Lucy Calkins & the Science of Reading

Discussion in 'General Education' started by bella84, Nov 24, 2019.

  1. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

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    Nov 24, 2019

    LC shared her thoughts on the science of reading in a lengthy essay. I found it interesting. I agreed with some parts - maybe most parts, but disagreed with a few here and there. Curious to see what others think. Edit: The link didn't work. See the post with the text below.
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2019
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  3. teacherguy111

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    Nov 25, 2019

    It says don't have authorization to view this page when I click the link.
     
  4. bella84

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    Nov 25, 2019

    I stumbled upon it on Facebook. It was a Google Doc link. I'm not sure how to post the PDF here, so I'll just copy and paste the text in another post.
     
  5. bella84

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    Nov 25, 2019

    NO ONE GETS TO OWN THE TERM 'THE SCIENCE OF READING'
    BY LUCY CALKINS

    I’ve been asked to write a response to the phonics-centric people who are calling themselves “the science of reading.” I want to point out that no one interest group gets to own science. There is a mountain of evidence to support read aloud, comprehension, writing, rich oral language development, growth mindset, and a score of other components of good instruction. And yes, systematic phonics instruction is one of those components of good instruction.

    I apologize from the start that this will be long and detailed. The issue is complex enough that I know of no other way to respond.

    WHAT ARE THE QUESTIONS AT PLAY?
    I think that there is merit to much of what the phonics-centric people are saying and that we need to learn what we can from their important wake-up call. I also think differences of opinion between phonics- centric and balanced literacy are fewer and more nuanced than some would have us believe. Certainly, phonics is foundational to learning to read, and research has settled the fact that it is better to teach phonics systematically rather than opportunistically. However, it would be a mistake to return to the era many of us remember in which phonics was taught at the expense of reading and writing.

    The new hype about phonics is accompanied by a new focus on dyslexia. Dyslexia is real—brain scientists at the Child Mind Institute point out that between 5-15% of the population have this disorder. Primary-level teachers absolutely need to screen for this and special support should be available for those children. But the overdue and important acknowledgement that some children need a structured multisensory approach to phonics is being used as a Trojan horse to bring back a Reading First-like emphasis on phonics at the expense of everything else, and I question the wisdom of that.

    As I will explain, the US has actually tried that approach—Reading First was a multi-billion dollar, multi- year experiment—and the results were conclusive. Kids need phonics, yes, but even in the early grades, phonics needs to be taught alongside and in support of strong instruction in comprehension, fluency, writing, and vocabulary.

    DOES PHONICS NEED TO BE EXPLICITLY TAUGHT?
    It is true that young children need explicit instruction in grapho-phonics, which is the connection between spoken language, which children come to school knowing, and the alphabet, which many students don’t come to school knowing. Children need to be taught all the ways in which 26 letters combine to make words. Because human beings are hard-wired to learn spoken language, you can simply immerse babies in a world of talk, and they will learn to talk fluently and understand talk without needing explicit instruction. That is not at all the case for learning to read. Immersion in a sea of books is not enough.

    Whereas typically developing children come to school having already learned three major language systems—meaning (semantics), sentence structure (syntax) and sound (phonics), they do not know the fourth language system, one that is essential to reading and writing: the graphic system which, in English, means the alphabet. Young children absolutely need explicit instruction in the connection between spoken language and, in English, our 26 letters and 40 or so distinct sounds (depending on regional variations). Remember that spoken language has existed for at least tens of thousands of years, while written language was invented only a few thousand years ago. Speech is like walking, inborn and innate. Reading and writing are like driving a car. They don’t come naturally.

    I do not know any school system that doesn’t ascribe to the belief that explicit instruction in phonics is one of the foundations for learning to read and write. There are important debates in education, but there should be no debate about the fact that children should be taught phonics, and that the phonics education they receive should be planned, systematic, and based on research that is widely available on this topic.

    I, for one, have for decades stood strongly with advocates of reading science on their argument that phonics needs to be explicitly taught. Some people correctly point out that the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, the organization I lead, only recently released our own phonics program. Although that is true, we have always been clear to the districts with which we work that they need to adopt a research-based, systematic approach to teaching phonics. My colleagues and I developed our own program because we decided teachers and children deserve an approach to phonics that supports high levels of student (and teacher) engagement. It is important to note that there is science behind engagement. It is not only common sense but also scientific research that show that engaged learners use whatever skills and strategies they have with greater persistence and effort, and therefore learn more. My colleagues and I also decided to develop our own curriculum for phonics because we know it is critically important to explicitly teach into transfer between phonics, reading, and especially writing. Our partner schools wanted us to help their teachers teach phonics in ways that align with and transfer to their curriculum in reading and writing.

    We are clear that children should not just study phonics, they should also use phonics every day, often. In the schools with which TCRWP works, every child is engaged in a daily writing workshop. Those workshops could be called daily phonics workshops, as every minute of writing time is also phonics time. When teachers teach phonics in ways that transfer into the writing workshop, teachers coach young writers by saying things like, “Be sure you signal that that’s a long vowel” and “Make sure every syllable has a vowel!” and “Watch your r-controlled vowels. You are forgetting the vowel.” First-grade writers know that if they have spelled apple as apl, there’s something they need to fix up, since the second syllable is missing a vowel. This takes some teaching to learn, because when consonants like m, n, l, and r are at the ends of words, they are phonetically similar to vowels. Teaching first graders to think about whether they’ve included a vowel in each syllable of the words they write is heady and important work. I believe one of the great secrets to the success of TCRWP schools is the presence of a writing workshop in the K-2 grades.

    It is equally important that children use phonics to read, which means that when they come to a sentence that says “I got on my horse and rode away,” and the child first reads pony for horse, the child should be told, “Check the letters,” or “Try that again,” or asked, “Does that look right?” It is not helpful for teachers to accept pony for horse nor for them to say, “Skip the hard words,” or “Just guess and keep going.” Figuring out unfamiliar words gives kids opportunities to apply the knowledge they are learning during phonics as they read.

    When a child encounters an unfamiliar word, it is helpful for the teacher to say, “Try it,” or “Figure it out,” or “Hypothesize drawing on all the sources of information available to you.” That latter prompt is rather heavy-duty academic language to say to a 5-year-old who is stymied over the word horse, so some teachers instead say, “Guess!” and then they follow that with, “Check it.”

    The “science of reading” people are all-over the word guess and they aren’t wrong about that. It would be wise for teachers to say, “Try it,” instead of “Guess,” as, of course, some children do literally just glance at the word or the picture and take wild guesses, which is not what anyone desires or intends. In any case, it is not only important to coach kids, it is also important to teach them strategies to draw on independently because in a class of 30 kids, each child reading at the same time, most children will encounter hard words without a teacher at their elbow. The important thing, then, is to teach kids that they needn’t freeze when they come to a hard word, nor skip past it. They needn’t be stymied by the word and stop reading. The important thing is to teach them that they have resources to draw upon, and to use those resources to develop stamina. For example, they can look at the unfamiliar word and break it into parts and think, Have I seen that part before? and they can draw on their knowledge of letter-sound correspondence to decode. They also can reread the sentence and think, What could this be? and then check that hypothesis against the actual letters. If the word those kids encounter does happen to be horse, (to continue with the example) they can sound out the initial consonant /h/ and then proceed to either the /o/—which has 16 sounds, so it’s not easy!—or to the /or/ which will be a more useful chunk. Teaching kids to flexibly tackle hard words, looking for chunks, is important—a skill that kids get tons of practice with then they write.

    HOW DO THE THREE CUEING SYSTEMS AND DECODABLE TEXTS FACTOR IN?
    When journalists and others who do not know classroom instruction discuss the three cueing systems as a method for teaching reading, I think they are referring to the fact that many teachers assess young readers by examining which of the three cueing systems a reader does and does not rely upon when she encounters an unfamiliar word. I do not know anyone, however, who defines his or her method for teaching reading as “the three cueing systems.” That phrase is instead most associated with a form of reading assessment known as running records. To say a school’s approach to reading is based on “the three cueing systems” is reductionist as reading involves so much more: fluency, vocabulary, background knowledge, awareness of text structure, skills such as main idea, synthesis, interpretation, compare and contrast, critical thinking...and the list goes on.

    As I said, however, many teachers do rely on a knowledge of the three cueing systems when conducting informal assessments. I have no doubt that it is helpful to notice whether the child uses all the sources of knowledge available to her as she reads. Does that child look across the letters to make sure that the word she produces matches the actual text on the page? If so, she is relying on the graphic system and its relationship to sound, which is critical. If, on the other hand, she produces pony for the word horse, an informed teacher knows she is relying on meaning, also called semantics, and not on the letters on the page, which would signal a big problem. Meanwhile, however, if the child over-relies on her partial knowledge of phonics and in doing so mistakenly reads horse to say house and is satisfied with the sentence, “I got on my house and rode away,” that would suggest she is not attending to meaning, an equally prevalent and concerning problem. Successful reading integrates the three cueing systems. As readers become more proficient, they become less dependent on the details of phonics and rely more on word recognition and on larger meanings.

    Although “the three-cueing systems approach” is not, to my knowledge, a method of teaching reading, it is the case that there is a time in the development of a reader—typically, for kindergarten children, this is winter—when the books that children read tend to be written in such a way that children receive a lot of support from repetition (which helps the child rely on a command of syntax) and from picture support (which helps the child rely on meaning). A few months into kindergarten, a child can “read” a book that says, “I can read the newspaper,” and “I can read the recipe,” if the child relies on the pattern of the repeating text, on the pictures, and on first letters. I have found value in those books. The child is approximating reading. Her experience is not unlike that of a bike rider who relies on training wheels. If these supports help the child in the first months of kindergarten to learn from multiple meaningful encounters with words and therefore the child develops a vocabulary of high frequency words and the confidence that she can read, I see advantages to that. In the end, developing a sight vocabulary is an essential part of becoming a proficient reader. But I also think that it is important for a child to have a balanced reading diet, one that includes a variety of genres, authors, formats and yes, supports for reading, too. I think a library which contains only highly predictable books, especially in the absence of a writing workshop, does not give children enough opportunities to put their phonics knowledge to use.

    Later, I discuss the special importance of supporting children with dyslexia. For now, let me just say that these children generally do not fare well with books that are highly predictable and that provide strong picture support. The last thing children who are dyslexic need is encouragement to compensate by relying on pictures and meaning instead of sound-letter correspondences. They need books that help them rely upon the letters on the page and to trust that the phonics instruction they receive will pay off when they are reading continuous texts. So meaningful, mostly decodable texts are especially important for children with dyslexia.

    But decodable texts have value for all children in the earliest stages of learning to read. For example, in our Phonics Units of Study, in early winter of kindergarten, teachers teach kids to work with simple onsets and rimes so that kids come to understand that they can add an m to at and spell mat. Children are explicitly taught that work in ways that allow them to build off many rimes (at, up, am, it, etc.) and many consonants. These patterns are often referred to as word families, and they are a powerful tool that children can make use of as they read. However, if the books kindergarteners are reading tend to go like, “I see the elephant,” “I see the giraffe,” then the child’s reading work with those texts will be supported more by the pictures and repetition than by phonics. For those early readers, elephant and giraffe aren’t really within their reach unless the child is relying on the picture. By the time children are reading slightly harder books, there will be lots of unfamiliar yet accessible words that they can tackle, but for a little while, some books contain unfamiliar words that are not, for those readers, within reach without picture support. They are not decodable.

    For very early readers, then, there is merit to the argument that access to more decodable texts will be beneficial. Children would do well to have opportunities to read a book that went like this: “The rat sat on the mat and got fat.” My colleagues and I at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project think the very early books (A through D especially) heavily supported by pictures and repetition should be just one part of a child’s reading diet, and that including a range of decodable texts would be a wise move.

    This is complicated, however, because as Wiley Blevins has reminded us, some decodable texts are so phonics driven that they don’t use authentic language and will not make sense to a child. (Imagine a page that says “Jan can lug the tug.”) Those texts don’t help a child rely on meaning as well as phonics, and it’s a very big problem if readers learn that they can be reading a text correctly and that text still makes no sense, which is the case for some extremely decodable texts. Children need to grow up to be alarmed when a text makes no sense, so that their awareness that meaning has broken down triggers them to self correct. Blevins (2017) suggests that students benefit most from decodable texts that still maintain meaning. As he says it, “A story that is 65% decodable and makes sense is far more valuable as an instructional tool than one that is 80% decodable and nonsense” (Blevins, 2017, p. 160).

    The key is giving students time to apply their phonics learning while reading a balanced diet of books across a range of decodability. I have long recommended Ready Readers, a series of books written by Elfrieda Hiebert, as one resource. Teachers with whom I work also compose decodable texts with kids within writing workshops and use these to supplement the kids’ reading baggies.

    SHOULD SCHOOLS INCREASE THE FOCUS ON PHONICS AT THE EXPENSE OF EVERYTHING ELSE?
    There is reason to be alarmed about the state of education in the US. Almost half our children struggle with reading—that’s alarming. Not long ago, the American Library Association asked graduating seniors (that is, the children who stayed in school through high school) whether they would voluntarily read a book once they’d graduated—and 80% said no. That’s also alarming. American working millennials are among the least well educated groups in the industrialized world (Tucker, 2019).

    There are lots of problems in American education and there are many urgently important steps forward that we should advocate. If you ask me, “Is an emphasis on teacher professional development in phonics one possible avenue to pursue?” my answer is yes.

    I think it is a good idea for some schools and districts to decide to prioritize PD in phonics. Teachers— especially those teaching pre-K to second grade—do need to learn more about phonics. Even teachers who have taught a phonics program for years sometimes haven’t learned all they need to know about how children develop grapho-phonics skills. Too often, curriculum that is designed to be teacher-proof, so that even unskilled teachers can deliver it, is not designed to teach teachers while it teaches children. That’s a mistake.

    And yes, increasingly teachers are becoming certified without access to graduate programs, or their “graduate programs” consist of nothing more than a host of on-line courses. Then, too, even graduate courses such as the ones at my own institution license teachers for a 1-6 grade span, a span which covers a vast amount of language arts education. One never knows if a graduate student will end up teaching in first grade, where the 8 ways to make the long a sound and the differences between open and closed syllables will be important, or in sixth grade, where students need to be able to write research-based argument essays using a hierarchy of claims, reasons, and evidence, while also noting the point of view of any cited sources. Clearly, higher education programs will never provide sufficient support for every teacher for the demands of every grade level. That is why on-the-job professional development is so vital and why schools themselves need to become sites for professional study.

    That is, just as many teachers are not prepared for the demands of teaching phonics, many are also not prepared to support the equally important skills of comprehension. They are also not well prepared to teach writing. They also are not well prepared to support English language learners. They also are not well prepared to teach culturally relevant curriculum. Clearly, teachers don’t enter the profession with all the knowledge they will need to rise to the challenges of their enormously complex field. We all need to be engaged in continuous learning.

    So if you ask me, “Should a state require that every K-8 teacher attend an intensive academy to study and teach a phonics-centric approach to reading?” my answer is I don’t think so.

    For starts, anything done to that scale will overtap our abilities to resource the work. Then, too, there is no reason to believe that the same focus should be a priority at every school at the same time. Most of all, we have evidence that suggests that mandating a phonics-centric approach for everyone doesn’t yield progress.

    I say that because we did a national experiment on just such a mandate. The experiment didn’t involve 30, 50, or 200 kids as most studies do, nor did it involve two or three years of treatment, as most studies do. Instead, the experiment involved tens of millions of kids. It was called Reading First, the reading instructional program for K-3 mandated in schools funded by No Child Left Behind. That federally mandated program began implementation in 2002, lasted eight years, and involved a set of top-down mandates for intensive phonics instruction that resembled what the science of reading people today are supporting. The mandates included not only intensive systematic phonics based on “the science of reading” but also an unbalanced reliance on highly decodable texts, to the exclusion of trade books. Teachers were expected to follow scripted lessons closely. Jim Cunningham (2017) argues that there has probably never been a national educational policy implemented with as much fidelity.

    The results of Reading First were not good. Even the official federal evaluation of Reading First, required by NCLB law, conducted late in President George W. Bush’s second term, concluded there had been “no consistent pattern of effects over time in the impact estimates for reading instruction in grade one or in reading comprehension in any grade” (Gamse, Jacob, Horst, Boulay, and Unlu, 2008). Even more telling are the results one can see when looking at the fourth graders who took the NAEP reading assessment in 2009. These children were three when Reading First was implemented and therefore grew up entirely within that program and should have benefited from it. Yet sixty-seven percent of those children scored below the Proficient level in reading (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). This and other evidence led Marc Tucker (2014) to conclude that Reading First led to “almost no improvement in student performance” (p. 11).

    I agree with Jim Cunningham that the failure of Reading First’s emphasis on systematic phonics does not mean that phonics is not foundational to a child’s progress as a reader and a writer. But as Cunningham (2017) argues in What Really Matters in Teaching Phonics Today: Laying a Foundation for Reading, the problem with Reading First was not that it taught phonics, but that phonics was largely all it taught. The foundation for a building is important, yes, but the foundation is not the entire building.

    Even if one does not endorse the Common Core standards in their entirety, it is worth noting that they offer a helpful correction to the extremes of both whole language as well as those of Reading First, and, I suggest, to today’s “science of reading” approach. Both the Common Core and the state standards that have replaced it say to primary teachers that yes, indeed, phonics matters. The phonics in today’s standards are no lighter than they’ve ever been. But these standards say that phonics, alone, is not sufficient; those standards and the many state standards that are adaptations of them call for young children to receive a rigorous education in writing, in reading comprehension, in vocabulary, and in speaking and listening alongside the education they receive in phonics. That’s a tall order.

    But let me return to the question, “Should school districts mandate ten days of Reading Academies for all teachers, and insist that all teachers follow one of several state-mandated systematic phonics programs?”

    My suggestion is this: proceed with caution. Children’s lives are our most precious resource. What we do with their time and with their teachers’ time is what we do with our nation’s future. Yes, one could make an argument for the primacy of phonics, in a similar way one could argue on behalf of vocabulary (which comes, above all, from talk and reading aloud and silent reading) or social-emotional health or numeracy or problem-solving skills or curiosity and questioning or writing or comprehension or writing about reading or debate or critical thinking—and the list goes on. A decision that every single school should expend the most important capital—teachers’ and kids’ time—on a phonics-only approach to reading flies in the face of science because there isn’t evidence to support the wisdom of such a move.

    Chances are good that if the science of reading people had a magic solution that was going to transform every child into a proficient and avid reader, there would have been some indication of that from the billions of dollars and countless hours that were invested into a phonics-heavy approach to reading instruction a decade ago.

    Having said that, I am all for a district’s superintendent or director of language arts moving heaven and earth to help teachers across the district develop more knowledge and skills on phonics. I just don’t believe that a mandated top-down decision, delivered at scale to hundreds of thousands of schools, is apt to align with the priorities of each particular school. I agree with Fullan who argues, “One of the biggest problems in schools today is not resistance to innovation but the fragmentation, overload, and incoherence resulting from too many innovations, adapted in an ad hoc and superficial way, unconnected with ongoing work and with each other.” There is no one yellow brick road to Oz. There are many different ways for schools to improve, and for every school, this needs to be a continual process of study of research and best practices, innovation, study of results, reflective practice, collaboration, and self-critique.

    This is what I suggest. Encourage a consortium of school districts to adopt a serious study of phonics as their next focus. Encourage another consortium of districts to adopt other horizons as their focus. I imagine a consortium of districts might focus on classroom libraries and higher level comprehension or on writing, and writing across the curriculum. Good will come from districts delving deeply into professional education in the service of priorities that teachers and school leaders select. I believe each of these consortia could yield results—or not, depending on how things are done. In any case, my point is, let’s try it and learn from each other.

    But meanwhile there is a remaining moral and educational decision related to children with dyslexia. You see, there are options about whether professional development should forward math or comprehension or phonics or a host of other options. But there is no option for our nation outside of providing all children with an adequate basic education. And that means that we need to become more equipped to support children with dyslexia.

    WHAT ABOUT DYSLEXIA?
    Several hundred educators gathered recently at Teachers College, Columbia University, for a three-day institute which my organization co-led with the Child Mind Institute—a think tank of brain researchers that is providing leadership to much of the nation on dyslexia. We came away from that institute agreeing that dyslexia is a physiological brain disorder. While the typically developing reader uses three parts of the brain to read, people with dyslexia use only one part, the Broca’s area, which is the least efficient part of the brain for reading. Experts tell us that between 5-15% of children have dyslexia. I think the jury is no longer out; those children need structured multi-sensory phonics support such as they receive from someone trained in Orton Gillingham or Lindamood-Bell. When children receive that support for a few years, their brains can literally be re-wired to use more efficient areas when they read.

    My hypothesis is that, at least for right now, it’s unrealistic to think that most general-ed classroom teachers will be able to provide what 27 typically developing readers and writers need while also fully meeting the needs of children with dyslexia, because those children do have very intensive and specialized needs. Whereas the typically developing reader sees a word three times and that word becomes a sight word, allowing the reader to read it with automaticity, for the child with dyslexia that word only becomes automatized after the child sees it thirty times. That is, children with dyslexia require an enormous amount of repetition. Providing all students with that extra emphasis on repetition and phonics may mean that typically developing students don't get the other instruction they need in vocabulary, comprehension, writing, and higher-order thinking.

    That said, a meta-analysis by Weiser and Mathes (2011) showed that, while the typically developing reader benefits from learning to decode phonetically regular words while using letter manipulatives to spell the words (think: moving the /s/ in front of at, then switching it to an /r/), the child with dyslexia is far better off being taught phonemic awareness lessons orally, without the presence of any letters. The rationale for this is that the brain of a child with dyslexia needs to be rewired so that the child learns to segment and blend sounds, and if the letters are there at all, the child will rely on them in ways that keep the necessary rewiring from taking place. My big point is that yes, we need reading specialists in schools that can work with the few children in a class who need this specialized support.

    There is a lot more to say about the importance of general-ed K-2 teachers learning to screen for and support children with dyslexia—and until screening becomes a regular practice, our teachers in upper grades as well. People will worry about the cost of this, but the pipeline of children with untreated dyslexia to prison is real, to say nothing of the relationship between dyslexia and emotional stress, social problems, academic achievement, and more.

    My own organization is responding to the science of reading wake-up call by leading study groups and on-site professional development to explore the most pressing concerns schools have when it comes to dyslexia: screening for dyslexia, recruiting and on-boarding qualified educators, studying transference of skills, and more.

    In some settings, such as co-taught or ICT classrooms, children with dyslexia may be able to get the specific, intensive support they need within the home classroom; however, in most classrooms that is still not the case. We are especially concerned with how to bridge the resulting gap between what happens in clinical specialized small groups and the classroom, so that children receiving specialized support see the instruction they receive in the two settings as aligned, and so the general education teacher reinforces and taps into the specialized education the child receives. TCRWP is engaged in research projects and study groups to learn how to better address this, and feel our attention to this is overdue.

    For this, and for the reminder that explicit phonics instruction for all children is essential, I am grateful to the science of reading proponents. I also am grateful that these educators are successfully calling attention to the importance of prioritizing professional education for teachers. I think that professional education is necessary for those of us in teacher education as well. I, for one, have benefitted from this discussion and am grateful to be on a learning trajectory.

    Aud, S., Hussar, W., Planty, M., Snyder, T., Bianco, K., Fox, M., Frohlich, L., Kemp, J., Drake, L. (2010). The Condition of Education 2010 (NCES 2010-028). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

    Blevins, W. (2016). A Fresh Look at Phonics: Common Causes of Failure and 7 Ingredients for Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

    Cunningham, J. W. (2017) What Really Matters in Teaching Phonics Today: Laying a Foundation for Reading. Curriculum Associates, LLC.

    Gamse, B., Jacob, R., Horst, M., Boulay, B., and Unlu, F. (2008). Reading First Impact Study. US Department of Education. Jessup, MD: Education Publications Center.

    Tucker, M. (2014) Fixing Our National Accountability System. Washington, DC: The National Center on Education and the Economy.

    Tucker, M. (2019) Leading High-Performance School Systems. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

    Weiser, B., & Mathes, P. (2011). Using encoding instruction to improve the reading and spelling performances of elementary students at risk for literacy difficulties: A best evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 170-200.
     
  6. waterfall

    waterfall Maven

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    Dec 1, 2019

    Well, I can say that my school switched to having an extreme focus on explicit and systematic phonics instruction a couple of years ago and we've seen amazing results. The "reading first" thing she's talking about is before I was a teacher so I'm not aware of what it looked like, but I wonder about how it was implemented. Was phonics just taught whole group and all students were expected to progress at the same pace? Was it only implemented in certain schools? That just seems a bit suspect to me seeing as how I've worked with numerous older veteran teachers over the years who have very little knowledge of phonics rules themselves, and they would have been teaching during that time.

    We got a new P 3 years ago who brought in this new focus for us. We have a daily 45 minute intervention block in all grade levels that is only focused on phonemic awareness and phonics. Students attend a different small group (smaller and with specialists for the lowest kids) based on their instructional next step. Previous P tried this approach as well, but the difference is new P provided a ton of PD about what the block should look like and provided curriculum for teachers to use, including a plethora of decodable texts. We progress monitor students weekly and meet as a data team to discuss data and move groups around/change the focus of groups every 6 weeks. Students who are really struggling are placed into a second 30-45 minute block. With one particularly rough cohort of students, their block was 60 minutes daily. Classroom teachers are also expected to do similar things in their small groups during their literacy blocks, and some students also attend after school tutoring provided through a grant program (using the same phonics curriculum).

    This has brought about HUGE changes in the number of kids who can read in each grade level. The first year, I thought this is great, but we're not doing enough comprehension and kids won't do well on state testing. They ended up doing extremely well there too. I'm at a school with about 90% free lunch and our state test scores are consistently WELL above the state average (as in 30-40% higher). We've won the state award for having a high poverty/high performance school for the past two years now. It's amazing what kids can do when they can actually read the text with ease in the first place.

    I think she's way glossing over the prevalence of the "3 cueing" system here as well. That's all I learned about in college, and for awhile I used the Fountas and Pinnel intervention system, LLI. It was ALL about the 3 cueing system. They even had a prompting guide that you were to refer to when students were stuck on a word, and it was all about getting them to do things like get their mouths ready to say the first sound, look at he picture, skip it and try to figure out based on context, etc. Every once in awhile a phonics skill would pop up as a warm up, but it wasn't systematic and it was nowhere near the intensity that struggling readers need. I'm just not a fan of the idea that you teach these compensatory skills as a supposed method for getting kids to "use everything they can" to figure out a word. That time would be much better spent teaching them to just know the word in the first place.

    I do wonder if there is a connection behind a higher percentage of kids in poverty needing this kind of explicit phonics instruction. Are kids in higher SES situations just able to compensate with all the background knowledge and language skills they have? I didn't learn to read with phonics and the vast majority of teachers I've talked to didn't either. I didn't know most of the "rules" until I started teaching them myself. The research we've seen has said that about 40% of kids will learn to read with any program/approach. Are more of those 40% concentrated in higher SES schools? Many of our teachers are frustrated that their own children, who attend higher SES districts, are still being taught with whole language methods.

    I also had to chuckle at the comment about kids with dyslexia needing 30 exposures to learn something. Umm, try thousands. Or millions. The number is not usually that low, but I hear smaller numbers like that in PD all of the time and that's just not my experience at all. We do have a small percentage of kids who are getting TONS of intervention and are still learning at a very slow pace. They're improving, for sure, but again, they need many thousands of repetitions to learn and retain each little thing. I would like there to be some acknowledgement that some kids are simply not going to learn at the same pace no matter how much intervention they receive.
     
  7. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    I will respond later. I don't have time now. Too much to digest, but the first few paragraphs of your response are so accurate I want to hug you!
     
  8. Tyler B.

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    This article really resonated with my experience as a teacher and a parent. We sent my eager daughter to kindergarten as a reader. She loved books and stories. Her teacher told her she must sound out all her words and not "guess". As an assiduous rule-follower, she stopped reading and started sounding out words. The result was she slowed down to the extent that her comprehension and her joy of reading dropped. The teacher was well-intentioned, but new and eager to please her principal by adhering "with fidelity" to the phonic-based reading series.

    All my alarms go off when I see something from the "science of reading" crowd. They claim to possess the secret sauce, and that the rest of us are ignorant, misguided or stupid.

    There are many ways children learn to read. Phonics is an important part of that, but we limit our students by thinking it's more important that it really is.
     
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  9. bella84

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    I often don't agree with you, Tyler... but, in this case, I do. Phonics is definitely important, and I think that we need the phonics instruction in schools to be of the structured variety (as opposed to some sprinkled here and there in whatever way an individual teacher would like to do it through shared reading or some other method). However, I disagree with those who say we need to get Lucy's Reading Units of Study (or programs like that) out of schools. There is a place for structured phonics and developing a reading identity plus comprehension in schools. It shouldn't be one or the other, like is often suggested.
     
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  10. Tyler B.

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    Does it concern you that "the science of reading" supporters are trying to co-opt the word science?

    I teach upper elementary and rarely do I run across a student (other than ELL) who doesn't know his or her sounds. I only teach phonics to those students. My instruction focuses on comprehension strategies: fiction, non-fiction, and content area literature.
     
  11. bella84

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    Specifically? No, that doesn't really concern me. I'd prefer to look at the bigger picture rather than focus on who uses the word "science" and how they use it. I know what is meant by the phrase "science of reading" and I agree with the intentions - which I generally understand and believe to be a desire to get structured (systematic and explicit) phonics into schools. I just disagree with those who say that, by putting that type of instruction in schools, we must get other types of reading instruction out of schools.

    By the upper grades, I would expect that reading instruction is more comprehension-focused, especially if structured phonics is prevalent in the primary grades. If students are learning phonics in K-3, then they won't need that instruction in 4+. They will be able to focus more on vocabulary and comprehension. It's when they aren't getting it in K-3 that there is a problem.

    I also think that there is a misunderstanding by many who oppose phonics or "the science of reading" when it comes to spelling. In my experience, I see a greater impact on spelling knowledge than reading ability when structured phonics is taught. Structured phonics supports both, but it is particularly effective in improving spelling ability. Students can often become good readers with less effort than they can become good spellers. I think it's a mistake to assume that phonics is only part of a reading curriculum and not a writing curriculum, too. Do you teach phonics to your students who are weak in spelling knowledge?
     
  12. Tyler B.

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    What bothers me about the using the term "science of reading" is that it negates the other approaches LC mentions in her essay. It's an attempt to move the general public into thinking a phonics only approach is the best way. LC points out this has been tried, and it failed.

    Some people just have a knack for spelling regardless of their early training. Others (like me) struggle with it. I do not find phonic rules helpful in teaching spelling. For example, there are 16 ways to spell the /sh/ sound, there's just too many rules and exceptions.

    My spelling program is a weekly writing assignment where everything must be spelled correctly. I have no word lists, weekly tests or homework. During this spelling assignment, my students are very motivated to pay attention to how they spell. Motivation is the most effective technique for producing good spellers.

    There are three other fourth grade classes at my school and my students test above the students in the other classes. I do teach my poor spellers how to memorize the words they frequently misspell.

    The other classes spend about an hour a week (or more) on spelling. I use that time for writing instruction. The only time phonics come up in my class is when we run across a term outside of their knowledge or experience. This includes medical terms and foreign words.
     
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  13. a2z

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    Some people have very strong visual memories. They just repeat or commit to paper what they have seen. Their knack, many times, is just a good visual memory. They can spell with or without phonics because they just use their visual memory.

    Then there are those students who have good spelling because of a strong well-taught phonics background and a decent memory. They combine the two.
     
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  14. bella84

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    I think most people who support the "science of reading" would acknowledge that phonics-only is not the right way. I don't think it's seen as an "either-or" approach. Most, including myself, would suggest that phonics needs to be taught in a structured way, and there should also be a heavy focus on comprehension.

    I understand that you don't see the value in spelling with a phonetic approach. Could it be that you were not taught to spell in a structured way? Sure, there are often multiple ways to make a particular phoneme, but it's possible to learn the code (rules) when taught in a structured way rather than the haphazard approach that is currently more common.

    In my experience and research, forced memorization is generally not the best approach to take with struggling readers and spellers. I also have never found it to be true that motivation is the best technique to take with them. Some are very motivated but just haven't been taught in a way that is accessible to them. In this case, I think we'll have to disagree.
     
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  15. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    Rarely is anything one thing or the other. We need both: phonics and comprehension.
     
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  16. EdEd

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    First, hello everyone! It's like the good old days up in here with Tyler, a2z, bella84, waterfall, etc. And by good old days, I'm referring to the fact that I just haven't been around as much. So, good to see you!

    This was an interesting article, and on a very broad level I agree with the general idea that no one group "owns" science, and anyone claiming that their approach, technique, etc. is the only one with "science" behind it better have done a pretty thorough lit review!

    That said, being somewhat familiar with this conversation, including Reading First, I don't get the sense that the phonics folks were/are trying to do this. They were largely referring to a failed few decades of whole language when reading instruction largely ignored reading science. They were, then, calling for a return to science.

    Next, the phonics folks were really more than phonics folks, but rather - more broadly - calling for direct instruction (DI), be that with comprehension, vocab, etc. This is evidenced in one of their biggest slogans: "The Big Five." Their main beef was with the idea that kids would simply acquire reading skills through an osmotic process catalyzed by motivation. The DI folks fully recognized that this does work with a number of kids who don't actually need DI to succeed.

    In terms of Reading First, that was an initiative - not an experimental study - and, as others mentioned, did not control for implementation, variation, etc. There was a lot of associated research, Reading First centers, and a whole lot of other stuff involved. So, "Reading First" wasn't a method to be measured. Even if it were, the idea that any intervention doesn't produce a result is simply evidence that that intervention was not sufficient to affect change - but it may actually be necessary. But again, Reading First wasn't a singular intervention, so can't really be measured as such.

    In education, we do this all too often - we look for a panacea, and when something doesn't solve all problems, we throw it out. Moreover, we didn't even really measure the "panacea" appropriately in the first place.

    So, conclusively: NO. Reading First was not a failure, nor was it a "success" to the degree that it solved all problems with all kids. Instead, we need to disaggregate that initiative and understand the individual components.

    In terms of comments about varying instructional approaches, including letting individual schools & teachers identify their own strategies & approaches: Of course. In an ideal world, schools would focus as "independent practices" (like doctors offices) that relied on research to choose effective strategies, measure their results, and adjust as necessary. What this does NOT mean is that individual teachers get to ignore research and implement their own curriculum and/or methods because they personally disagree with bodies of research. Teachers have a professional obligation to gear their instruction toward research-based methods, then continually monitor their progress and update as they see fit. This does leave room for a lot of professional decision-making, but does not leave room for ignoring vast bodies of research out of "personal experience." Sorry - if you feel that "phonics" or "direct instruction" aren't interesting or helpful to you, you may not ignore decades of research in pursuit of your own practices. You are not a researcher in a lab given free rein to redesign educational paradigms because you think you have a good idea or two. You are not smarter than everyone else. Simply put, the kids come first - not you or your ideas.

    So...what I often propose is this: Give schools & teachers an expected curriculum, but allow them the opportunity to modify their practices by requesting permission from admin/district to adjust based on research. In short, submit a research plan and you can give it a shot. This is similar to the charter school approach in which you're proposing to do something different, based on the probability that it will work, then be held accountable for your results.

    To be honest, in 2019, this conversation is really stale. Do we really have to argue for any of this? Is the idea of "research-based practice" really offensive to anyone? There are tons of conversations we haven't had - tons of things we haven't figured out. For example, how do we improve teacher training programs so that we close the research-to-practice gap? Or, another example that's a lot more specific - how do we develop and use weekly ROI (rate of improvement) standards that give us expectations of reading fluency yields given certain inputs (e.g., minutes per week of X or Y curriculum). Let's not waste our time on stuff that's already been figured out.
     
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  17. Tyler B.

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    Welcome back, EdEd.

    I think there's really very little disagreement about this topic. You agree with LC. It's indisputable that a solid phonics base in the early grades can help most students learn to read. It's equally established that a wholistic study of text boosts writing skills and nurtures a life-long reading habit.

    I think LC is responding to "science of reading" proponents who think upper grades and even middle schools should have a phonics based reading program. The publishers of these programs usually tout a phonics-only approach with early readers — which I think is an instructional error, but not a financial one for publishers.
     
  18. a2z

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    Can you give examples of this?

    I'm wondering if some of these proponents you speak of want phonics in upper elementary or middle because the students never received phonics to begin with and are still not good readers.
     
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  19. EdEd

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    Thanks Tyler!

    I haven't seen or heard of any proponents of a phonics-based reading program for middle school students in a general education/Tier I setting. Certainly phonics can be helpful for kids in those age groups that are still learning to read phonics, of course.

    And in terms of "phonics only," I also haven't seen any general reading programs meant to be a complete reading curriculum that focus only on phonics, at the exclusion of phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, & comprehension. There are certainly some programs out there are are based and organized around phonics, but unless we're talking about intervention programs geared toward struggling readers, I haven't seen a phonics-only approach advocated.

    Of course, I haven't seen all things - so maybe I missed it.
     
  20. waterfall

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    We've been hearing a whole lot about the "science of reading" for the past few years and I've never heard anyone advocating for a tier 1 phonics only approach in upper grades. And really, it's not "phonics only" in younger grades either. My state has a new "structured literacy" approach they're pushing and my district is participating this year. Not really new information for us, but it has given us a more common language across the school. They only trained K-3 general ed teachers. There's a 10 minute daily PA curriculum used K-2 and and a 30 minute structured literacy block used in gen ed K-3 which is focused on phonics patterns with both reading and spelling. Obviously 40 minutes is not their only reading instruction for gen ed. They also use the Wonders curriculum at my school. My school does double dip interventions for all K-3 and triple dip for those who are really struggling. I have a group that I see after school (paid) for a quadruple dip as do a few other teachers. I imagine it wouldn't be nearly as successful without all of the extra interventions we provide.

    Special ed and intervention teachers were trained K-8 so that it could be used as an intervention piece for students who are struggling in upper grade levels. After several years of the explicit phonics approach at my school we have very few students in intermediate grades who still need it, which is saying a lot considering the huge numbers who struggle/need tons of intervention in primary. About 90% of our student population enters K "in the red" on our screening system. It's currently about 10 kids total across grades 4-6 (out of about 250 kids) who are still needing the phonics intervention. A few of those just have very significant reading disabilities and the rest didn't attend our school in the younger grades.
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2019
  21. Tyler B.

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    If a phonetic approach to reading isn't working, why do it 4 times a day? Maybe I'm missing something here. There are lots of ways to teach reading to emergent readers.

    Our district adopted a phonic/skills-based reading program where upper grade students read one story a week and participated in daily skill lessons. I threw this out and read a story a day with my students from a variety of sources, along with a daily storytime/discussion lesson, a read-at-home program and a daily sustained silent reading period. My class was the only one out of four where all my students exceeded on the state reading tests (except for 2 IEP students). I love EdEd's comment about fluency, comprehension and vocabulary. These, along with "quantity" (upper grade students need to read thousands of words each day) make up a vibrant upper grade reading program.

    In my 30+ years of teaching, I've rarely found an upper grade student who didn't know his/her sounds. Except for some spelling considerations, I think it's nearly always a waste of instructional time to teach phonics to upper grade students. The main exception is ELL students—they often need phonics.

    The topic of this thread, LC's essay should serve to make teachers wary of claims that there is one true way to teach reading.
     
  22. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

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    I also don't think most "science of reading" or "phonics" advocates are suggesting that we only teach phonics, just that we teach it in a structured way, alongside comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. One of the prominent programs in which I am trained explicitly states in their marketing materials that it is not a stand-alone literacy program. It is meant to be used in conjunction with a comprehension-focused program. In addition, I don't think most are advocating for upper elementary or middle school phonics instruction (except in the case where targeted interventions are needed). The idea is that, if structured literacy is provided in K-3, then it won't be necessary for the majority in 4+. Instead, the upper grades can focus heavier on vocabulary.

    To answer your question, some students need multiple opportunities for practice, and that can't always be provided in one sitting. Needing multiple opportunities does not mean that it isn't work. There are multiple ways to teach emergent readers, but the point is that structured phonics isn't currently being offered to the students who need it, in most cases. Instead, they are being taught with ineffective approaches. Just because people are advocating for structured literacy to be made available for students who need it doesn't mean that they are advocating for it to be the only approach available. In so many cases, F&P's LLI or Reading Recovery are the only reading interventions being offered in elementary schools. Those meet the needs of some students but not all. Structured literacy advocates want multisensory, explicit phonics programs to be made available too.
     
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  23. Tyler B.

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    I find it hard to disagree with anything you've said. I think we are all on the same page.

    Is it true that not all emergent readers need systematic, daily phonic instruction? I'm curious, do my colleagues on this board think phonics be taught to students who are already reading? If a student is already reading, shouldn't we be teaching that student vocabulary and comprehension strategies?

    Or should ALL students, regardless of their reading abilities, be put into phonic instruction?
     
  24. bella84

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    At the K-3 level, I tend think that all students should receive a daily dose of phonics instruction alongside high-quality comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency instruction. This may mean that more minutes of the day need to go towards literacy instruction in the primary grades than in intermediate and higher grades. I also think it's important to acknowledge that phonics instruction does not only support reading but also spelling. In my experience at the primary grade levels, the growth and development in spelling skills is huge when structured phonics is taught.

    I'm currently piloting a structured literacy program in my school. As we likely can all agree, my highest readers don't need this program in order to read at high levels. They just picked up on reading naturally without know all of the phonics rules. However, where I have seen tremendous growth in these students is in the area of spelling and writing conventions. When they know the rules, they are more likely to use them in their own writing. It doesn't mean that they always use them correctly, but they are thinking about it, asking questions, and trying to use what they've learned. I think it's the structured literacy program that has made the difference.

    Beyond third grade, I would argue that tier 1 instruction need not include a structured literacy program, but I do think that it should be made available as an intervention for those who need it. I think that it should also be made available as an intervention in grades K-3, but it would be a double-dose in those grade levels because I think they should also be getting it as tier 1 instruction there.
     
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  25. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    I think we, as a profession, have to become very honest about what is really going on in our schools and classroom (because a weak teacher can derail reading). I agree that in upper grades a standard approach for struggling readers should never be standard. At that point, if they had quality instruction by ALL of their teachers and they are testing well with phonics and phonemic awareness, they won't need it. But we all know that not all schools really have buy in and some teachers will either just go through the motions or don't really understand phonics themselves so they don't know how to teach it well.

    There really is no "we taught that in k-3" that is standard across the board even in a school that is trying hard. Quality, quantity, buy in, and so many other issues may interfere with students learning what is taught.
     
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  26. bella84

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    That’s a great point. My thoughts were what I would consider ideal, not necessarily realistic, at least not immediately and not everywhere. We have a long way to go before getting there, particularly with training and buy-in.

    I do think that adopting a structured literacy program and providing training K-3 is a good start, and it’s a signal to teachers from administrators that they need to get on board and be open to something other than balanced literacy. It won’t solve everything, but it’s a shift in the right direction.
     
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  27. Tyler B.

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    Here's a point where we disagree. If a student already knows something, he/she should be accelerated, not pulled back. This is what happened to my daughter. She came into kindergarten as a reader and quickly had that quashed by a well-intentioned teacher who's only instructional technique was phonics. The damage lasted well into second grade.

    Some students need phonics, others do not. It's wrong to hold back the second group.
     
  28. bella84

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    Again, phonics is also important for spelling. I understand that your daughter was capable a reader in the primary grades, but was she also a good speller? Many skilled readers have memorized many words upon sight, but they do not understand the phonetic rules well enough to accurately spell by applying those rules to new and unfamiliar words. In this case, I argue that phonics and syllabication should be taught to these students despite their skilled reading abilities.

    I would also hedge a bet that your daughter's teacher engaged in other behaviors or instructional strategies that led to the "damage" you speak of. Teaching phonics alone is unlikely to cause damage. Forcing a student to slow down and discuss phonics rules while they are reading for enjoyment or requiring that they read lower level books than they are capable of are ways that might "damage" a child's interest in reading. But teaching them how the letters, sounds, and syllable patterns work, particularly with a focus on spelling, is unlikely to do any "damage".

    Again, I'd argue that teaching those high level readers accurate spelling rules is the acceleration of which you speak. Sure, they could try to memorize words by sight all day... but recognizing that they are advanced enough to learn how syllable patterns work and then teaching them to the point that they can explain the rules and try out new words to which they've rarely been exposed, all while encouraging them to find pleasure in reading books at their reading level and teaching them comprehension and vocabulary, is adding depth and acceleration to their learning.
     
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  29. Tyler B.

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    When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Your hammer is phonics.

    It's interesting that, without any diagnostic information, you've pegged my daughter as needing phonics. I'm sure you are a strong and caring teacher, but I would urge you to expand your range of teaching techniques beyond phonics. Only use it when it's necessary.

    In my experience, strong spellers are born, not made. They have an uncanny visual ability to get the words right. You can't teach visual ability. Also, spelling is relatively unimportant as a writing skill compared to word choices, sentence structure, ideas and content and so forth. Why spend hundreds of hours teaching it when you could be teaching writing skills?
     
  30. EdEd

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    I'll second Tyler's thoughts here from a theoretical perspective - I don't think we should be teaching things to kids they've already mastered, so if you're in a 5th grade classroom, for example, and they're already reading fluently on grade level passages, phonics wouldn't make sense.

    That said, we don't implement our general education/Tier I curriculum because students are failing or struggling in those areas, like we would in a remedial or Tier II/III situation. Our general education curriculum reflects our goals for our educational system, from "what we want kids to know" to foundational skills for future learning. So, even if kids aren't failing at long division, we still teach it because we think it's important and foundational. Same with phonics.

    Tyler, from the beginning of this conversation (probably almost a decade ago!), I've always supported your practice of assessing and addressing the individual/group needs of your particular classes located within a particular school, located within a specific community. That said, just because it works for you doesn't mean that it generalizes across populations. To me, referencing my previous post, this is what we should strive toward in terms of education - a research-literate educator base that understands how to translate and adapt best practices into everyday reality, while continuing to measure their results and hold themselves accountable to results.
     
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  31. bella84

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    Tyler, I don't claim to know what your daughter needs or needed. It was a question... Was she as good at spelling as she was at reading at that young age? You don't have to actually answer that. I intended it only to suggest that you expand your thinking beyond needing phonics for reading to also needing phonics for spelling. And I'd also suggest that you think beyond your own daughter. It seems your opinion is skewed based on your daughter's experience rather than considering a broad range of students and what research tells us.

    No, phonics is not my only tool. However, in my experience at the schools where I have taught, phonics has been taught very piecemeal in a way that does not support struggling readers and spellers. It sounds like you may have quite a bit of curricular freedom where you teach. I've gathered that you are not required to teach spelling, at least not in a particular way. Where I teach, we have a spelling program that teachers are required to implement. I don't feel that it's very effective or engaging, as it's fairly traditional in the sense that students get a list of words to memorize and then take a test on those words. I'm of the opinion that we could be doing better for kids by implementing a structured literacy program that connects reading and spelling and teaches phonics and syllabication patterns rather than asking students to memorize a few random words.

    Nothing I am saying should suggest that I think other components of literacy are less important or unimportant. I'm also not suggesting that phonics take center stage in the grade level you teach (which I think is fourth grade) or higher. I agree with you that differentiation is important, but I think that there are ways to differentiate how we teach phonics in the primary grade levels. Just because a student is a high reader in first grade doesn't mean there we can't teach them anything new about how words work.

    I'm not expecting you to agree with everything I've said, but I do want to make it clear that I understand your points and that I'm not aiming to suggest that phonics is the end all be all of teaching literacy skills to young students. I do aim to suggest that we need to pay attention to the research and implement appropriate tiered instruction as suggested by the research, despite any long-held beliefs we've had about teaching reading.
     
  32. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    My opinion is based on my 30+ years as a classroom teacher and over 1,000 students.

    I know you are doing what you think is best (and you seem like a very smart person), but if you re-read the LC essay, you'll see her views more closely line up with what I'm saying. Also, the literature on spelling is all over the place. I'm not sure you could point to a phonics program as making much difference in student performance compared to other approaches. When you say we should pay attention to research, that's another topic addressed in the LC essay. When one approach claims to have all the science, we teachers should be skeptical.

    I respectfully submit that a teacher is wrong to teach students unnecessary lessons. It would be much easier to just buy a phonic program and push everyone through it for their own good, but that's not good teaching.
     
  33. RainStorm

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    Personally, while I understand why phonics is used, I have to say this. Other than learning our initial letter and long and short vowel sounds by name, I never had any phonics as a child. (That's when "whole language" instruction was in.) My brother taught himself to read at age 3. He never needed any help of any kind, and was always an excellent speller. You could argue that he was particularly gifted (and you'd be right) but not all children need explicit phonic instruction.

    I, on the other hand, didn't read my first word until the end of 1st grade. I was never taught to sound anything out, and the first time I explicitly learned a blend was when I was in 4th grade and the Electric Company came on TV for the first time (and that was watching TV, not being instructed by a teacher.) I was also an excellent speller. And while I didn't learn to read until much later in life, by 5th grade I was reading on a college level (with complete comprehension.)

    When I taught in the lower grades (2nd and 3rd) for the first 9 years of my teaching career, our instruction didn't even include anything called "phonics." We didn't have any books, we never had any PDs on it, and it wasn't mentioned in the district's curriculum at all (after K and 1.) In my teacher education program we never even discussed it. It's funny how the pendulum swings.

    There is no "one size fits all" prescription for all readers. No one owns "the science" of learning to read. There are many successful ways to do it.
     
  34. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

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    I agree with you that teaching unnecessary lessons is, well, unnecessary. I was not suggesting that we just push a program on everyone. I was suggesting that some programs/lessons can benefit even high level readers in ways beyond basic phonics skills, and I do think that differentiation is necessary and appropriate in teaching those skills. Regardless, I'm not expecting that you'll agree with me. I do want to be clear, though, that my purpose in sharing this article was not because I agree with everything LC wrote... I don't (I agree with some, and I thought that she made some good points and shared some interesting thoughts, but I don't agree with every word she said.). I shared it because I wanted to have a discussion on the topic and get others' thoughts, similar to what we have happening here. So, while I could and might go back and re-read it, my purpose for doing so wouldn't be to show that her beliefs align more to yours or mine but rather simply to get another perspective.

    I will agree with the part about claiming "science", as I think that all sides are basing their beliefs on science. That said, I think that I understand what the phonics advocates mean when they say science... I understand it to mean neuroscience, whereas LC's (and other balanced literacy or whole language advocates) are relying on other types of research/science altogether. I think it would be best for the phonics advocates to use another phrase than "science of reading", but it is what it is. I choose to look past what they've called it, and, instead focus on their intent and beliefs. When it comes down to it, I agree with them that structured literacy (multisensory, explicit phonics) instruction needs to be made available in schools. I can concede that it doesn't have to be part of tier 1 instruction (although I do still think that it can and possibly should be part of tier 1 instruction in the primary grades), but I do believe that it must be offered as an intervention for those students who need it. In far too many schools, that just isn't happening right now, and that's the change that we need to see right away while we continue to go back and forth about whether or not it should be part of tier 1 instruction.
     
  35. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    Thank you so much for posting that interesting article! I bet you would be fun to chat with over a cup of coffee.

    I think we are in agreement. However, I know of no schools where phonics are not used to some degree for emergent readers. I misunderstood an earlier comment you made that led me to think you were advocating for all students to be in a robust phonic-centric program.

    • Should phonics be available in all schools? Absolutely - for students who need it.
    • Should advocates stop calling it "the science of reading" (thus denigrating all other approaches which have equal or greater support in the academic literature)? Absolutely. LC is right.
    • Should capable readers be placed into phonic-centric reading program? Nope. They don't need it. They are already readers. When these students stop and sound out words, it slows down their reading and impacts comprehension.
    • Does phonic instruction help with spelling? To a degree, but is the time worth it? Good spellers get no benefit—they are already good spellers. It's wrong to put these students into any spelling program. Weak spellers will show some improvement, but will remain life-long weak spellers. They should get phonic instruction to help them with spelling, but care needs to be taken to be aware of diminishing returns.
     
  36. EdEd

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    Tyler, this is sort of a chicken and egg argument though - the only way for students to demonstrate that they don't know how to read (and therefore need phonics, in your opinion) is to fail in the general curriculum.

    Another way you're putting it is as if phonics were chemotherapy - only people with cancer need it, whereas the average person simply needs a good dose of prevention. Most of us here aren't saying this - we're advocating for phonics to be a strong component of Tier I/general education beginning reading instruction. Heavier doses of phonics may be helpful for struggling readers, but most advocate for phonics to be part of regular instruction from the beginning. Maybe we're on the same page?
     
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  37. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    EdEd - we are on the same page. Phonics should be an important component in an early elementary teacher's toolbox. The tool should not be used for every student, nor should it be the only tool used. Capable readers don't need phonic instruction, and having them slow down to sound things out, can actually cause a drop in performance.

    I'm not sure where you got the idea I expected a student to fail in the general curriculum in order to need phonics. How to tell if a student should participate in phonic instruction? Just listen to the student read. If they can at grade level or above, - they need little or no phonic instruction.

    Would you agree to this? Or do you subscribe to the idea that all students should sit through a phonics program whether they need it or not?
     
  38. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Seems to me this was an error in instruction and implementation, not an error because of phonics. There is a very distinct difference between the two.

    There can be fabulous phonics instruction without forcing a child to top reading fluently and sound out every single word on the page.

    If your child's teacher really forced your child to sound out every word, even words that were being read properly (not an approximate guess using context cues), the problem lies on the teacher, not phonics. If your child internalized slowing down and sounding out every single word, that is on both your child and the teacher.

    You can't blame a program or concept for the poor execution and implementation of that program or concept.
     
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  39. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Nope. Grade level reading in early grades does not indicate an understanding the structure of words or the internalizing of phonics. Grade level reading in early grades can be due to a strong visual memory or exceptional language skills (approximating what might be next rather than the ability to read what is actually on the page). Now, if an early grade student is reading and comprehending college level texts fluently and accurately, that is a different conversation.
     
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  40. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    I bet we're not that far off. So, to start with, the first question would be whether I had a diverse group of readers, or more homogeneous. If my readers were more diverse, I'd likely provide most beginning reading instruction in small groups. And because phonics is one of those things that needs to be targeted, I doubt I'd be providing whole group phonics instruction. Within those small groups, if there were a higher group with students reading above grade level, I'd likely either skip phonics or include a short segment, spending most of my time on vocab and comprehension.

    If I had a homogenous group of students, the amount of phonics would likely depend on skill level. If students were reading above grade level fluently, I'd likely include little to no phonics - perhaps a short, more advanced lesson - but most likely spend most of my time on vocab & comprehension. If the students were all on or below grade level, I'd include a phonics lesson for sure, moving as quickly as I needed to through those lessons. If kids picked it up quick, phonics would be short. If they struggled, it would be longer.

    Either way, I'd be progress-monitoring my students regularly to be sure they were progressing across the Big 5 of reading. As long as there were progress in each area, I'd continue.
     
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  41. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    I think we are in agreement. However, I've never had a homogenous group.

    When I was teaching first grade, some students entered my class already reading. I don't know how they did it, neither did they or their parents understand it. My basic reading/writing instruction for most students could be described as phonic-centric. With my readers, my focus was getting them to read a lot, as they needed very little phonic instruction to read and comprehend.

    I would urge the phonic-instruction-until-they-reach-college-level teachers to re-examine their teaching. Not all students learn the same way.
     

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