed Nov 14, 2012 6:16 pm

Saved from black-sack no. 7 chuck out of my multi-strategy "instruction" with phonics add ones – including onset-rime, blend games, racing games, making compound word games, pop-up games, and, literally, hundreds of others – and IEPs of benighted 6-9 year olds who couldn’t read… and lists of hundreds of wonderful books, suitable for reading to a virtual non-reader but books designed to set up a default strategy of guessing for these poor kids trying to read them .

2003 long after I'd stopped using this multi-strategy mush (oh but the home-made materials did look good....) here are one set of notes rescued from black sack no. 7. ‘Jake’ was one of dozens of malinstrjucted children.

Jake – age 6.10 – tested on the NFER (Nelson New Reading Analysis F.1 )

1st word ‘Ted’ – Jake didn’t have a clue. When prompted, he produces the correct sounds; encouraged to blend these sounds, he does so.

?If the DfES understands how to teach blending skills right at the start of reading instruction WITHOUT INTERFERENCE from conflicting ‘Searchlights’, why can’t Jake and thousands of others automatically perform this essential task after 2000 hours of schooling?

Jake’s a smart guy and now understands that he needs to blend the 2nd word, ‘went’. He makes a valiant attempt: ‘w e EN ter’

DfES presents a dizzying array of strategies that grotesquely muddle struggling readers.

I seem to have chucked out the rest of this report (pity) – but it continues in similar vein. Jake was smart, a great guesser and loved trying to figure things out from the pics –
On a return visit to the school I learned that Jake was on ritalin – then another drug when that had side effects…And Whole Language/mixed strategy followers want to hang on to these failed strategies and the effects such malinstruction had on millions.

If we collected together the stories of the left-behinds, we’d have thousands of cases with this degree of instructional neglect. But Whole Language/mixed strategy followers seem impervious to the needs of this large section of society.

volunteer
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Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by volunteer » Thu Nov 15, 2012 11:09 am

Toots, I think you are right in saying that there are critical aspects of reading that the year 1 phonics screening check does not cover. You are right. There are elements I would like to be covered, perhaps in a further check of some sort for older children structured on different lines from the year 2 reading comprehension test.

I think though it was intended to be very narrow in its focus. I presume it is intended, primarily, to pick out children who do not have the very basic basics in place that are needed to start accurately decoding a reasonable range of words by the end of year 1. "Jake" described above by Geraldine would clearly fail it. Other children who could sound out and blend would fail it if they only knew a very limited set of GPCs. I think that's as far as it is intended to go.

If a teacher drew the conclusion from this that this is the sum total of reading instruction and focussed hours every day on teaching just those things in Reception and Year 1 .... well, :shock: , hopefully they'd be put through competency procedures. I am hoping that you are underestimating the majority of teachers in assuming that anything significantly damaging could flow from the introduction of the phonics check.

I agree with you that it is theoretically possible something damaging could happen as a consequence .. in my experience you can put the best guidance ever and the worst guidance ever in front of a bunch of people and the results you will get are terribly mixed. Some people will rise above the rubbish and do something sensible, others will follow the good or the bad one to the letter and moan, others will misconstrue the best guidance ever and muck it all up, others will use the good guidance in the spirit it was intended and maybe even improve upon it, and some people will just be offended that they were ever given any guidance at all and carry on with however they did it before.

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Re: Opinion about the Year One Phonics Screening Check

Post by Susan Godsland » Thu Nov 15, 2012 11:14 am

So true:
in my experience you can put the best guidance ever and the worst guidance ever in front of a bunch of people and the results you will get are terribly mixed. Some people will rise above the rubbish and do something sensible, others will follow the good or the bad one to the letter and moan, others will misconstrue the best guidance ever and muck it all up, others will use the good guidance in the spirit it was intended and maybe even improve upon it, and some people will just be offended that they were ever given any guidance at all and carry on with however they did it before.

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