Heather F's blog

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Heather F's blog

Post by maizie » Tue May 27, 2014 4:11 pm

Heather recently posted a blog about SSP which provoked a bit of a twitter storm and a series of exchanges over the quality of the evidence with another RRF message board contributor who posted her own blog in response.

Heather's blog: http://heatherfblog.wordpress.com/2014/ ... -evidence/

Response: http://logicalincrementalism.wordpress. ... g-reading/

I felt that the 'history' of reading instruction' run through in the second blog was, to say the least, vague and inaccurate, and tried to write a response. This has turned out to be extremely long so I am posting it here instead. It is not a polished piece of work, nor does it address everything but I have tried to be show how instructional methods have taken hold over the past 10 years or so.
I realise that I could have gone further, looking at reports such as Bullock and Warnock but this isn't an undergraduate essay.

I might also say that reading Huey is a real eyeopener. Diack comments that much of what had been written about reading prior to his own book (1965) could be found in Huey, though as the 20th C progressed it was increasingly unattributed. The same could be said now in that much of what Huey said is still being said today. The power of Ruling Theory at work!

Sections in italics are from the blog post

Here goes!

As far as I’m aware, when education became compulsory in England in the late 19th century, reading was taught predominantly via letter-sound correspondence and analytic phonics – ‘the cat sat on the mat’ etc. A common assumption was that if people couldn’t read it was usually because they’d never been taught. What was found was that a proportion of children didn’t learn to read despite being taught in the same way as others in the class. The Warnock committee reported that teachers in England at the time were surprised by the numbers of children turning up for school with disabilities or learning difficulties. That resulted in special schools being set up for those with the most significant difficulties with learning. In France Alfred Binet was commissioned to devise a screening test to identify learning difficulties that evolved into the ‘intelligence test’. In Italy, Maria Montessori adapted methods to mainstream education that had been used to teach hearing-impaired children.

The history of teaching reading is far more complex than your overview suggests. It is not a straight run of ‘letter/sound correspondence and analytic phonics teaching from the inception of universal schooling in the 1880s through to Ken Goodman’s ‘Whole Language’ of the 1960s. It is a period of differing theories and methodologies; of the beginning of the scientific study of the reading process (mainly of eye-movements) and of gathering momentum in the disagreements about the theory of reading instruction which has led to the ‘Reading Wars.’

It might be noted that this is a peculiarly Anglo-Centric history; countries which have more transparent orthographies (i.e mainly, or completely having only one way to represent each of the phonemes of the language) have, for the most part, carried serenely on as they have done for years, teaching letter/sound correspondences, decoding and blending for reading and segmenting for spelling, with no apparent detriment to the children so taught and with far higher levels of literacy than many English Speaking countries. And with no thought of changing their effective teaching methods.

A great deal of information on the history of reading instruction comes from the highly influential work of Edmund Burke Huey, an Educational psychologist, ‘The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading’ 1908. Also from Hunter Diack’s ‘In Spite of the Alphabet’ 1965 and Jeanne Chall ‘Learning to Read, the great debate’ 1967. A paper by Dr Joyce Morris ‘Phonicsphobia’ gives insight into English practice post WW2. From the 80s on may be fairly common knowledge to older readers.

From my reading of Huey it seems that by the 19th century there were four main methods of teaching reading (with variations within each category). The method which seems to have obtained until at least the mid. 19th C was the Alphabetic, by which is meant the ‘traditional’ centuries old method of learning the alphabet letters and how to spell words out. It is not altogether clear whether children were taught letter sound correspondences or letter names (or both) by this method though Diack suggests that as the method involved learning consonant vowel combinations (ba, be, bo, bu etc.) it must have involved ‘sounds’ at some stage. Whole word (Look & Say) had been proposed from time to time during the 18th C but may have derived some impetus from Thomas Gallaudet, an early 19th C educator of deaf children who used Whole Word to teach his pupils to read. By the time Huey was writing it was being seriously proposed as an effective method. Huey also identified ‘Phonetic’ methods; not ‘phonics’ as we know it but methods using simplified alphabets or diacrital marks to simplify early reading instruction. The fourth category was Phonics, phonics of a kind quite familiar to SP proponents and even called ‘Synthetic’ by some late 19th C practitioners. (Analytic Phonics does not seem to have featured)

Huey himself favoured a version of Whole Word known as the Sentence Method, based on the theory that children would learn best something that was meaningful and interesting to them. Children were taught to recognise and ‘read’ a whole sentence (with no regard to the individual words which comprised it or the letters the words contained). Diack suggests that this method was validated by Gestalt theories (that the ‘whole’ is the unit of immediate perception) in the 1920s and I think it perhaps influenced the bizarre statement of Whole Language guru, Ken Goodman, to the effect that a paragraph is easier to read than a sentence and a sentence is easier to read than a word.

Huey did believe that phonics should be taught but after children had learned to read and not connected with the reading process, presumably the phonics was for spelling. He did acknowledge that Rebecca Pollard’s ‘Synthetic’ (phonics) Method was successful but dismissed it as old fashioned and tedious.

It is important to note that a key element of Whole Word instruction is the focus on reading for meaning alone. There is no attempt to teach any word recognition strategies beyond, perhaps, linking the word to a picture. The success of the method relied on children’s own ability to memorise the appearance of the word (and to be able to recognise it in different forms e.g differing fonts, cases or handwriting). The educationists who promoted the method did so because of their perception that children who did not read with ‘expression’ were not understanding what they were reading and that phonics instruction led to expressionless mechanical reading with no understanding. There seems to have been no attempt to verify this belief. Horace Mann gave expression to it when describing reading he heard in schools in the 1830s as being ‘too often a barren action of the organs of speech upon the atmosphere’ and it can be seen today, over 150 years later, expressed, in less picturesque terms, by denigrators of SSP methods of teaching reading.

Diack says that in reality phonic methods predominated in the UK & the US for at least the latter half of the 19th Century. Under the influence of figures such as Huey & Dewey Whole Word methods became widely accepted in the US from the early 20th Century whereas Phonics lingered on in the UK for far longer.

At this point it might be appropriate to mention Montessori. I am not sure why her method of teaching reading is thought to have been developed from her work with deaf children. As far as I can make out from her own book (The Montessori Method. 1912) her method for developing the motor skills need for writing and her use of letter shapes for learning the forms of letters were developed when she worked with what we would now call children with learning difficulties, but her method of teaching reading owes nothing whatsoever to work with hearing impaired children. She taught letter/sound correspondence right from the start and her account of how her children learned to read and write would have any SP proponent nodding in approval. It is very beautiful and well worth reading
(http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/ ... ethod.html) p246

It seems that Whole Word methods began to really take hold in the UK during the 1930s and proliferated post WW2 as part of the postwar desire for ‘modernisation. It was then that Joyce Morris encountered resistance to old fashioned ‘Phonics’ detailed in her article ‘Phonicsphobia’ (1994) as did Hunter Diack when he published papers in the 1950s in favour of phonics instruction. His approach to phonics was to teach letter/sound correspondences but in the context of whole words. I don’t know enough about his method to tell if it tends to Analytic or Synthetic but the reading tests he produced with J.C Daniels do not look to be ‘word family’ based.

It is possible that Whole Word may have slipped quietly away at some time had it not been for the rise to prominence of the highly charismatic and persuasive Frank Smith in the early 1970s. Having never taught a child to read he wrote a book called ‘Understanding Reading’. (1971) which seems never to have been out of print since. A great deal of it is regurgitation of Huey and some of it is stunningly inaccurate assertions of what happens in the reading process. The final chapter where he proposes that a really skilled reader can read a page of text and get the meaning of it without being aware of the words on the page is awe-inspiringly loopy. Yet he has a huge following and is revered. It was Frank Smith’s excitingly ‘modern’ take on reading that inspired two young cognitive psychologists, in the 1970s to base a study on Smith’s proposal that skilled readers use context and prediction to ‘read’ the words on the page and that poor readers laboured away with phonics. Stanovich and West were amazed to find that precisely the opposite was true.

Research into acquired reading difficulties in adults generated an interest in developmental problems with learning to read, pioneered by James Hinshelwood and Samuel Orton in the early 20th century.

From my foregoing account you should be aware that Orton and Hinshelwood were investigating reading disorders in the USA at a time when Whole Word had become the predominant method of teaching reading; any phonics instruction was incidental. ‘Alphabetic principle and analytic phonics’ really cannot be implicated here.

The term developmental dyslexia began as a descriptive label for a range of problems with reading and gradually became reified into a ‘disorder’. Because using the alphabetic principle and analytic phonics clearly wasn’t an effective approach for teaching all children to read, and because of an increased interest in child development, researchers began to look at what adults and children actually did when reading and learning to read, rather than what it had been thought they should do.

This is just extraordinary. Bearing in mind that no date is given for this rejection of the alphabetic principle and analytic phonics and that Dr Orton famously pioneered structured, systematic phonics instruction for remediation of dyslexics in the 1920s/30s (the implication being that this was not the instruction they received in schools) this statement makes no sense at all.

What they found was that people use a range of cues (‘mixed methods’) to decode unfamiliar words; letter-sound correspondence, analytic phonics, recognising words by their shape, using key letters, grammar, context and pictures, for example.

This is an odd one to unpick. It is probable that researchers did find that people used these strategies but they were used in the context of a belief that children could learn to read whole words, whole sentences etc. with no instruction in phonics until they *could* read. In the absence of initial phonics instruction, and, presumably because children struggled to learn to read when the Word method assumed that they would learn unaided, these ‘strategies’ were developed and taught in an attempt to help children learn more easily. Naturally these strategies would be observed in people taught to use them or people who had developed them by themselves in the absence of any other guidance. Chall shows clearly how basal readers developed the use of pictures and predictable text to facilitate the teaching of these strategies. But since Stanovich and West showed, in the 70s that these were strategies used by unskilled readers and that skilled readers used decoding strategies for word recognition (this is an extreme simplification of the research Stanovich outlines in ‘Progress in Understanding Reading’) and this has been the conclusion of cognitive scientists over the subsequent decades the validity of these strategies is seriously challenged.

Educators reasoned that if some children hadn’t learned to read using alphabetic principles and/or analytic phonics, applying the strategies that people actually used when reading new words might be a more effective approach.

As alphabetic principles weren’t being used to any great extent this statement is invalid. The tossing in of ‘analytic phonics’ seems more of a sop to phonics detractors than an indictment of ‘phonics’. McGuinness (1998) examination of US ‘analytic’ phonics instruction shows it to have been chaotic, illogical and unstructured and only marginally effective. There is no reason to believe that the situation was any different in the UK. Indeed, examination of pre SP phonics programmes (of which I have several) tends to confirm her conclusions.

This idea, coinciding with an increased interest in child-led pedagogy and a belief that a species-specific genetic blueprint meant that children would follow the same developmental trajectory but at different rates, resulted in the concept of ‘reading-readiness’. The upshot was that no one panicked if children couldn’t read by 7, 9 or 11; they often did learn to read when they were ‘ready’. It’s impossible to compare the long-term outcomes of analytic phonics and mixed methods because the relevant data aren’t available. We don’t know for instance, whether children’s educational attainment suffered more if they got left behind by whole-class analytic phonics, or if they got left alone in schools that waited for them to become ‘reading-ready’.

Some comparisons do exist. Diack notes that the committee set up by the UK government in 1947 ‘to consider the nature and extent of the illiteracy alleged to exist among school leavers and young people’ found that 11y olds in 1948 were a year behind those of 1938 and 15 y olds in 1948 were 2 years behind those in 1938. Martin Turner in his pamphlet ‘Sponsored Reading Failure (1990) found that standards in reading were falling (that was in the days when reading was monitored by Local Authorities) and suggested that this was caused by the prevalence of Whole Word and Real Books methodology.

Eventually, as is often the case, the descriptive observations about how people tackle unfamiliar words became prescriptive. Whole word recognition began to supersede analytic phonics after WW2, and in the 1960s Ken Goodman formalised mixed methods in a ‘whole language’ approach. Goodman was strongly influenced by Noam Chomsky, who believes that the structure underpinning language is essentially ‘hard-wired’ in humans. Goodman’s ideas chimed with the growing social constructivist approach to education that emphasises the importance of meaning mediated by language.
At the same time as whole language approaches were gaining ground, in England the national curriculum and standardised testing were introduced, which meant that children whose reading didn’t keep up with their peers were far more visible than they had been previously, and the complaints that had followed the introduction of whole language in the USA began to be heard here.


It seems that Whole Word/Whole Language approaches had been prevalent long before the introduction of the national curriculum and it is debateable that the National Curriculum Tests were truly standardised. But an account of government attempts to reintroduce more phonics into the teaching of reading since 1988 can be found here: http://www.rrf.org.uk/

In addition, the national curriculum appears to have focussed on the mechanics of understanding ‘texts’ rather than on reading books for enjoyment.

I would agree with that but would also note that the initial teaching of reading was such that, even with increased official emphasis on the teaching of phonics a consistent ‘tail’ of some 20% of children have left primary school with barely functional literacy (L3 or below; some 120,000 children annually) and that inability to read with ease militates strongly against getting any enjoyment from reading, or choosing to read as a leisure activity.

What has also happened is that with the advent of multi-channel TV and electronic gadgets, reading has nowhere near the popularity it once had as a leisure activity amongst children, so children tend to get a lot less reading practice than they did in the past. These developments suggest that any decline in reading standards might have multiple causes, rather than ‘mixed methods’ being the only culprit.

But concern must be not only focussed on failure to read for enjoyment. There are very significant numbers of children and young people who are unable to read to a level which enables them to access the functional reading needed to participate in a highly text based society.

Sources:
Huey. E.B the Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading 1908
https://archive.org/stream/psychologyan ... 1/mode/1up
Montessori. M The Montessori Method 1912
http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/ ... ethod.html
Diack. H: In Spite of the Alphabet 1965
Chall. J Learning to Read: The Great Debate 1967
Smith. F Understanding Reading 1971
Morris J Phonicsphobia 1994
http://www.spellingsociety.org/journals ... sfobia.php

McGuinness. D. Why Children Can’t Read 1998
Turner. M. Sponsored Reading Failure 1990
Stanovich. K Progress in Understanding Reading 2000

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Re: Heather F's blog

Post by pjay » Wed May 28, 2014 1:42 pm

An interesting account of the reading wars Maizie but I think you overestimate the timing and extent of the influence of the views of experts on practice at ground level.
I taught in several good primary schools throughout the 70s and 80s. Reading was invariably taught through the use of a scheme. I am sure you remember the popular ones. These were all based on the acquisition of an initial sight vocabulary followed by what I suppose could be described as a mixture of analytic and synthetic phonics. I certainly made extensive use of Joyce Morris and Daniels and Diack materials for those children who struggled.
I can hardly remember any child who had not, by the beginning of what is now KS2, acquired basic mechanical reading skills. Certainly there was hardly any dyslexia.
What led to this success was several factors- teachers trained to teach reading (don't ask about the primary PGCE students we get now who have to be taught so many basic things); a high priority given to the teaching of reading and yes a pressure and shame on the part of the teacher to succeed in this; plenty of time given up for teaching reading; parents who accepted their responsibility in the process; what I suppose would now be called fidelity to the programme. These programmes were to an extent proof against weaker teachers with their clear progression and built in repetition.
The decline began in my experience with the advent of whole language. OUP and Biff and Chip have so much to answer for-suddenly we had 'dyslexics' where none existed before.
In my own school we use a SP programme and the tide is turning but I would not like to see much of the good practice that did exist in the past written off and dismissed as ineffective.

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Re: Heather F's blog

Post by kenm » Wed May 28, 2014 3:22 pm

maizie wrote:[...]From my reading of Huey it seems that by the 19th century there were four main methods of teaching reading (with variations within each category). The method which seems to have obtained until at least the mid. 19th C was the Alphabetic, by which is meant the ‘traditional’ centuries old method of learning the alphabet letters and how to spell words out. It is not altogether clear whether children were taught letter sound correspondences or letter names (or both) by this method...
Both my wife and I recall hearing and chanting, around the time of our earliest schooldays (mine 1938, hers 1942) a mantra:

"A says /a/ [very short], B says /b/, C says /k/ etc"

I would suggest that this is derived from the Alphabetic method. I don't recall any diacritital marks or special characters at that stage, nor do I associate any of "correspondence", "phonics", "analytic" and "synthetic" with this period.
logicalincrementalism wrote: Whole word recognition began to supersede analytic phonics after WW2, and in the 1960s Ken Goodman formalised mixed methods in a ‘whole language’ approach. Goodman was strongly influenced by Noam Chomsky, who believes that the structure underpinning language is essentially ‘hard-wired’ in humans.
There is an error here from which a knowledge of evolution would have protected the perpetrator. The response doesn't say whose mistake it is, but Wikipedia attributes it to Goodman. The evidence continues to mount for the inbuilt process of spoken language acquisition. "How babies think" (Phoenix, 2001, Gopnik, Meltzoff and Kuhl; first published as "The scientist in the crib" by William Morrow & Co., Inc in 1999) has fascinating descriptions of infant/parent interactions and the instinctive behaviour of both partners that facilitates them; also some interesting detail on phoneme discrimination and the refinement of native language distinctions that results in the loss of the capacity for forming new ones.
pjay wrote:I taught in several good primary schools throughout the 70s and 80s. Reading was invariably taught through the use of a scheme.
By the late 60s, the teaching of reading was already reported to be patchy, though the proportion of incompetent schools may still have been small; that is why we decided to "school-proof" our offspring.
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

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Re: Heather F's blog

Post by maizie » Wed May 28, 2014 3:55 pm

pjay wrote:I think you overestimate the timing and extent of the influence of the views of experts on practice at ground level.
It is more than possible that I did, but this was a gallop through a long and complex subject! Jeanne Chall, who spent time observing teachers in (if I remember correctly) some 300 schools in the US and the UK found all sorts of things going on which didn't conform to the 'official' line. When it comes down to it we don't really know what goes on in every single classroom! I suspect that future commentators might characterise the twentyteens as the era of the supremacy of SP in English classrooms but we know very well that it isn't when vast numbers teachers are subverting the SP with a bit of the good old 'other strategies' :grin:

However, I think that the protests of people like Flesch and Diack in the 1950s indicate that Whole Word had taken a firm hold on reading instruction.

The bit that I really cannot get over is the Whole Word method expectation that children would be able to memorise the appearance of not just whole words but entire sentences without any help whatsoever. Huey merely airily asserts that children 'will' do this, that and the other. Yet he, having spent chapter after chapter on eye movement research because he believed in evidence, produces no evidence whatsoever for his endorsement of Whole Word. Just that he believed children could do it. I keep thinking of Sue Lloyd's practice of showing a couple of very similar looking words in Arabic script and asking her audience to 'learn' them, then re-showing them at the end of the session to see who 'knew' the. I couldn't even 'learn' those two words. How about several thousand?

EVerybody should read Huey. He presents a perfect exposition of modern anti-phon beliefs and discourse, there is nothing missing. Michael Rosen eat your heart out, Huey said it all over 100 years ago!

What seems clear about the mixed methods stuff is that it is clearly a bit of 'secret phonics', taught by oldfashioned teachers who clung to their old ways and eventually let out into the open, and desperate attemps to help children to memorise those entire words & sentences without having to resort to the dreaded phonics.

I've been trawling around the web a bit looking for other histories of reading instruction and that is pretty instructive, too!

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Re: Heather F's blog

Post by pjay » Wed May 28, 2014 10:24 pm

I find the history of reading instruction fascinating but I think it often took a long time for changes in methods to filter through to the 'chalk face'. My opinion is that many schools in the past found a method that suited them and in which they invested resources. For decades this took the form of a reading 'scheme' and many of these were extremely well constructed and well delivered by teachers. Very few schools went overboard for the 'whole language' 'apprenticeship' method until the appearance of the dreaded Biff and Chip. I think the influence of publishers was enormous in this regard-much more than academics. I do think that those of us who taught reading rigorously using sound programmes that fell out of fashion have nothing to apologise for. The damage was done with the advent of the 'real books'movement.

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Re: Heather F's blog

Post by maizie » Wed May 28, 2014 10:33 pm

pjay wrote:I think the influence of publishers was enormous in this regard-much more than academics.
Then why are so many education 'academics' so vigorously opposed to systematic, structured phonics instruction?

Wouldn't publishers claim that they were fulfilling a demand; not creating one?
pjay wrote:I do think that those of us who taught reading rigorously using sound programmes that fell out of fashion have nothing to apologise for.
Heavens, no blame whatsoever; it was keeping the flame alive! There just weren't enough of you.

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Re: Heather F's blog

Post by maizie » Fri May 30, 2014 3:05 pm

Sorry! Sue responded on her blog and this is my response to her response...


At the risk of boring folks I felt bound to respond to Sue’s response!
I hope that this debate is viewed in the spirit in which it is intended, that of a discussion between friends; not that of polar opposites!
Sue’s comments in italics again.

On reflection, I think I could have signposted the key points I wanted to make more clearly in my post. My reasoning went like this;
1. Until the post-war period reading methods in the UK were dominated by alphabetic/phonics approaches.
2. Despite this, a significant proportion of children didn’t learn to read properly.
3. Current concerns about literacy levels don’t have a clear benchmark – what literacy levels do we expect and why?
4. Although literacy levels have fallen in recent years, the contribution of ‘mixed methods’ to this fall is unclear; other factors are involved.
A few comments on Maggie’s post:
Huey and reading methods
My observation about the use of alphabetic and analytic phonics approaches in the early days of state education in England is based on a fair number of accounts I’ve either heard or read from people who were taught to read in the late 19th/early 20th century. Without exception, they have reported;
• learning the alphabet
• learning letter-sound correspondences
• sounding out unfamiliar words letter-sound by letter-sound


This accords with the account I proposed, that phonics methods persisted in the UK for the early decades of 20th C. I’d also note, as I have on the RRF board, that my account was something of a gallop through the topic. It was bound to be broad brushed rather than detailed. Of course a variety of practices will have obtained at any period (as they do now) but I was trying to indicate what appeared to be the ‘dominant’ practice at any one time.

I’m well aware that that the first-hand accounts I’ve come across don’t form a representative sample, but from what Maggie has distilled from Huey, the accounts don’t appear to be far off the mark for what was happening generally. I concede that sounding out unfamiliar words doesn’t qualify as ‘analytic phonics’, but it’s analytic something – analytic letter-sound correspondence, perhaps?

Modern definitions of ‘analytic’ phonics make it clear that children are taught whole words initially and the words are then ‘analysed for their phonic structure. This may not necessarily be at the level of the phoneme; analytic phonics may also include analysis at the syllable level and at ‘onset/rime’ level (the familiar ‘word families’). This practice would seem to be more allied to the Word method (recall that Huey said that phonics could be taught once children had learned to read) than to the ‘Alphabetic’ method. Though, to be honest, it is very difficult to work out from contemporary primers and accounts of instructing/learning reading just how the Alphabetic method was taught. When accounts speak of ‘learning letters’ are letter names being taught or sound values? When they talk of ‘spelling’ words are they referring to actually writing words or to saying letter names followed by the whole word (see ai tee . cat) or to orally sounding out and blending? Certainly reading primers such as ‘Reading Without Tears’ first published 183?* are arranged in much the same way as a modern ‘decodable’ book.

However, if the Phonic method which Huey describes is anything like the method Rebecca Pollard outlines (‘Manual of Synthetic Reading and Spelling’(1897)) it is closely akin to the supposedly ‘new’ SP method in that it taught letter/sound correspondences, decoding and blending, from simple to complex, as did the method outlined by Nellie Dale (‘On the Teaching of English Reading’. 1898).

Montessori
I cited Montessori as an example of the Europe-wide challenge posed by children who struggled at school; I wasn’t referring to her approach to teaching reading specifically. In her book she frequently mentions Itard and Séguin who worked with hearing-impaired children. She applies a number of their techniques, but doesn’t appear to agree with them about everything – she questions Séguin’s approach to writing, for example.


In which case I misunderstood your reason for citing her. I thought it was specifically in relation to teaching reading. Her sections on teaching reading and writing are very interesting. What is striking is that she believed in the ‘developmental’ model, agreeing with Huey’s contention that children should not be taught to read before they were at least 6. She describes how she tried very hard to resist younger children’s appeals to be taught to read and write but found that after motor skills training with letter shapes some of them were self teaching anyway and delighted with their achievements!

Frank Smith
I haven’t read Smith, but the fact that skilled readers use context and prediction to read the words on the page wasn’t his ‘proposal’. By the 1970s it was a well-documented feature of contextual priming in skilled readers, i.e. skilled adult readers with large spoken vocabularies. From what Maggie has said, the error Smith appears to have made is to assume that children could learn by mimicking the behaviour of experts – a mistake that litters the history of pedagogy.


Indeed, he was echoing much earlier theorists, such as Huey, in this belief and, of course, by the time he was writing many readers may have been using such strategies because of being taught by Word methods (I’m sticking to my hypothesis!). I can’t find that he has any evidence for his assertion and, as I pointed out, Stanovich and West disproved his theory.

Hinshelwood and Orton
Hinshelwood was a British ophthalmologist interested in reading difficulties caused by brain damage. Orton was American, but was a doctor also interested in brain damage and its effect on reading. I can’t see how the work of either of them would have been affected by the use of Whole Word reading methods in US schools, although their work has frequently been referred to as an explanation for reading difficulties.


Orton’s interest famously ultimately extended beyond brain damaged subjects to the study of non-brain damaged subjects with ‘dyslexia’. At the time he was working Word methods were predominant in US schools and he implicated these methods as contributing to his subject’s problems. The Orton-Gillingham structured, systematic phonics programme was developed for helping these dyslexics. It appears to have been innovatory for its period and, believe it or not, from online contacts with US practitioners I understand that because it is SSP it is still fairly contentious in the US today! They express the same frustrations as do SP proponents. If only children were taught the OG way there wouldn’t be so much reading failure in the US!

I am not familiar with Hinshelwood but it’s clear that I shall have to look him up!

the rejection of the alphabetic principle
Maggie says my statement that the alphabetic principle and analytic phonics had been abandoned because they hadn’t been effective for all children ‘makes no sense at all’. If I’m wrong, why were these methods abandoned?


I still don’t think it makes any sense. For a start, you give no time scale. When did this abandonment take place? And you are conflating Alphabetic with Analytic which I don’t think is correct (see my earlier comment).

Another point is that you are crediting educationists and teachers with a degree of rationality which I don’t think is justified. The widespread acceptance of the Word method, which had no evidence to back it but strong appeals to ‘emotion’ with the language of its denigration of Phonic methods, is a case in point. Boring, laborious, ‘drill & kill’, barren, mechanical, uncomprehending, the list is long (and very familiar). It is a technique promoted today as ‘framing’ (though I might acquit its original users of deliberate use of it). Very easy to be persuaded by the language without really considering the validity of the method it purports to describe.
And, of course, there was the lure of modernity. Word methods were advocated by modern educationists as part of progressive educational methods (but let’s not get into an argument about ‘progressive :smile: ). I don’t know how much teachers believed that there was some sort of research base for progressive methods but as Huey sets some store by research (pages and pages on eye movements, for example) and does have an evidence base for some of what he says I would suggest that it would be taken on trust that it was all evidence based. I would also suggest that the discourse of ‘science’, ‘research’, ‘progressive’ would be enough to convince many without them delving too deeply into the evidence. Brain Gym, anybody?

In addition, though my suggestion that ‘official’ advice was followed has been questioned, it might be noted that in respect of the post WW2 UK both the government committee of 1947 and the Bullock Report (1975) both firmly endorsed a mixed methods approach which started from Whole Word and taught phonics if necessary.

It is also interesting that Bullock notes that increasing numbers of children, particularly ‘working class’ children, were entering Junior school (Y2) unable to read. Might one ascribe this to developmentalist theory?

using a range of cues
The cues I listed are those identified in skilled adult readers in studies carried out predominantly in the post-war period. Maggie’s hypothesis is that the range of cues is an outcome of the way the participants in experiments (often college students) had been taught to read. It’s an interesting hypothesis; it would be great to test it.


I stand by it! I have worked with too many children who read exactly as taught by the Searchlights!

I thought I would revisit these ‘cues’ which are supposed to have offered sufficient exposure to auditory and visual patterns to develop automated, fast recognition. They are ‘recognising words by their shape, using key letters, grammar, context and pictures,’

recognising words by their shape, Confounded at once by the fact that many words have the same shape: sack, sick, sock, suck, lack, lick, luck, lock, pock, pick, puck, pack,

using key letters, Would those be the ones that differentiate each word in the above word list?

grammar, Well, I can see how you might ‘predict’ a particular grammatical word form, noun, verb, adjective etc. but the specific word? By what repeated pattern would you develop automatic recognition of it?

context I think the same might apply as for grammar. You need a mechanism for recognising the actual word.

pictures, Hm. Very useful for words like oxygen, air, the, gritty, bang, etc.

An alternative hypothesis is that the strategies used by skilled adult readers are an outcome of how brains work. Prior information primes neural networks and thus reduces response time, and frequent exposure to auditory and visual patterns such as spoken and written words results in automated, fast recognition.

In view of Stanovich & West’s findings I would be interested to see any studies which show that skilled adult readers did use the ‘cues’ you listed. (as above)

I know we have had discussions about the term ‘natural’ but ultimately reading is a taught skill. If readers use strategies which can be directly related to the strategies they were taught I cannot see that why they should be ascribed to untaught and unconscious exploitation of the brain’s capabilities. I could only accept this hypothsis in the case of self taught readers. I would be surprised to find the generality of beginning readers developing such strategies spontaneously (i.e. undirected/taught) when presented with text, though some outliers might. What would you do if presented with a page of unfamiliar script, Hebrew, Arabic, Thai, Chinese and told to read it without any help whatsoever? And you are 5ys old.

For example, in chapter 2 of Stanovich’s book, West and Stanovich report fluent readers’ performance being facilitated by two automated processes; sentence context (essentially semantic priming) and word recognition.

I appreciate that but this is described as a feature of fluent, skilled reading. To assume that beginning readers do this spontaneously might be to fall into the same trap as assuming’ that children could learn by mimicking the behaviour of experts’

According to chapter 3, fluent readers use phonological recoding if automated word recognition fails.

Isn’t that the whole point. Fluent readers didn’t use context, or other 'cues', to identify unfamiliar words, they used phonological recoding.

It is also moot that they use context to predict upcoming words (although I do understand about priming effects). There is also the possibility that rapid, automatic and unconscious decoding is the mechanism of automatic word recognition (Dehaene). Possibly with context confirming that the word is correct? A reading sequence of ‘predicting’, then, presumably, checking for correctness of form and meaning (how? by decoding and blending?) seems like a strange use of processing when decoding gets the form of the word correctly straight away and immediately activates meaning.

educators’ reasoning
I wasn’t saying that the educators’ assessment of alphabetic/phonics methods was right, just that it was what they claimed. Again, if they didn’t think that, why would alphabetic/phonics methods have been abandoned?


Se above!

falling literacy standards
The data that I suggested weren’t available would enable us to make a valid comparison between the literacy levels of school-leavers (aged 13, say) at the beginning of the 20th century when alphabetic/phonics methods were widely used in the UK, and current levels for young people of the same age. The findings Maggie has cited are interesting, but don’t give us a benchmark for the literacy levels we should expect.


There is some post WW2 data in the Bullock report though it is held to be not totally reliable. However, it finds that 'reading standards' rose from 1948 to 1961 but then fell back slightly from 1961 to 1971. Make of that what you will!



national curriculum and standardised testing
The point I was trying to make was not about the impact of the NC and SATs on reading, but that the NC and SATs made poor readers more obvious. In the reading-ready era, some children not reading at 7 would have learned to read by the time they were 11, but that delay wouldn’t have appeared in national statistics.


As, indeed, it appeared to be doing so in Bullock (see above)

reading for enjoyment
Children leaving school without functional literacy is certainly a cause for concern, and I agree that methods of teaching reading must be implicated. But technological changes since 1990 haven’t helped. The world of young people is not as text-based as it used to be, and not as text-based as the adult world. That issue needs to be addressed.


Which, as you might guess, I would partially ascribe to adoption of Whole Word, Whole Language & Mixed Methods. I have watched the ‘simplification’ of text over my lifetime in the cause of 'including' the semi-literate.

I think there’s a political element too, in the rejection of ‘elite’ language (aka ‘big words’). I shall have to dig out my copy of ‘The Uses of Literacy’ I think, to see what literacy expectations there were of the 50’s generation. Could be instructive.

What I do find interesting, and perhaps pertinent to the question of ‘dumbing down’ being discussed in other twitter conversations, is that, although we don’t really know what percentage of the population were literate in the latter half of the 19th C and the early 20th C, popular texts and the media appear to have expected a far more complex vocabulary knowledge, and an ability to comprehend far more complex syntax, of those who could read, even of children.. Compare, for example, Beatrix Potter with ORT.



Note:
Huey, Dewie & Louie are the names of Donald Duck’s three nephews
There’s no Louie in this story yet

.
Perhaps Walt was taught the rhetorical ‘rule of three’!

It’s sad that we don’t have a Louie (or a Lewie) to complete the triumvirate. They would trip so nicely off the tongue..

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