kitchen table math, the sequel: balanced literacy

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

balanced literacy

For some time now, I've wondered exactly what people are actually doing when they teach kids to read via balanced literacy. This video makes clear what "predictable text" is and why knowing the sound of the first letter in a word isn't the same thing as phonics. Watch what happens at the end of the tape (what doesn't happen, I should say) when this little girl encounters the word 'me.'

80 comments:

C T said...

Do balanced literacy advocates actually think that is "reading"? The little girl is totally dependent on clues from the pictures and the adult helping her. Scary! So glad my mom (a former elementary school teacher) gave me her old Hay-Wingo Reading with Phonics.

Anonymous said...

Well that was horrifying. Or maybe it was actually mocking whole language. Yeah, that must be it.

Anonymous said...

My 8 year old watching over my shoulder asked what happens when the book has no pictures.

Anonymous said...

My oldest son had difficulty learning to read (and spell, and articulate his speech, many related things), and the school where he went for K and first grade really exacerbated his difficulties with their so-called reading strategies. He would look at the first letter of a word and then right away at the picture. I know they taught him this in class, and for him it was crippling. These are really strategies for not reading. In the video the girl can "read" the word collar but not the word me. Ha. I had a very hard time finding books without pictures for my son. I ended up typing up sections of books that were at his target reading level, just to isolate the text from the pictures.

Jennie said...

I think most parents have NO CLUE that this is how reading is being taught in the schools. This approach is used even in schools that claim they teach phonics. After all, they do teach some letter-sound correspondences for consonants and vowels, and they do encourage children to use that information when looking at the first letter of a word, as you see this adult doing with the "c" in "cat."
Many parents therefore assume, when their child struggles, that the problem lies within their child.

Jennie said...

Note how the child looks away from the book so much of the time. Ah, learning to read without having to look at the letters on the page. What a concept.

SteveH said...

How old is the girl?

Now that I think about it, my wife and I spent a long time on phonics before we even tried to get our son to read. Actually, it started with counting numbers and reciting the alphabet. He had plastic interlocking squares of letters and numbers that we would hold up and quiz him. (Horrors! Rote learning.)

We also read to him a lot while he followed our fingers in the book. I would like to know what kind of teaching preceeded that video. What might happen is that friends and family will ooh and aah about her "reading", and then she will get frustrated when it doesn't work with no pictures. Not only is whole language a weak and limited technique, schools don't seem to want to put in the methodical effort required for any kind of learning.


When our son was in preschool, he amazed the teachers when he read the word "volunteer" on a trip to the fire station. They already knew he could read, but this was something they had trouble with.

By the way, one of the favorite things my son liked was when I read sentences backwards. There was one book called: "Ladybug on the move" which had a little cutout of a ladybug that you would slip through slots in each page. I never heard him laugh so hard as when I read the sentences backwards. It takes a little practice to do it smoothly, but it's really funny. "Move the on Buglady."

He learned to do this too. When he got older, he would take a book and cover the right half of a page and then just read the left half. That's funny too.

Even now that he is in 8th grade, I read to him when he gets into bed. Sometimes he wants me to quiz him with science questions, like what are the inert gases. What element is W?

SteveH said...

Another question is whether more parents nowadays wait to let the school teach their kids to read. In my family of four, we all learned to read before we entered Kindergarten. Once we were in school, our parents didn't help us much at all. Actually, that's odd.

momof4 said...

"Schools don't seem to want to put in the methodical effort required for any kind of learning." That is the fundamental problem. The ed world has bought into the Romantic idea that learning is natural, effortless and fun. Of course, all kids want to learn, too. It's certainly easier for the teachers/admin to pretend that; any failure to learn is because of a lack of maturity ("not developmentally ready") It couldn't possibly be because of bad curriculum, bad instruction or disinterest on the part of the kid.

momof4 said...

This is somewhat tangential, but the WaPo has a Class Struggle column on the KIPP schools. There was a really incredible comment" What improvement is really required from high-SES schools?" I know people who comment on this site have LOTS of ideas. Commenters on that site have already started to address the issue.

Laura said...

That is downright scary.

Catherine Johnson said...

Jennie --

I had absolutely no clue. I don't know, to this day, how C. was taught to read, though I'm sure the school used balanced literacy because a) the school has always been committed to whole language, b) the school used to have a special 'multi-sensory' (i.e. phonics) class for kids who were struggling to read, and c) C. couldn't spell AT ALL.

Then, after I started reading about balanced literacy vs. synthetic phonics, I really didn't understand anything about it. I experienced the same thing I did with fuzzy math: it was hard for me to perceive what the real difference was between balanced literacy and phonics.

e.g.: I really didn't get why 'onset' (first letter) and 'rime' (rest of the word) isn't phonics.

You really do have to see it. (Or at least I do.)

Catherine Johnson said...

That is the fundamental problem. The ed world has bought into the Romantic idea that learning is natural, effortless and fun.

You are so right.

Lately that's been the thing that most frustrates me about public schools: the utter indifference to practice.

Mary Damer was the first person to explain to me that balanced literacy doesn't give kids enough PRACTICE in decoding....that's what the decodable books (like the Bob Books) are for: they give the child practice.

Of course the other issue is that everything is such a jumble in the edu-world. "Reading for meaning" and "decoding the words" on the page are mixed up together.

Catherine Johnson said...

Watching that tape, I was thinking: TEACH THOSE SKILLS IN ISOLATION!

PLEASE!

Catherine Johnson said...

After all, they do teach some letter-sound correspondences for consonants and vowels, and they do encourage children to use that information when looking at the first letter of a word, as you see this adult doing with the "c" in "cat."

Right, and that's what was confusing to me.

I really didn't know what phonics were, to tell the truth. And I spent what seemed like years trying to figure out the difference between "phonemic awareness" and just plain "phonics."

Parents are at such an immense disadvantage. We don't know what's going on inside the classroom - and if we do we don't know why reading scientists & mathematicians object to it so strongly.

Catherine Johnson said...

My 8 year old watching over my shoulder asked what happens when the book has no pictures.

oh my gosh!

Really???

wow

Out of the mouths of babes.

That's amazing.

LexAequitas said...

Quite disturbing. The one who posted it on youtube would seem to be the husband of the mother in the video (with the surname "Martinson"). The notes for the video include that they were posting it for varied reasons, one of which is to "show off their 3-year old daughter".

LexAequitas said...

And what's really cringeworthy is that kids learning to read generally pick up the "look at the picture" strategy on their own -- often I've resorted to covering the picture even in a book that's relatively picture-free such as 100 Easy Lessons. But when this little girl is trying to make sense of the letters on the cover, her mother deliberately draws her attention away from the words and says, "But what's the picture?"

Also note that this strategy will not work as long as there are pictures. If it had been a book about a frog titled "My Friend", she would have read,"My Frog". And then with the collar sentence, note that the mother had to point out the particularly relevant part of the picture.

Ironically, teachers will disparage "word-callers" -- those who can "only" read the word without understanding it. While a good vocabulary is important, I think one of the main reasons assiduous readers develop large vocabularies is because they can read out loud words they have never seen, and then derive the meaning from context. Someone learning this way won't develop that skill.

Catherine Johnson said...

I remember, years ago, seeing a video of Engelmann saying kids need to be able to read lists of words.

At the time I thought: what?

Read a list?

But reading a list isn't reading!

I took it on faith that he was right, but I didn't get it.

I see now why reading specialists use the word "decoding."

Catherine Johnson said...

Hay-Wingo Reading with Phonics

iirc, Dianne McGuinness' book is keen on Hay-Wingo.

ChemProf said...

In the "it is always worse than you think" category, I had someone from the education department recently tell a story where she expressed frustration with a kid for trying to sound out the word when "the picture is right there." Why they think this teaches reading is beyond me.

palisadesk said...

Be careful with the word "decoding." Balanced Literacy folks use it to mean "word identification," not using the alphabetic code to sound out the word. They talk of "decoding" by using the pictures, the context, the syntax, etc. -- everything except the "code."

The Developmental Reading Assessment, one of the more pervasive Balanced literacy reading tests, has teachers score the child on "decoding" but letter knowledge or knowledge of sound/symbol correspondences is not evaluated. The "decoding" score on the DRA refers simply to words being pronounced correctly. It is possible for a child to do well on the DRA and know absolutely no letter sounds at all. It's rare but not impossible. Some kids get a long way with memorization techniques or what McGuinness calls "part-word assembly" -- guessing from a part of the word.

Anonymous said...

The You Tube category listed for this video is "comedy", so that may shed some light on things.

SusanG said...

I don't find it funny. I think it's cruel.

Catherine said...

palisadesk - oh for heaven's sake

"A word means what I say it means"

Catherine said...

anonymous - that's weird - I didn't see the 'comedy' listing

jtidwell said...

To show off their daughter? Oh lord. Maybe I should post my video of our three-year-old sight-reading Virginia Lee Burton's "Little House," without any help from the pictures. He actually decodes the words by, you know, looking at the letters!

...Except that posting any public video to "show off" one's preschooler gives me the shivers. No thanks.

To see the "comedy" listing for this video, click on the down arrow beside the "smartinson" comments right below the video player. That expands the comments box to show you more info.

(Long-time listener, first-time caller. Hi everyone.)

SteveH said...

Welcome jtidwell. I have video of my son reading without pictures too.

I don't think it's meant to be a comedy or to show off, but there seems to be an intent to teach other parents how to start the reading process without much preliminary preparation or prior skills. Follow the link to the one who posted it and you will find another link to a page containing:


"My NAME IS SEAN MARTINSON AND I AM THE PRINCIPAL AT COHASSET ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. PREVIOUSLY I WAS THE DEAN OF STUDENTS AND ACTIVITIES DIRECTOR AT DEER RIVER HIGH SCHOOL. PRIOR TO THAT I’VE Been a Reading Instructor, Kindergarten Classroom Teacher, Multi-age Classroom Teacher, a Technology Integrationist, AND a Staff Development Trainer. I’VE PRESENTED ON EDUCATION AND TECHNOLOGY TOPICS IN NORTHERN MINNESOTA AND ANNUALLY AT THE MINNESOTA STATE TECHNOLOGY CONFERENCE. MY professional passion is education, technology, and leadership."


"I hold a Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education, a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership and Technology, and AM a licensed K-12 Principal. I ALSO HOLD an A.A. DEGREE FROM “THE” ITASCA COMMUNITY COLLEGE, WHICH IS A GREAT PLACE TO START!"


"multi-age classroom teacher"
"technology integrationist"

I wish I could express how I feel after reading all of this. This is how colleges of education train the people who teach our kids. They KNOW that many disagree, but that is all they teach. It's unethical and just plain wrong.

Robin said...

One of the primary reasons the US spends so much with such poor results is illustrated by Martinsen's CV.

We have put education in the hands of people with lots of degrees and little knowledge.

Knowledge of the alphabetic code should be a prerequisite to teaching elementary school in this country. Period.

SusanG said...

'Knowledge of the alphabetic code should be a prerequisite to teaching elementary school in this country. Period.'

Absolutely right, Robin.

Have you seen this? You might find it useful- UK English though.

http://www.rrf.org.uk/pdf/DH%20Alph%20Code%20with%20teaching%20points%20PLAIN%20A4x7-1%20final%20version.pdf

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi jtidwell!

Catherine Johnson said...

wait --- have I got this right???

The dad is a principal of an elementary school???

(I'm sick as a dog - spring cold - not gonna go look it all up now.)

I had just assumed that these were parents who, not knowing better, had picked up whatever materials were out there and had their child start memorizing.

Catherine Johnson said...

"technology integrationist"

We have a Technology Coordinator here in my district.

At a recent board meeting, I told the board that I had done a literature search on SMART Boards & had found just one study, which found that SMART Boards do not increase learning.

After I sat down, the Technology Coordinator said breezily, "I'm sure we can find many studies showing that SMART Boards increase learning."

I collared him during a break & said, "How is it that you're Technology Coordinator and you don't **know** that there are studies showing increased learning."

He said, "Somebody in the administration knows the studies."

Needless to say, nobody in the administration has any studies showing that SMART Boards increase learning. Now the superintendent says that SMART Boards increase 'engagement.'

Apparently you don't need studies to prove that SMART Boards increase engagement. It makes sense so it's true.

So we're having a 1.65% tax increase, with declining enrollments, so we can buy more SMART Boards. We have to buy more SMART Boards because we have a "SMART Board Equity" problem in our K-3 school. There are children who can go all the way through the K-3 school without ever once having a SMART Board in their classroom.

And that's not right.

Catherine Johnson said...

Meanwhile we've got upwards of 20% of the kids struggling to read, but no one's talking about Reading Equity.

Catherine Johnson said...

They KNOW that many disagree, but that is all they teach. It's unethical and just plain wrong.

I agree.

Anonymous said...

"They KNOW that many disagree, but that is all they teach. It's unethical and just plain wrong."

Um ... they also know that many disagree with the teaching of evolution, but that is all they teach *there*, too.

I think ID is a crock, but what makes not teaching ID fail to be "unethical and just plain wrong" too? The fact that other people disagree doesn't seem to be enough for "unethical and just plain wrong."


-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

Catherine wrote: "I had just assumed that these were parents who, not knowing better, had picked up whatever materials were out there and had their child start memorizing."
So, even you think the teaching of reading in the classroom must be better than this video demonstration? Then we have a REALLY long way to go to help the average parent understand why their children or their neighbor's children are struggling to learn to read.
Picture clues are at the top of the list of "strategies" in many classrooms across the country, even in schools with phonics programs like Fundations. Go figure.

Nicksmama said...

When I viewed the video, I assumed that the mom was a public school teacher.

Public school teachers see this method as a "feature" and homeschooling parents see it as a "bug".....

I've never met a homeschooling parent that would encourage these strategies, much less teach them. Most children will come up with these strategies on their own, and it's our job to break them of these bad habits aka...."reading strategies."

SteveH said...

"The fact that other people disagree doesn't seem to be enough for 'unethical and just plain wrong.'"

Are you arguing semantics over the use of the word "disagree"? What word would you have me use? What level of proof does it take here. Could they teach ID and disregard evolution? Since there is little proof when it comes to educational techniques, does that mean they can pick one thing and ignore the rest because they've decided it's not "best practices" or "authentic learning"?

Evolution versus ID is a real stretch for an argument that would justify a college of education not including phonics or direct instruction as part of their curriculum.

Anonymous said...

"Are you arguing semantics over the use of the word 'disagree'?"

I'm arguing that the fact that:
(1) others disagree, and
(2) that they are ignoring the disagreeing opinion

is not enough to make them unethical and just plain wrong.

I'm using ID as a example where doing (1) and (2) isn't considered such by the folks who read/post on KTM.

We need a stronger argument against then before we should level these charges.

On the "wrong" front, I'd go with reasonable case studies. You can't simultaneously argue (a) clearly wrong, and (b) little proof. And with little proof, I'd be reluctant to leap to unethical.

-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

So, it's perfectly ethical not to teach phonics and direct instruction in colleges of education? What level of argument does one need? What level of proof?


This is important. What can we expect from colleges of education? Most teachers cannot teach our kids unless they take their courses. Are you saying that they can do whatever they want and that the onus is on everyone else?

I never said anything about whether what they teach is "clearly wrong". I'm talking about the fact that they only present one philosophy - on purpose. That is unethical. The only other argument is ignorance, and I don't buy that.

LynnG said...

I thought the video had to be done through a school or something because of the "helpful" explanatory comments that keep popping up at the bottom. When the video scroll said something about "get your mouth ready" for a sound and then the mom said the same thing a couple seconds later, I thought it looked like ed school propaganda.

LynnG said...

When my littlest kid was about this age, I remember going to a restaurant with my mom (a retired reading teacher). While we were waiting for the food, and everyone was talking about stuff, I saw my mom with a little notebook working through lists of words that she was handwriting and teaching my daughter to sound out.

She picked rhyming families and concentrated on a single internal vowel sound at a time. Then they wrote simple sentences.

By the time the food arrived, my daughter was reading sentences with no picture clues. And every now and then my mom would throw in a new word without warning that was similar and in the same family, but required my kid to look at the letters and think about what was happening.

Good teaching can take place anywhere, anytime, with the simplest of tools. You can keep your technology integrationist. I've got Grandma with a pencil.

Hainish said...

"They KNOW that many disagree, but that is all they teach. It's unethical and just plain wrong."

They may *know* that many disagree, but they don't really understand the basis of that disagreement. And they're really unable to evaluate research on their own. (They've never learned how to do so.)

So, others must be disagreeing because they're old-fashioned, or don't like change, or don't like children, or are ignorant, or what have you.

They don't know what they don't know.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm talking about the fact that they only present one philosophy - on purpose. That is unethical.

I agree with Steve & I would make his assertion stronger. There is consensus amongst reading scientists that whole language/balanced literacy:

a) is a false account of how people read
b) is an ineffective means of teaching children to read regardless of the fact that many children learn to read in whole language/balanced literacy classrooms

Education schools aren't simply failing to acknowledge the fact that there is more than one school of thought.

Education schools are actively suppressing the fact that there is a scientific consensus they are wrong.

How Psychological Science Informs the Teaching of Reading (pdf file)

How Should Reading Be Taught?

Catherine Johnson said...

nicksmama - this is what balanced literacy schools are doing in the classroom?

This is accurate?

Catherine Johnson said...

even you think the teaching of reading in the classroom must be better than this video demonstration?

I do!

Is this REALLY the way it is?????

No wonder my school doesn't encourage parents to visit the classroom.

Catherine Johnson said...

When the video scroll said something about "get your mouth ready" for a sound and then the mom said the same thing a couple seconds later, I thought it looked like ed school propaganda.

Good point.

Those subtitles were jarring to me - and I didn't manage to integrate them into my perception of the video.

Catherine Johnson said...

They may *know* that many disagree, but they don't really understand the basis of that disagreement. And they're really unable to evaluate research on their own. (They've never learned how to do so.)

I think that's true.

Catherine Johnson said...

I just showed the video to Ed and he, like me, didn't really get why this isn't the proper way to teach reading. When the mom had the little girl sound out the first letter in the word, he said, "She's teaching sounds."

In terms of political advocacy, we need a couple of things:

* simple, common sense explanations like the comments on this page explaining to people why this isn't proper reading instruction

* research and anecdotal evidence that balanced literacy instruction isn't good for the kids who **do** learn to read this way

Catherine Johnson said...

Watching the video again, I can see why so many kids in a high-SES school **do** learn to read this way. Around 80% of the kids will in fact learn to read (right?)

This child **has** been taught sounds associated with letters.

What she has not been taught is blending (putting sounds together to form a word) and segmenting (which I believe is breaking a spoken word into its component sounds so as to spell it).

Mary Damer talks about children "cracking the code" on their own, by which I think she means that quite a few kids, exposed to this sound-out-the-first-letter-and-guess mode of teaching, will eventually figure out on their own that words can be sounded out - and will begin to do so.

In other words, they will learn 'blending' incidentally.

You can see this at the end of the video, where the mom sounds out 'me' for the little girl.

Catherine Johnson said...

This reminds me of the early days of ktm, when we used to ask ourselves what arguments we needed to make the case for Singapore Math.

Steve H used to always say, "Don't argue. Just open up the books side-by-side and show everyone what kids can do in Singapore Math versus what they can do in Everyday Math." (Steve - if that's a mischaracterization, I'll take it back!)

Here's what we need politically, in terms of making the case for synthetic phonics.

We need a video of this same child trying to read the words in the book from a list.

We need a bunch of videos like that:

* child 'reads' via sound-out-first-letter-&-guess
* child fails to read same words when presented without pictures & predictable word order

Nicksmama said...

"We need a bunch of videos like that:

* child 'reads' via sound-out-first-letter-&-guess
* child fails to read same words when presented without pictures & predictable word order"

That video could have been made at my house, 8 years ago. I was teaching my oldest to read. My husband came home from work and I proudly announced that our son could read! My 5 year old sat down with his Bob Book and proceeded to "read" it to his dad.

Well, Dad said, "Why don't you read it to me again?" and proceeded to cover up the page with the illustration. My son just made up his own story and "read" the book to us.

My husband looked up to me and said, "Back to the drawing board."

I learned a lot from that experience and the "context and picture queues" just take me right back to that moment.

Catherine Johnson said...

wow!

Too bad you didn't catch that on tape!

That's the acid test: can the child read the words on the page without pictures.

Katharine Beals said...

We also need a video that teaches a few lessons in written Hebrew using a balanced literacy approach, and a contrasting video that teaches written Hebrew using a phonetic approach. Each one should end with a mini reading test (one that lacks pictures). Viewers would be encouraged to publicize their scores and rate the lessons for efficacy.

Molly said...

About 20 years I ago, I took part in a training program for Literacy Volunteers of America. It was a fairly intense training for volunteers who would be working with illiterate adults. One thing we learned was the coping strategies that illiterate adults use. This video is a great demonstration of those strategies. Figure out the first letter and look at the picture to guess. We are actively teaching children to use the coping strategies of illiterates, rather than teaching them to read. There is something very wrong with the whole process.

SteveH said...

"They don't know what they don't know."

I've met some teachers like that, but we're talking about schools of education. It's more than just ignorance. It's deliberate.

"Don't argue. Just open up the books side-by-side and show everyone what kids can do in Singapore Math versus what they can do in Everyday Math."

Yes, but I used to think that this is all it would take to convince teachers. It might convince parents, but not teachers. I still remember the head of curriculum at my son's old private school telling me that "It's (Everyday Math) better for our mix of students" after she looked over the Singapore Math books I loaned her. I realized right then that all they were saying about critical thinking and understanding was a lie. Part of it might be that they just really don't know what math is all about, but you would think that they would be open to input from mathematicians and engineers. That's not the case.

I don't think it's possible to change their minds. This is their turf and that's all they have. If you take that away, they have nothing.

SteveH said...

"There is something very wrong with the whole process."

To me, it's a basic anti-hard work philosophy. It permeates all of teaching. Memorizing is hard, so it must be bad. Mastering algorithms is hard, so it must be bad. Notice that curricula like EM do not require any particular level of mastery of anything at "any one point in time". Hard work separates kids by ability and willingness to learn, so that's bad. Learning has to be natural. Phonics requires a lot of work before you even begin to read. It must be bad. Kids need to be able to dive right in and start "reading".

Magically, this philosophy starts to disappear when kids head to high school. Lower schools happily pump kids along so they never see the big high school filter. Some kids do well, so educators never give it another thought.

Catherine Johnson said...

There really is an anti-hard work philosophy.

Why is that?

(Is it just another aspect of the idea that learning should be natural? Could be.)

Here's a comment from the KIPP thread: When you wrote "deliberate practice", I read "deliberate pain".

Of course, deliberate practice isn't fun (according to Ericsson).

But there's no way around it.

Catherine Johnson said...

Steve - I was talking about parents, not administrators ---

Parents need to know exactly why sound-out-the-first-letter-&-guess-the-rest isn't phonics.

I realize that may sound crazy, but I didn't understand the difference myself. I was taking it on faith because I trust reading scientists and reading specialists like Mary Damer and I don't trust constructivists.

But I didn't understand it.

The comments on this thread were incredibly helpful to me.

My primitive notion of 'phonics' was 'sounds the letters make.' (I realize Diane McGuinness would not be pleased by that formulation!)

That's probably what a lot of people think.

"Sounds the letters make" actually isn't wrong when you're just talking about phonics in the sense of the "alphabetic principle."

When you're talking about phonics as a teaching methodology, there's no way to distinguish between "junk phonics" and synthetic phonics if all you know is that sounds are represented by letters.

SteveH said...

"learning should be natural?"

But there is nothing natural about the way my son's middle school classes are taught. It's about cranking up the pressure. Remember our discussions about how some educators think that struggling is required for real learning? In K-6, everything is about low expectation exposure and discovery. Then whammo!

What do educators base this on? It's not just hard work, but struggle. Do math without mastery of the basics. Write without mastery of the basics. Analyze without historical knowledge. Take responsibility for your own learning. There is nothing natural about this.

Instead of hard work, I would call it consistent, methodical work. Hard work sounds too much like struggle.

I look for consistency of educational ideas between K-6 and high school and I don't find any. As Wu shows on one of his graphs about the transition to algebra, it's nonlinear. The educational philosophy change is nonlinear. Actually, it's a step function.

My son loved learning. He would watch his phonics video over and over and over. For those things that were not so natural, my wife and I just kept pressing. I remember one parent telling me that he tried to be a slowly moving wall that kept pushing his kids.

Catherine Johnson said...

It's not just hard work, but struggle.

Right!

Struggle is good!

Drill is bad!

Catherine Johnson said...

Sometimes I think edu-world ideology can be explained entirely as a case of muddled thinking.

Catherine Johnson said...

Instead of hard work, I would call it consistent, methodical work.

right

Hainish said...

Well, here's Ken Goodman...

"That leaves the colleges of education, which have never enjoyed high status among their academic colleagues, as the logical group to carry the blame for the failure of the scientific solutions to the reading crisis. It is they who mislead and miseducate teachers. Incompetent themselves, they fill their students with useless overly complex theory and refuse to teach them the phonics they need to know to teach scientifically. They are unworthy of academic freedom and can therefore be required to clear their course syllabi with state monitors on threat of decertifying their programs. Black lists have been established of people, ideas, and practices that may not be included or even cited in state or federal applications for support. These blacklists are particularly enforced in staff development designed to reeducate teachers in the federally mandated programs in addition to placing the burden of proof on all teacher educators to demonstrate their acceptance and support of the federal mandates in order to participate."

Now, someone will have to tell me what planet he lives on.

palisadesk said...

Joanne Jacobs had an excellent post on this topic of Balanced Literacy not long ago.

See here

Check out the link she posted, and the ones on the right-hand sidebar next to the posted video.

California Teacher said...

Teacher on spring break here... please don't bite me!

Just wanted to chime in... I appreciate this blog, especially the great math support links, and I especially love the image of Lucy Calkins in coconuts. (I teach in a reading/writing workshop school, implemented district-wide, and a topic for another day.)

Anyway, I deduce from reading the many posts that most (if not all) the participants here have kids in upper middle-class schools, or home/private schools and are, for various reasons, incredibly disappointed with their local public schools.

I think problems with balanced literacy are like those with whole language: too much uninformed, over-simplified and poor implementation.

I just wanted to share a link to a chapter written by Marilyn Jager Adams in the 1998 book Literacy For All which goes into depth on the problems of balanced literacy (otherwise referred to as instruction in the “three-queing system”: graphophonics, semantics & syntax).

Though, I suppose we should call it “unbalanced literacy” because of the uneven attention paid to semantics and syntax at the expense of graphophonics, which is what appears in the video to which this thread responds.

It’s a long chapter, but you might find it informative:
http://tinyurl.com/yjfopmt

Cheers!

Catherine Johnson said...

I teach in a reading/writing workshop school, implemented district-wide, and a topic for another day.

Hi, California Teacher!

You must fill us in!

Thanks for the link - I will read.

fyi: I've been 'in and out' this year -- but now that I'm more present than not I get the sense that a number of Commenters with grade-school aged children have joined the group lately ---

SteveH said...

I read the whole thing. Where's my gold star?

It's a scholarly analysis of "muddled thinking" (thanks for that one, Catherine), and the author was "stunned" to realize that they didn't do what they said they were doing.

It's like KTM. We keep assuming that there is something there. We go into deep analyses and keep coming up with nothing.

So, to shorten the paper, it's not one thing or another, but phonics is a critical part.


Then again, the author references another work on page 94. It talks about what you can do at home to help your child learn to read. Is this what schools expect parents to do? Look at the suggestions.


"Based on the way that most of us were taught to read, we have told the child to 'sound it out' when it comes to an unknown word. While phonics is an important part of reading, reading for meaning is the primary goal. To produce independent readers who monitor and correct themselves as they read, the following prompts are recommended before saying 'sound it out'".


"Give your child wait time of 5 to 10 seconds. See what he attempts to do to help himself out."

[By then, he is looking for something else to do.]


"What would make sense there?"

[He has already thought about that. He isn't stupid.]



"What do you think that word could be?"

[Not stupid, part II.]


"Go back to the beginning and try that again."

[Right. Start playing with a toy.]


"Skip over it and read the end of the sentence (or paragraph). Now what do you think it is?"


[Find another toy.]


"Put in a word that would make sense there."

[Gigglefratz]



"You read that word on another page. See if you can find it."

[Half hour later ........]



"Look at how the word begins. Start it out and keep reading"

[Start WHAT out? ... the author just can't say the words. "keep reading" But how do you read?]


"Tell your child the word."

[Skip all of these steps - Step 1 - Help the child SOUND IT OUT! Step 2 - Move on.]


Reading will have a whole lot more meaning if kids can decode the word. It's almost as if they think that decoding precludes the development of understanding and meaning. So, if a child could be perfectly taught to sound out any word before even beginning to read, then the child will not understand much? What happens in terms of "meaning" when you read to a child? I guess the goal of education schools is to take easy things and make them incredibly complex and scholarly.


OK. Now show me the model they expect to use at school with a class of 15 kids at different levels.


I wonder how my wife and I ever figured out how to teach our son to read without all of this erudite knowledge. We must be freakin' geniuses. I'll take LynnG's grandma with a pencil.

Catherine Johnson said...

muddled thinking

Ed's the originator of muddled thinking where ed-schoolery is concerned.

When you're dealing with muddled thinking AND ideology, it keeps you hopping.

Katharine Beals said...

I realize that my Hebrew reading experiment sounds must quite half-baked, so I've given some thought about how to flesh it out.

Again, the idea is to take American adults and turn them back into novice readers via a not-too-complicated phonetic writing system consisting of sound-to-symbol correspondences with which they are totally unfamiliar. The Arabic and Hindu writing systems strike me as too complicated; the Greek and Cyrillic systems involve too many familiar symbols and sound-symbol correspondences.

But you'd have to do this without introducing the added challenge of learning another language.

So what you do is you transliterate a bunch of simple English words--of the sort you'd start beginning readers on ("cat", "mat", "can", "pan", "and", "in", "on", etc.)--into Hebrew letters.

Then you teach American adults who don't already know how to read written Hebrew how to read this list of transliterated words. Group A learns via X hours of phonics-based lessons; Group B via X hours of balanced literacy. Then everyone gets a post-test in which they have to read a list of Hebrew transliterations of the words in question.

Of course, these adult subjects aren't completely comparable to American children learning to read for the first time. On the one hand, they already know how to connect phonemes together into syllables (p-e-n -> pen). On the other hand, they haven't had the kind of prior exposure to the Hebrew alphabet that beginning readers usually have had to their native alphabets by the time they start to learn to read. On the third hand they are adults, not children.

However, I still think that this experiment would be really revealing, both in the likely results it would produce, and in how it would help remind people what it's like to learn how to read, and how impractical it is to memorize written words and graphical wholes.

California Teacher said...

Thanks for the friendly welcome Catherine... I have posted before... I come and go and leave little nuggets whenever moved to do so, usually as "anonymous", but since there's a lot of us anonymous types out there, I will try to remember my nom de keyboard.

Thank you Steve for taking the time to read that chapter, and for your comments. MJ Adams is highly respected (and cited) and doesn't take sides in the reading wars.

The excerpt you quote above is actually in the appendix to her chapter and is taken from Regie Routman's book, which MJA refers to. The other stuff comes from documents sent home to parents, or posted on websites by either schools or districts.

As you noted, MJA's point is that this stuff is disseminated wholesale with little regard to the source. Her chapter points out the widespread assumptions about how to teach reading, that are being pushed by influential organizations (like Teachers' College) and how it gets codified into erroneous gospel and passed around willy nilly. I love how she traces the origins of the "three-cueing system", which continues to be thrown around in the same half-baked fashion, and not necessarily by schools of education, but at in-services and the like.

I teach first grade, and I absolutely agree with the non-negotiable importance of teaching phonics and I do so myself, every day.
Thanks again...

California Teacher said...

P.S. Steve: I cracked up at your kid responses...!! So true!

LynnG said...

This might be a really stupid question, but if you are trying to teach some comprehension and make sure that what the child reads is understood, how do you do that with all of those reading strategies.

By the time you've hunted down the word on a prior page, waited 5 to 10 seconds, or just skipped the word, how to retain the thread of what was happening in the story?

If the comprehension that is needed is even slightly more complicated then "My Cat" how would you keep track of the story while trying all these "strategies"?

Don't you find it more helpful in not losing the comprehension thread if you don't take a extended break in the middle of the page to tease out the pronunciation of a single word?

Anonymous said...

Their sentence starts off well:

"To produce independent readers who monitor and correct themselves as they read, ...."

... teach them to sound out words they don't know.

SteveH said...

"By the time you've hunted down the word on a prior page, waited 5 to 10 seconds, or just skipped the word, how to retain the thread of what was happening in the story?"

It will have the opposite of their desired effect. It will teach the child that words are more important than the overall meaning of the story. It's an especially bad approach if the child is stumbling over every other word. Once again, we look for deep meaning and there isn't anything there.

We spent a lot of time on phonics with our son before we tried to get him to read. He got a thrill out of being able to sound out individual words and translate them into something he knew. Then, while we were reading stories to him, we would pick out certain words for him to pronounce. This grew until he was reading more words than we were. With his phonics skills, he learned to read very quickly. Then we could focus more carefully of the other parts of the Venn diagram.

In the video, they were attempting to have that child read way before she was ready. Maybe it was a desire to quickly show that their child can "read". It's kind of like expecting kids to be able to add two digit numbers while understanding place value and what it all means at the same time, just because they saw some sort of overlap on a fancy Venn diagram.

Most engineers I know laugh at Venn diagrams. At best, they show a vague relationship, but if you really knew what was going on, the diagrams would be replaced by something much more detailed. Nobody should translate Venn diagrams directly to detailed practices.

Then there is the question whether the same overlap (of the Venn diagram) should exist during every phase of the learning-to-read process. It would seem to justify a wholistic approach when there is no basis for that conclusion.

This applies to math. Is there a need for some sort of high level understanding while you're learning the mechanics of adding two or three digit numbers. What would that level be? Would it be a place value understanding? How about an algebraic understanding? How about making sure the kids know how it applies to adding octal numbers?

If kids learn the mechanics of a skill, is it more difficult or impossible to add understanding on top of those skills? Is it really possible for some vague sorts of understandings of math translate into a fluent ability to actually DO math? Is it possible for some sort of picture or meaning-to-word process to create fluent readers?

The Venn diagram may show where kids might end up after the learning process (in a very vague sense), but I see no justification that it defines an equal, wholistic, or thematic approach to learning.

SusanG said...

Katherine,

Researchers Geva and Siegel studied the word recognition skills of a large group of Canadian children from primarily English-speaking homes attending a bilingual English-Hebrew day school. Hebrew has a transparent orthography. Accuracy of decoding Hebrew in Grade 1 (79%) already matched the level achieved in English in Grade 5 (78%).

Sorry, I've lost the reference for that study.

Liz Ditz said...

Also posted at OILF

Katherine, Dehaene reports on just such an experiment in Reading in the Brain, p. 225-228. Yoncheva, Blau, Maurer & McCandliss (2006) Strategic focus during learning impacts the neural basis of expertise in reading, Poster presented at the Association for Psychological Science Convention, New Your, May 25-28.

The task involved memorizing words written in a novel orthography. Whole language did better the first day, but direct instruction pulled ahead by the second day and trumped whole language in the end.

phonicsguy said...

This is my first time on this site and its good to be in a community of people who see the value of phonics. I'd like to point you to a website that gives you lots of resources to create completely decodable word lists. SynPhony Prototype is a synthetic phonics website. This page will create word lists that contain only letters and pronunciations you choose. It's based on an exhaustive analysis of over 44,000 words. You can see the number of English spelling patterns that exist in just 1 syllable words here.

phonicsguy said...

If you want to know what its like to be illiterate try out this page. (You have to use a recent version of Firefox or Google Chrome browser due to an advanced feature these browsers have implemented) or else you won't see the font properly. The page is: http://call.canil.ca/english/dolch.html. Click on the "Illiterate View" to become illiterate. Now imagine what it would be like to learn to read this script (Inuktituk script or Eskimo) by learning by the whole word approach. How long would it take you to learn all these words? This page uses the same words for the Literate View as for the Illiterate view; all it does is change the font. This means that both views have the same number of symbols and both use the same spelling rules. Show this to a whole language teacher and ask them if they would like to learn to read the Inuktituk version using whole language principles. The Dolch sight word list as presented on the page uses about 110 different spelling patterns for 218 words. If you learned the Dolch word list using the whole word approach you would only be able read the 218 words on the list. If you learned the 110 most common spelling patterns and how to sound them out you could read, write and pronounce over 32,000 English words. Which method results in greater return on your effort?