An open letter to students
An open letter to students
An open letter to my ed school dean
By Robert Pondiscio
Last month, Emily Hanford of American Public Media filed a withering indictment of reading instruction in U.S. schools. Her radio documentary, “Hard Words,” exposed how much “decades of scientific research” have taught us about reading—and how little of it has reached classroom practice via teacher training. Her conclusion was simple and unsparing: “Schools aren’t teaching reading in ways that line up with the science.”
Hanford is echoing arguments that have been made by a generation of researchers and advocates, but timing is everything: I can’t recall a similar reaction to any other recent piece about classroom practice. And it has legs. It’s been a month since the documentary was posted, but I’m still seeing teachers sharing and discussing it on social media daily. One such response, posted to the Facebook page of Decoding Dyslexia-Arkansas, was a letter from teacher Patricia C. James to the dean of the Arkansas State University, where she graduated with a double major in Elementary Education and Special Education. James wrote that, while her teacher preparation was mostly very good, she was “totally unprepared to teach reading, especially to the struggling readers that I had at the beginning of my career in my resource classroom.”
I don’t wish to be unkind. I remain deeply grateful for the efforts of my Mercy College instructors and mentors. Rereading many of the dozens of “moments that matter” reflection pieces I wrote in my first two years in the classroom are plaintive; some are nearly despairing. I’m impressed in retrospect at the humane and empathetic tone of the many and extensive handwritten comments on those papers. But I cannot help but wish that less attention had been paid to the development of my “philosophical vision” and willingness to “explore one’s deepest beliefs about teaching.” This is the language of ideology and religion, not the professional practice of a field grounded in science and research. It’s not what I needed to be effective. It’s not what my students needed from me.
The National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) in Washington, DC conducted a review of most of the current college textbooks being used in colleges and universities for undergraduate students in the United States.
This review is a clear indication that the findings of decades of “reading science” is not being included in most college textbooks. Multiple research studies have been conducted over the past half century, and the conclusion is clear.
Systematic, sequential, direct instruction in the alphabetic code and how it works is essential if students are to become proficient readers. Since most undergraduate students have not been taught these skills, it is not surprising that they cannot adequately teach them to their students.
It’s time for a Reading Renaissance
This article has been reproduced with permission from The Professional Educator, October 2018, special edition: The Great Literacy Debate (pp. 37-40)
Teachers should be the most expert professionals in schools about the teaching of reading, the early identification of children who are falling behind, and optimal ways to support such students to steer them back on track. Evidence, however, indicates that this is not the case, because their core knowledge of how language works is under-done, and teachers do not feel well-prepared by their initial teacher education (ITE) for these tasks (Meeks et al., 2018). Education academics have wilfully ignored the body of scientific knowledge (derived mainly from cognitive psychology research) about how children learn to read, and in so-doing, have robbed their graduates of their rightful status as well-informed, evidence-based practitioners. True professionals uphold high ethical standards by having the tools to question assumptions and maintain up-to-date practice in line with the best available evidence about what works in the majority of cases. Instead of commitment to scientific rigour and accountability, however, we see a “choose your own adventure” approach to early reading instruction, such that it is possible to visit two adjacent Foundation (“Reception” in some states) year classrooms in the one school, and observe vastly different approaches to reading instruction, both technically aligned to the accommodatingly elastic curriculum. Imagine the corollary in a hospital, where staff in two adjacent wards did their own thing with respect to hand-washing, or in the airline industry where pilots where given free-reign to try out a few ideas of their own when landing Boeing 747s.
Teachers Criticize Their Colleges of Ed. for Not Preparing Them to Teach Reading
By Madeline Will
Last month, an audio documentary and article provocatively titled "Why Aren't Kids Being Taught to Read?" sent shockwaves through the education community.
The premise of the story, reported by American Public Media's Emily Hanford, is that scientific research has shown how children learn to read. But many teachers either don't know that science or resist it.
"Most teachers nationwide are not being taught reading science in their teacher-preparation programs because many deans and faculty in colleges of education either don't know the science or dismiss it," Hanford writes. "As a result of their intransigence, millions of kids have been set up to fail."
Research shows that to learn how to read, children first need to be taught how letters represent speech sounds. But in many classrooms, teachers don't spend enough time on phonics, preferring to let students guess words from context clues and develop a love of reading through practice, rather than rote instruction, Hanford reported.
Just how polarized are we about reading instruction?
Last Friday Emily Hanford published an op-ed in the New York Times. It argued that there are errors of omission and of commission in the education of future teachers concerning how most children learn to read.
Curiously, but not unexpectedly, most of the comments on the New York Times website and on social media did not concern teacher education, but student learning, specifically whether or not phonics instruction is effective.
These comments put me in mind of the polarization of American politics, and this recent survey showing that relatively small percentages of those on the left and right are really far from the mainstream. In other words, we are not as polarized as the media and social media make it seem. Also, the people closer to the center are sick of the yammering anger of those on the far left and right.
I think that may be true of the controversy regarding the teaching of reading.
So have a look at these six statements about children learning to read.
Also, the people closer to the center are sick of the yammering anger of those on the far left and right.
Sadly, the heart of the conflict is about the provision for children and the unnecessary and sometimes devastating 'special needs' caused by flawed teaching (according to the research evidence on reading instruction) and/or weak teaching. This is a moral issue and thus the conflict will remain necessary until such time as all children are well-served - and this will not happen until all teachers are well-served by their initial teaching-training and continued professional development. The conflict is because many trainers and teachers are defending the indefensible in that we have the research evidence and the internet through which to access it, we have test results showing the effects of different types of teaching and quality of teaching. The conflict is also because of deep misunderstanding about the nature of the complex English alphabetic code (and this includes teachers and the general public) - the most complex alphabetic code in the world. The conflict is also because whilst people fight vociferously to defend their current understanding and beliefs - others, by necessity, feel obligated to fight the corner for the children who are not taught - for whom the clock ticks and opportunities are lost at an early age for the children. We must never make light of this state of affairs (the conflict) because it is real and it is virtually impossible to hold those to account who are in the strongest positions to do more about changing the status quo.
I’m sure that as you read these six statements you disagreed with the way one or another is phrased, or you thought it went a little too far. I won’t defend any of them vigorously—I didn’t spend that much time writing them, to be honest. The larger point is that the conflict is a waste of time and I suspect most people know it.
There's plenty of other work to be done .
Yammering anger over reading instruction
I am part of an email list for people interested in early language and reading development. Many of the contributors could be described as longstanding advocates for a systematic synthetic phonics approach in the teaching of reading. Often, they have similar stories to tell of working within an education bureaucracy and being marginalised for advocating for phonics. Sometimes, their growing sense of frustration – that we could do so much more for struggling readers and those diagnosed with dyslexia – has led them to set out on their own, creating organisations to deliver phonics programmes or training. Finally, to complete the cycle, members of the bureaucracy that originally marginalised them now criticise these advocates for having something to sell, as if nobody else in education is making a living.
The reaction of some of these battle-weary phonics advocates to Dan Willingham’s latest blogpost on reading instruction was a mixture of dismay and offence. Why?
The irony is that with this blog post, Willingham has generated a great deal of conflict. Although I understand the yearning for a less polarised world, we are talking about some fundamental beliefs here and conflict simply cannot be avoided.
If this debate is representative, I was naive to hope that some facts about learning to read--in particular, that systematic phonics instruction is non-negotiable--are agreed upon, at least in Australia. This. Is. Wild.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snUNsYfrxjY … @annecastles @buckingham_j
Who sank the (reading) boat? A sad tale of academic misrepresentation of the role of decodable texts for beginning readers.
I am writing this blogpost in Syracuse, New York, where I have just had the great pleasure of being part of the second annual Reading League Conference. The Reading League is a group of practitioners, academics and clinicians committed to understanding and applying the science of early reading instruction, so that all children receive optimal initial teaching and early support if needed. Their byline is When we know better, we do better. I was hoping to be using this time to write a blogpost about this conference and its importance (which I will do), but the more pressing issue is responding to this piece, published yesterday in The Conversation: What are decodable readers and do they work? co-authored by Education Academics A/Prof Misty Adoniou (University of Canberra), Principal Fellow Dr Brian Cambourne (University of Wollongong), and Prof Robyn Ewing (University of Sydney).
That The Conversation has published such a poorly referenced, opinion-based piece on a platform that goes by the byline Academic Rigour, Journalistic Flair is nothing short of an astounding abandonment of at least one of those commitments. One without the other is not what I thought The Conversation stood for.
Telling stories in The Conversation
...Three stalwarts of the whole language / balanced literacy / anything-but-phonics camp, Misty Adoniou, Brian Cambourne and Robyn Ewing, have taken to The Conversation to construct a scary story about decodable readers.
Why, then, are Adoniou et al. so opposed to decodable readers? In reality, it is perhaps not the books they object to, but the fact that the books require students to use letter-sound relationships to decode them. In other words, they are against decodable books because decodable books encourage the use of phonics.
For instance, Adoniou et al. claim that, “When children are taught to focus solely on letter-sound matching to read the words of decodable readers, they often continue in later years to over-rely on this strategy, even with other kinds of texts. This causes inaccurate, slow, laborious reading, which leads to frustration and a lack of motivation for reading.”
It frankly does not reflect well on The Conversation that a factual claim of this kind is not supported by any reference and is simply left to hang there.
But then, this is all about telling stories.
Decoding decodable readers
This blog has been in the pipeline for awhile. I got sidetracked with other projects. I write my best blogs when I’m mad or passionate. Misty Adoniou and her continual efforts to ensure her myths are spread makes me very passionate, sad and certainly angry. So Misty and her latest creativity interpretation of the facts in the conversation article entitled “What are ‘decodable readers’ and do they work?” spurred me into action! One must ask if Misty has ever actually seen a decodable reader. Is the misinformation she spreads deliberate and therefore unprofessional? Or does it stem from a level of astounding ignorance?
Decodable readers provide a bridge between initial phonics instruction, which is the foundation of reading, and the comprehension of more complex texts.
A letter addressed to The Editor of The Conversation
November 8, 2018
The following is a letter addressed to The Editor of The Conversation and signed by 96 people who are reading scientists, reading clinicians, teachers or concerned parents:
Dear Mr Ketchell,
The first point of your Charter at The Conversation states that you will Inform public debate with knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence. The signatories to this letter, who are reading scientists, reading clinicians, reading teachers or concerned parents, consider that the recent article “What are ‘decodable readers’ and do they work?” https://theconversation.com/what-are-de ... ork-106067
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