D-Ed Reckoning: phonics vs WL debate

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Susan Godsland

D-Ed Reckoning: phonics vs WL debate

Post by Susan Godsland »

Advance notice:

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.
http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/index.html

JIM CURRAN
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Post by JIM CURRAN »

Your child's teacher is the expert on teaching reading...not the federal legislation. ( The Whole Thing Or Piece )

Where do young teachers gain this expertise when either they get no training in the teacher training colleges or worse still mistraining?
The criticism that the National Reading Panel were inherently biased in favour of a phonics approach before they looked at any research is seriously flawed , given that the panel examined well over a hundred thousand pieces of reading research most of which failed to meet a reasonable criteria set by the panel as to what qualified as Scientific research.Unfortunately for the whole language brigade most of the pieces of research rejected were from the Whole Language camp of anything goes research.

kenm
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Post by kenm »

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.
I was sufficiently intrigued by your comment to download Zig's paper and find the bit that was quoted. I can't recall a more egregious example of misrepresentation of an author's intentions by quoting out of context.
"... 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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Post by kenm »

dickschutz wrote:I thought for a minute that you were talking about me here, rather than about deRosa.
Sorry!
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.[...]
I'm pleased to hear you say that. I found Zig's paper impressive and convincing in its identification of unwarranted deductions from good data, and also on the ethical problems raised by comparative studies.
"... 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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Peter Warner
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Post by Peter Warner »

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:

http://www.edspresso.com/2007/04april_9 ... vs_ken.htm

In the comments section, Jim Curran has been adding some further excellent contributions.

Dick, I think you should retract calling DeRosa a 'blindfolded clown'; an apology would be appropriate. Furthermore,
I think your ridiculing him publicly on this forum diminishes yourself and the RRF community.

If this surprises anyone, read Ken DeRosa's words yourself, he contrasts systematic phonics teaching and Whole Language very capably:
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?
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.
Peter Warner
Nagoya, Japan

English in Japan
[url]http://www.english-in-japan.com[/url]

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Proverbs 9:10

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Post by FEtutor »

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.
I think you are speaking for many more people on the board than yourself, Peter- well said.

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Peter Warner
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Post by Peter Warner »

Dick requested:
Please list, Peter.
Okay, here's what I learned from reading Ken DeRosa's opening statement (the long quote pasted above).

1) De Rosa begins by stating that phonics instruction is a first step, not the end goal. This strikes me as a very useful starting point when advocating systematic phonics instruction.

2) He then goes directly to the theory behind Whole Language (WL), and how it is flawed. He doesn't distract the exchange with anecdotes or accusations. He focuses on the guessing-for-meaning approach of WL, and contrasts it with the decoding-for-word-identification approach of phonic training. This is a very effective way to frame the issues, and is identical to explaining The Reading Triangle (TRT, also mentioned in another current thread). This validates to me personally the approach I myself have used, which is to base my presentations on TRT diagram.

3) After mentioning the 'Three Cueing Systems', he later identifies the 'graphophonic mechanism' (his term) as having the most highly prominent role in 'reading acquisition' (his term again). This strikes me as a reasonable and successful approach: rather than ridicule or accuse WL, he simply shows that it is misdirected.

4) He declares that the 'phonics wars' have been over for quite some time, WL lost the argument years ago. This is another useful debating tactic- he's not fighting to gain ground or even survive, he's explaining how the issues have already played out. That's a stance that projects confidence and certainty, and is attractive. People like winners.

5) He concludes by stating that those who need beginning reading instruction should begin with decoding instruction, which should be explicit and systematic. This neatly completes the circle and ties in to his first point, thereby securing the perimeter of his position.

6) His final point: Systematic phonics instruction does not replace authentic literature (and other things important to WL), it simply provides a secure foundation for it. This point (which is true) reduces the animosity found in these kinds of arguments, and should be comforting to any open-minded WL practitioners who might be receptive. It's a nice way to emphasize that we can work together rather than against each other. It has the sense of an adept Aikido move- move with the opponent's energy and direct it to a useful end, instead of trying to directly oppose it. This is an attitude that I need to adapt in my own conversations.

Here are my own disagreements with DeRosa's opening statement:

A) He never mentions the Alphabetic Code. The term 'graphophonic mechanism' probably means the same to him, but it hits me as clumsy and overly technical.

B) He readily accepts that some children don't need systematic phonics instruction, which I think weakens his position. While it may be true, capable instruction in the correct perception of alphabetic text harms no one, and saying 'give phonics instruction only to those that need it' hands the WL army a loophole big enough to roll an armored division through. I've seen that happen.

C) While he mentions the 'Three Cueing Systems', he doesn't explain (to my satisfaction) how semantic and syntactic cues can only proceed AFTER the words in the text have been identified. Perhaps I misunderstand this point myself. My reading of The Reading Triangle (TRT) says that analysis of text proceeds on the foundation of first identifying the words (by decoding skills). Am I a fanatic about TRT or what? That simple diagram reveals all the issues in this conflict, it seems.

D) He never defines what reading is, perhaps hoping his debating opponent will step first into that minefield, or perhaps waiting for later in the exchange. He already has established the premise for stating something like this: Reading is a process that goes in stages from viewing print to perceiving meaning, and those stages are: seeing, decoding, identifying (the bottom left corner of TRT, these become almost automatic and effortless in a fluent reader), then analyzing semantic and syntactic clues to comprehend the message (these are where a capable reader applies conscious focus).

My four points above are minor. DeRosa's opening statement impresses me as understandable, reasonable, and constructive. Reading him is helpful and even encouraging. Good for him.

Best regards, Peter Warner.
Peter Warner
Nagoya, Japan

English in Japan
[url]http://www.english-in-japan.com[/url]

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Proverbs 9:10

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maizie
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Post by maizie »

which was the basis for my pejorative anticipation of the debate.
:sad:

We do try not to 'do' pejorative on here. Well, not of people who are going in the same direction as us (before you start throwing various highly critical posts back at me ;-) )

I hope you two are more in agreement now.

I think the comments are, if anything, more interesting than the 'debate'.

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Post by usateacher »

Not sure if the Melissa on this site is the same Melissa who posted a response to the debaters but her post was excellent. She expressed the main point all were missing- understanding the alphabetic code. I think the folks on this board get it but it seems this is new information to most. Even DeRosa seemed to confuse folks with his /was/ example. If the two Melissa's are the same person, great job with your post. Let's hope others reading that debate see the importance of it. Her post is what is needed to help bring some understanding between the two sides. This is where progress can be made. Help the WL side to understand the alphabetic code as explained by Melissa and they will then see the need for change without others having to force it on them.

Kathy

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Post by mtyler »

Kathy,

Yes, I posted to the debate. Thank you for your kind words. They lifted my spirits after a difficult day. :grin:

Melissa
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Post by g.carter »

That was an excellent post, Melissa. And also Jim Curran's posts and that of Angus Maitland.

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Post by JIM CURRAN »

Thanks Geraldine, I found the whole debate very disheartening. The Nancy Creech version of Whole Language is all things to all people. It’s Phonics friendly, pupil and parent friendly , teacher friendly and even research friendly. The whole experience was like wrestling with a shadow. I thought that Melissa’s post summed up the complete lack of understanding that this type of whole language demonstrated towards the Alphabetic Code and how it should be taught to beginning readers. I don’t think anyone on the Whole Language side was listening, again and again they kept going back to their use of the three cueing system despite all the research to the contrary. Like so many they feel that more is always better .I remember once a Board Adviser asking me how I taught reading and when I said that I taught children to sound out the words, she looked at me aghast , “Is that all you do”? She was proposing a Lend a Hand strategy which encouraged the children to use five strategies, all of which were guessing.?

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Post by AngusM »

I thought Ken DeRosa did a pretty good job in the debate but I did notice that - as Dick points out above (partially paraphrased):

'de Rosa contends that "phonics" applies only to the Basic Code and that the entire Advanced Code is 'irregular'".

I'll go back and read the Engelmann DI piece that Dick refers to. But, in the meantime, I notice that De Rosa has just revealed the sources he used for the 'debate' and one of them is an article called "Successfully Decoding Unknown Words: What's the teacher's role?" - you can see it on his web site. It probably just explains the DI instruction method but clearly it is the source for his confusing discussion of the word 'said' in the debate. Seems that he buys into the idea that only 'regular words' (ie Basic Code) can be sounded out - whereas 'irregular words' (Advanced Code) are treated differently. The article says:

"What about irregular words? Over time irregular words are handled differently, which makes clear the intent of our process. In the beginning we teach children to say the most common sounds in the irregular words—and then remember that the actual pronunciation is “funny.” For example “said” is “sounded out” as sssaaaaiiiid (pronouncing all the letters) but, “Here’s how we say the word—sed.”"

This is somewhat like the 'perfect recording' technique ** uses - but for handling schwas.

Anyway, the article goes on (somewhat ironically) to say:

"When I first read the instructions to do it that way, it seemed to me like a risky way to teach—one that would likely lead to confusion."!

Later on the article recommends another way of handling 'irregular words':

"the teacher tells the children what the word is, and then the children are asked to spell the word while looking at it. In other words, we ask them to say the names of the letters while looking at them. And then we ask, “What word did you spell?” This procedure is used for introduction of new, unknown words as well as for corrections. Clearly the point is to direct the student’s attention to the letters of the word—after reminding the child of the word’s identity."

My question for Dick (or anyone else) is: Is this the standard DI approach? Or has Ken DeRosa just bought into a confusing hodge-podge. Seems to me that many programs lose their nerve in the Advanced Code and switch "logic from phonemes (sound) to letter patterns (visual) in an attempt to categorize the spelling code" DMcG -'Why Our Children can't Read' page 196 (US Edition).

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Post by JIM CURRAN »

When Jim Rose used Gough and Tunmer’s “Simple view of Reading” to describe the complexity of the reading process he made an honest attempt to simplify a complex process. Many teachers because of years of mistraining and wrong direction are only just beginning to understand the alphabetic code and how to teach it to their pupils. I think we are beginning to get the decoding bit of the puzzle right and groups like the RRF have been instrumental in the process of re-educating the educators.
As people like Professor Hirsch have been pointing out for a long time there remains a huge problem with the comprehension bit of the puzzle and until this piece is also solved the huge gap that exists between students from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds will continue to grow despite our success in teaching the alphabetic process to our pupils and their teachers.

The enduring effects of the vocabulary limitations of students with diverse learning needs is becoming increasingly apparent. Nothing less that learning itself depends on language. Certainly, as Adams (1990) suggests, most of our formal education is acquired through language. Learning something new does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, new learning always builds on what the learner already knows. Adams suggests that new learning is the process of forming novel combinations of familiar concepts. Learning, as a language-based activity, is fundamentally and profoundly dependent on vocabulary knowledge. Learners must have access to the meaning of words teachers, or their surrogates (e.g., other adults, books, films, etc.), use to guide them into contemplating known concepts in novel ways (i.e., to learn something new). With inadequate vocabulary knowledge, learners are being asked to develop novel combinations of known concepts with insufficient tools.
Becker (1977) was among the first to highlight the importance of vocabulary development by linking vocabulary size to the academic achievement of disadvantaged students (Baumann & Kameenui, 1991). Thus, he asserted that vocabulary deficiencies were the primary cause of academic failure of disadvantaged students in grades 3 through 12. Almost a decade later, Stanovich (1986) proposed a model of school failure that emphasized the interrelated development of phonological awareness, reading acquisition, and vocabulary growth.
Research suggests that students can be taught the phonological awareness skills they need to become proficient readers (Liberman & Liberman, 1990; Stanovich, 1986). In addition, there is empirical support that students who begin school behind typical peers in important areas such as vocabulary and language development can master basic reading skills as quickly and as well as typical peers under optimal instructional conditions (Carnine, Silbert, & Kameenui, 1990).
However, as Becker (1997) observed, the primary difficulty with sustaining early gains in reading is the lack of adequate vocabulary to meet the broad academic demands that begin in the upper-elementary grades and continue throughout schooling. In contrast to phonological awareness and early reading achievement, no research evidence supports the contention that specific vocabulary development method or program can bridge the vocabulary gap that exists at the onset of schooling between groups of students with poor versus rich vocabularies, and which continues to widen throughout school and beyond. ( Vocabulary Acquisition : A Synthesis of Research – Baker, Simmons, Kameenui, University Of Oregon )

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Post by palisadesk »

AngusM wrote:I thought Ken DeRosa did a pretty good job in the debate but I did notice that
'de Rosa contends that "phonics" applies only to the Basic Code and that the entire Advanced Code is 'irregular'".

Part of your confusion results from different meaning attached to the word "irregular" by RRF'ers and many N. American writers. It's too much of a sidebar for discussion here, but neither DI nor De Rosa think only basic code words can be sounded out -- they maintain that ALL words can be sounded out.

Like most SP approaches, DI differentiates between what one does with absolute beginners and what one does with more advanced learners. I can claim intimate familiarity with RM Fast Cycle, having taught hundreds of children -- even absolutely "hopeless" cases-- to read successfully with it over about two decades now. When the approach to irregular words that De Rosa references was introduced, I had the same reaction -- surely it would confuse the kids. I was wrong. It does not. Instead, the lowest-performing children -- those with multiple disabilities, poor memories, low IQ's -- learn and remember the words, and usually can spell them as well (though spelling is not a focus of RM). The students learn to apply a "sounding out" strategy to EVERY word. At a later point, AFTER an automatic "decoding reflex" has been developed, children are encouraged to bolt orthographic and visual information onto their (now automatic) phonological response. Remember the Stroop effect -- once decoding becomes reflexive it cannot be turned off. Research and experience have both shown that many children who decode successfully at earlier stages have difficulty making the jump to independent reading and writing at upper primary levels; one reason is their inability to remember, retrieve and retain visual/orthographic patterns and their relationship to phonological ones.

All the DI procedures are extensively field tested in classrooms with hundreds or thousands of students before being incorporated into the teaching routines in the programs. Like you, I thought it confusing; what I can attest to is that it works. And, it works in the hands of TAs or parents as well, and works just as well in group teaching as 1:1. In my own experience results range from ploddingly good to breathtakingly spectacular. After my first year I had no failures and only saw the most challenging students. Later, working with gifted students, I found it was like rocket fuel for the brain -- the students learned so fast it was frightening.

Although RM addresses mainly decoding skills at the entry levels, DI does have very effective language comprehension programs. With my students these have produced remarkable gains not only in everyday language skills but also in verbal IQ. Used together with the reading programs they are a powerful combination for academically disadvantaged children.

Taken out of context the procedures may seem confusing but in fact they are not. DI programs approach the alphabetic code differently than OG, JP etc. but the approach is very comprehensive, well-designed and thoroughly grounded in empirical data on student performance. If you are interested in the hows and whys, study the book by Carnine and Engelmann entitled "Theory of Instruction." It explains how the programs work in great detail.

DI requires more teaching expertise and specific procedural knowledge (how to give feedback, how to vary the pace, etc.) than some other effective teaching programs. It was designed for school use where group instruction will always be the norm. Other programs, of course, also work well, in varying contexts.

Susan S.

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