kitchen table math, the sequel: Ken on Madison's reading scores

Monday, March 12, 2007

Ken on Madison's reading scores

Ken's series of posts on the Times article are going to be invaluable to parents attempting to persuade their districts to use SBRR reading programs (scientifically based reading research).

His latest is short and sweet, which makes it especially useful.

The Times article on Madison's success with balanced literacy has the story wrong.


in a nutshell:
  • The TIMES article concerns a group of Madison schools eligible for two million dollars in Reading First funding on condition that they chose an SBRR reading curriculum (SBRR curricula systematically teach phonemic awareness and phonics).*
  • The Madison schools under discussion chose to forego the two million dollars in federal funding for which they were eligible because they wished to carry on using a balanced literacy program. (Best source on balanced literacy versus SBRR programs is Louisa Moats' Whole-Language High Jinx.)
  • According to figures provided by Madison to the TIMES, balanced literacy has been successful in raising reading scores.
  • That turns out to be false. Yes, scores are up on Wisconsin's test. Scores on NAEP, however, are flat. Now it appears that the schools in question are in fact underperforming Madison's other schools.
  • My understanding of Moats' paper is that all children are equally at risk for reading difficulty: "[Reading scientists] have established that most students will learn to read adequately (though not necessarily well) regardless of the instructional methods they’re subjected to in school. But they’ve also found that fully 40 percent of children are less fortunate. For them, explicit instruction (including phonics) is necessary if they are to ever become capable readers. These findings are true across race, socioeconomic status, and family background."
The reading wars are still with us, and the stakes are high.


where did whole language come from?

This is another entry under the always worse than you think heading:

In 1837, Horace Mann, a lawyer and Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, proposed to the Boston School Masters the adoption of a "new method" of reading that began with the memorization of whole words rather than just learning the letter sounds and blending them into words. His "new method" was based on the work of Thomas A. Gallaudet, who had developed a way to teach deaf children to read. Since deaf children had no ability to "sound out" letters, syllables, or words, the constant repetition of "sight" words from a controlled vocabulary seemed to be the most efficient way to teach them to read.

Adapting the work of Gallaudet, Horace Mann and his wife Mary developed a reading program that applied the same principles to students who had no hearing impairment. His method was tried for about six years in the Boston schools, and then soundly rejected by the Boston School Masters in 1844. Samuel Stillwell Greene, then principal of the Phillips Grammar School in Boston, expressed the views of the Boston School Masters, and the following excerpt from his essay is as relevant today as it was in 1844:

"Education is a great concern; it has often been tampered with by vain theorists; it has suffered much from the stupid folly and the delusive wisdom of its treacherous friends; and we hardly know which have injured it most. Our conviction is, that it has much more to hope from the collected wisdom and common prudence of the community, than from the suggestions of the individual. Locke injured it by his theories, and so did Rousseau, and so did Milton. All their plans were too splendid to be true. It is to be advanced by conceptions, neither soaring above the clouds, nor groveling on the earth, -- but by those plain, gradual, productive, common-sense improvements, which use may encourage and experience suggest. We are in favor of advancement, provided it be towards usefulness. . . . We love the secretary, but we hate his theories. They stand in the way of substantial education. It is impossible for a sound mind not to hate them."

The establishment of the normal school to train teachers at the same time Horace Mann was promoting the "new method" was not coincidental because these institutions became the vehicle by which to continue promoting the "new method." With the help of John Dewey at the University of Chicago, Arthur Gates at Columbia Teachers College, and the growing network of normal schools springing up around the country, direct, intensive, systematic phonics was debunked in favor of the whole word "look and say" way of teaching reading, with no research to support it.


So there you have it.

Whole language has its origins in reading instruction for the deaf.

Of course!

The deaf!

Let's teach hearing children the same way we teach deaf children.

Why not?


is Susan J around?

Susan has done a great deal of volunteer work with education of the blind, and I'm thinking she'll know the answer to this question.

I have a memory that deafness is an enormous obstacle to education....I'm thinking that deaf children suffer deficits in reading comprehension and understanding of abstract material--but I don't know this, and I don't want to be saying it on a blog if I'm wrong. (I'm going to strike this post, as a matter of fact as soon as I find out I am wrong.)

Susan, if you're around, do you know something about this?

Does anyone?

Obviously I'm thinking that it is the height of folly to adopt a method of reading instruction for typical children that teachers of the deaf have had to use by necessity.

I would think that in any case, but if it's true that reading comprehension suffers as a result of deafness, that makes the history even worse.

Another question for Susan: I also think I've read that blindness is not a terrible handicap for reading comprehension.

Is that correct?

Or have I got that wrong?



from Susan J

Many deaf children fail to acquire language at a young age. (Let's restrict this to deaf children who don't have any vision problems.) This is because even the tiniest babies need to experience language and -- if they are deaf -- sign language is the only option. Unfortunately, deaf children with hearing parents may not be sufficiently exposed to sign language either because the parents don't learn it or they mistakenly believe that if they don't use sign language, the child will learn to lip read better.

American Sign Language (ASL) is its own language; it isn't English. So my guess is that learning to read English is for a child who knows ASL rather like learning a foreign language.

However if the child has missed the window for his or her brain to acquire any language, they may have lifelong deficits.

As for blind children who don't have any other disabilities, they don't seem to have any unusual reading comprehension problems. Obviously the mechanics of reading braille with your fingers is different from visual reading and it helps if the student's braille teacher is well-trained.

I'm thinking that Oliver Sacks' book (Seeing Voices) may discuss this.

fyi, one of the most riveting books I've ever read about language and disability is Susan Schaller's A Man without Words.


As to Horace Mann, I think it's safe to say that, at a minimum, a form of reading instruction based in the techniques of teachers working with deaf children is stupid folly and delusive wisdom, both.

Ken on Madison's reading scores
cued speech and literacy
forcing hearing children to learn as deaf children must
how to make a point


_________________


* I believe that wealthy schools aren't eligible for Reading First funding, but take that with a grain of salt.

7 comments:

SusanJ said...

Hi Catherine,

My knowledge of deaf persons is just stuff I've picked up over the years. Don't have any links to hand.

Many deaf children fail to acquire language at a young age. (Let's restrict this to deaf children who don't have any vision problems.) This is because even the tiniest babies need to experience language and -- if they are deaf -- sign language is the only option. Unfortunately, deaf children with hearing parents may not be sufficiently exposed to sign language either because the parents don't learn it or they mistakenly believe that if they don't use sign language, the child will learn to lip read better.

American Sign Language (ASL) is its own language; it isn't English. So my guess is that learning to read English is for a child who knows ASL rather like learning a foreign language.

However if the child has missed the window for his or her brain to acquire any language, they may have lifelong deficits.

As for blind children who don't have any other disabilities, they don't seem to have any unusual reading comprehension problems. Obviously the mechanics of reading braille with your fingers is different from visual reading and it helps if the student's braille teacher is well-trained.

Catherine Johnson said...

Thanks, Susan!

I have the distinct impression (which I'm inclined to trust) that, as you say, blind children do not have special problems with reading.

I feel less trust in my memory of deaf children facing unique challenges.

SusanJ said...

I've just found my copy of an article from the July 28, 2003 Time magazine on how the brain reads words.

According to this article (which I believe to be fairly accurate based on other things I've read) there are three functions in the brain that are involved in reading.

The frontal lobe supplies the first function called the "phoneme producer" which helps a person begin to analyze phonemes. It isn't clear to me how this function would work in deaf persons. I don't know if sound is essential or if even without sound, the deaf reader can grasp that different letters or different groups of letters contribute differently.

The parietal lobe supplies a second function called the "word analyzer" that pulls apart words into their constituent syllables.

The occipital lobe supplies the last function called the "automatic detector" which automates the process of recognizing words.

In children with dyslexia, there seems to be some "neurological glitch" which prevents the brain from easily accessing the latter two functions. So for these children, phonics is essential because that's the only way they can read.

On the other hand, according to this research, good fast readers essentially use "whole word" detection as their brains can almost skip past the first two functions. So "whole word" teaching probably works fine for these children. And, since they learn to read faster (not because of the teaching method but because their brains are optimally wired) one can see how earlier researchers might have come to the wrong conclusion.

Anonymous said...

I think it makes perfect sense. This from the Cued Speech Organization...

"Prior to the 1960s, the majority of children who were deaf or hard-of-hearing were educated in residential and day schools for the deaf. In the 1960s, around the time of the civil rights movement, another movement went largely unnoticed – the push to educate deaf children in the mainstream, alongside their peers who were hearing. Around the same time, people started trying to come up with ways to improve the literacy rate of deaf adults, which hovered around the third- to fourth-grade level (where it remains to this day)."

Choosing a method that results in 3rd and 4th grade literacy in adults sounds like a great idea.


http://www.cuedspeech.org/PDF/CS_and_Literary.pdf

Instructivist said...

This article on the origin of WL is an amazing find. I had no idea Mann discovered a "new method" based on trying to teach reading to the deaf. I have heard about Ken Goodman's unfortunate influence. It's usually the case that more origins turn up earlier and earlier when looking for origins.

This article Ten Myths About Learning to Read is very valuable and does away with a lot of reading myths. I particularly like how it devastates the maze craze, a truly nutty idea on which reading decisions (level of difficulty chosen for reading) are made.

Instructivist said...

For some reason my fancy link to the reading myths article doesn't work.

Here is the plain link: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/351

Ryan said...

As the parent of a deaf child, these are the sorts of things that keep me up long into the night, worrying.