Starting Monday, The phonics vs whole language debate:
I'll be partaking in the great phonics vs. whole language debate of aught seven starting Monday at Edspresso.
dickschutz wrote:Oh, My. The Reading War is being reduced to a water pistol duel between blindfolded clowns. Ken indicates by his quote from Zig Englelmann that he doesn't know the Alphabetic Code from his elbow.
dickschutz wrote:I thought for a minute that you were talking about me here, rather than about deRosa.
I had read Zig's paper some time ago. Zig does work without knowing much about the structure and substance of the Alphabetic Code, and he is wedded to the instructional architecture of "Direct Instruction." After reading Zig's paper, you're right. deRosa certainly did quote him out of context, and Zig's paper (other than the quoted giveaway example buried deep in the paper) is very sound and very much to the point.[...]
De Rosa, 1:59 p.m.:
The reason why whole language is controversial is due to the Shoichi Yokoi problem.
But before I get into that, I want to make it clear that phonics is merely a tool, not an obligation. If a child comes into school reading well, having gotten there by whatever route, then that child probably does not need additional phonics instruction (at least not for reading, spelling may be another matter.) However, many children do need instruction in phonics to learn to read proficiently. Those children should get the phonics they need without prejudice. And, I believe that the way phonics is taught in whole language reading programs is, unfortunately, incompatible with proper phonics instruction.
To understand why that is so, I’ll take Nancy up on her request and define “whole language.” (I will get to Nancy’s other points and questions in future posts.)
Whole language falls within the class of meaning-emphasis reading programs and has incorporated Goodman and Smith’s psycholinguistic guessing game approach to reading. Goodman’s theory is that readers try to figure out the meaning of a text by using a variety of partly redundant cuing systems. There are three types of cues in this guessing game: semantic, syntactic, and graphophonic.
The graphophonic cues are the reader’s general knowledge of spelling-sound relationships. Syntactic cues are knowledge of syntactic patterns and the markers that cue these patterns, such as function words and suffixes. Semantic cues are knowledge about word meaning word meaning and the topic.
In fact, whole language instruction relies heavily on the student’s experience with language. Students are encouraged to guess words that are presented in the context of short stories and the main motivation is to make reading fun for the student.
To accomplish this, whole language uses “authentic literature” as the instructional text, as opposed to decodable text. The belief is that the knowledge necessary for skilled reading, including knowledge of phonics, will develop naturally, like spoken language develops, if children are exposed to good books. Therefore, explicit teaching of phonics should be eschewed since it is not a natural extension of learning and has the potential to do harm by boring or frustrating the student. Moreover, because phonics represents just one of the cueing systems, if a student fails to learn some piece of phonics knowledge, other cueing systems will compensate when the student actually reads.
In this reading-as-a-guessing-game or hypothesis-testing activity theory, it is thought that readers engage in a cycle of activity in which they generate an hypothesis about what the next word would be, move their eyes to that word, quickly confirm their hypothesis, and then generate a new hypothesis about the next word. Under such a view, the reader’s processing is mostly contextually driven. This approach also suggests that a bottleneck forms when a reader is acquiring visual information into the brain’s processing system.
This has proven not to be the case.
Since this theory was first proposed in the early 1970’s, there has been a large amount of research on skilled reading which has led to the replacement of this hypothesis-testing theory of reading by one in which the processing activities involved in reading occur very rapidly, so that the visual information needed for reading gets into the processing system very quickly without the formation of a bottleneck at the visual input stage. Research on eye movements during reading also indicates that skilled readers identify words quickly with little help from context, though context does play an important role in interpreting meaning of identified words. It is this misapplication of context for identifying words, rather than for ascertaining the meaning of words which has proven to have the most pernicious side-effects on naïve readers.
Reading is not a guessing game. Phonological information is critically important in word identification. In fact, the three cueing systems are not equivalent in determining what word is actually read; the graphophonic mechanism plays a highly prominent role, particularly in reading acquisition.
Furthermore, learning to read is not a natural process like learning to talk. Learning to speak is effortless and automatic for almost all children brought up surrounded by other humans speaking their language. Reading is not and often requires some explicit instruction in the alphabetic principle. Almost no child needs to be taught the phonemes of his language, but almost every child needs to be taught the symbols that make up his writing system. That’s why there is an alphabet song, but not a phoneme song.
(See How Psychological Science Informs the Teaching of Reading (2001), Rayner, Foorman, Perfetti, Pesetsky, and Seidenberg, for elaboration and omitted research cites.)
Which brings me to Shoichi Yokoi.
Shoichi Yokoi was a Japanese soldier in World War II who was stationed in Guam and went into hiding in 1944 when the American forces conquered the island. Yokoi hid in a jungle cave for 28 years, fearing to come out, even after he had found leaflets declaring World War II to be over.
Unlike Yokoi, whole language proponents still refuse to leave their pedagogical cave, even though the phonics wars have been over for quite some time. And, while the cognitive science reading research has shown that the meaning-emphasis approach to reading to be wrong, classroom practice has yet to adjust to this reality.
It is not a question of just doing phonics. It is a matter of doing phonics right for those children that need instruction in phonics. For many children this means that phonics must be taught systematically and explicitly so they learn that the primary mechanism for word identification is the grapho-phonemic information contained in the words themselves. Such instruction requires the use of decodable texts in the initial stages of reading instruction rather than authentic texts, which are neither decodable nor designed for instructional use.
I think that much of what is contained in the typical whole language reading program can be salvaged if they get the phonics part right in the beginning levels.
Nancy, what will it take for whole language proponents to see the light? Why aren’t they coming out of their caves?
Peter Warner wrote:Now hold on, darn it. In fairness to Ken DeRosa, I've read his opening statement on that debate format three times, and it impresses me as informed, reasonable and articulate. Dick, your criticism seems to be related to some other article, not the debate linked to at the start of this thread:
Speaking for myself, I learned several things from reading that. The man writes well, and his effort to educate others deserves support, not scorn. I respect Ken DeRosa, and admire not only his positive contribution to the understanding of beginning reading instruction, but also his willingness to exchange competing views in a constructive manner.
Best regards, Peter Warner.
Please list, Peter.
which was the basis for my pejorative anticipation of the debate.
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