2. Mixture of
Decoding Methods / NLS Searchlights / A Balance
(decoding) Strategies / Three-Cueing System / A Variety of Approaches (Hewitt p88)
/ Book-by-Book Method using banded or leveled predictable text,
utilising rhyme, repetition and 'supportive' illustrations / Psycholinguistic, Informed or Intelligent
Word Prediction or
Guessing (Henrietta Dombey /
Frank Smith / Colin Harrison / Andrew Davis) / Eclectic Approach / Integrated Approach /
F&P's LLI / L3 (Australia) / Méthode Mixte
(France): incorporating: incidental
phonics / analytic
phonics / intrinsic phonics / contextualised phonics / embedded phonics / cumulative phonics (term
used by ECaR:Reading Recovery to describe its phonics content
(Rose 2009 p66) / onset-rime phonics / analogy phonics...
Recommended links for student teachers = X
Mixture of methods instruction begins with
children memorising a bank of sight words (high frequency
words) as whole shapes. In fact some early years academics
believe that young children are biologically
primed to see individual words solely ''through their crude
visual features such as shape or size''
(Uta Frith) even
if they receive phonics instruction: ''Initially, whatever we try to teach them, young children recognise words as unanalysed wholes, making no attempt to map the component letters into speech sounds.[Frith] terms this the logographic phase'' (italics added. Prof.Dombey. Literacy Today 20). Aside from the fact that, as a recent invention, the way written language is
initially viewed cannot be wired into the brain, research in Germany (Wimmer/ Hummer) has
shown that children do not go through a 'logographic stage'
when they are taught with the synthetic phonics method from
the very start of reading instruction (RRF 45. p6/ D.McGuinness ERI p339-347) )
2001. Jenny Chew questions the belief in a logographic start
and Goswami's onset-rime theory.
belief in sight-words as a first step is found everywhere'', but
''Teachers must not be brainwashed into
believing that logographic reading is natural if in fact
it is the result of teaching, as the evidence suggests to
be the case.'' (Jenny Chew)
Instruction in mixed method classrooms then follows what many early years academics and teachers believe is a biologically dictated,
developmental progression; that as they pass through the early
years, young children 'naturally' become able to perceive
smaller and smaller units of sound (whole words
(logographs)->syllables->onset and rimes->individual phonemes),
so teaching needs to follow this order too. Despite a lack of
empirical evidence, many
early years educationalists strongly suggest that deviating
from this supposed developmental pathway, or anything but
child-initiated, intrinsic learning, will damage children's
emerging phonemic awareness and spoil their love of reading.
Direct teaching instruction using synthetic phonics (which goes directly to the phoneme level of sound) to children under the age of seven is, they warn darkly, likely to be, ''Too much
too soon'' (Open EYE conference 16/02/08) and, ''(A) recipe for disaster'' (Whitehead 2009 p76).
As evidence of the benefits of waiting until children are
aged seven to start direct teaching of reading, the anti-phonics
lobbyists can be relied on to flag up Finland where all children
become accurate word decoders within weeks of starting formal school - aged seven. What they don't say is that Finland has a
very transparent alphabet code and most Finnish parents teach their children to read pre-school as it's so easy to do. They also omit to mention Denmark where, as in Finland, the school starting age is seven, but it has an opaque alphabet code. Danish children, ''experience difficulties in acquiring the logographic
[sic] and alphabetic foundation processes which are comparable to those observed in English, although less extreme'' (Seymour/Aro/Erskine)
English, Danish, Portuguese and French are, in that order, the
European languages with the most 'opaque' alphabet codes.
English and Danish also have a complex syllable structure.
Greek, Finnish, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Dutch are
much easier to learn as they have a majority one-letter/one
X Map of Europe showing % of
errors in word reading at the end of first year of formal
school, by country. 2003
factors hugely influence the speed & ease of learning to decode and
encode a written language accurately: the transparency of the language's spelling code (orthographic depth)
*and* the teaching method used.
Having a transparent alphabet code is not the only reason
why children in most European countries learn to decode so successfully (accurately) and
rapidly; many European countries teach
reading using synthetic phonics; letter names
and sight words are not
taught. The combination of a transparent alphabet
code and the synthetic phonic teaching method means that, ''poor
readers (children who can't decode) are rare to nonexistent
in many European countries'' (D.McGuinness
Decoding instruction in the National
Literacy Strategy (NLS.1998->2006) was based on multi-cueing
(guessing) strategies. The NLS directors suggested that, ''More
extreme recommendations from phonics evangelists to teach
children not to use other reading strategies alongside phonics, should be treated with great caution'' (Stannard/Huxford p189). In their Civitas paper 'Ready to Read', Anastasia de Waal and Nicholas Cowen wrote: ''(I)n order to accommodate the more established academic orthodoxy (i.e. child centred rather than anything resembling didactic or mechanistic teaching), a medley of reading strategies was included in
Searchlights. This attempt to keep everyone happy, while also attempting to address reading standards, led to a rather chaotic model which would frequently prove ineffective. Searchlights encouraged children to learn to read using four distinctive methods simultaneously''(p10)
Ruth Miskin's personal account of the creation
''In 1998 Ruth Miskin was one of a group of experts put
together to shape the National Literacy Strategy. She was the
only person in the group who advocated for synthetic phonics. In
2006, on the publication of the Rose report, she recounted that
meeting: ''Eight years ago I sat in a room in Portsmouth with a
bunch of people who had all pitched their camp in these “reading
wars”: the experts who thought children learnt to read by
memorising words, the ones who wanted them to guess from
pictures on the page and so on.
What was at stake was the
shape of the national literacy strategy, by which children were
to be taught to read in state primary schools. I argued that
children must be taught to work out words using one method alone
— synthetic phonics. Basically it means teaching children the 44
sounds of the English language and how to blend them together to
Why did I argue my corner so ferociously?
Because I had seen the evidence with my own eyes. At the time I
was head of a primary school in London’s East End where most
children were from Bangladeshi families. Although many of the
parents couldn’t speak English all my pupils learnt to read,
most of them by the age of six or seven.
But I didn’t win in
I wept with frustration but what was finally
agreed was a hotch-potch of everyone’s methods. Teachers would
use a bit of “look and say”, a bit of phonics, a bit of
guesswork. That’s what has been in operation ever since and the
result is a generation of many illiterate children (Sunday
The NLS 'Searchlights' Decoding Strategies
A report by Professor Tymms, Coe and Merrell, at the University of Durham's CEM Centre, looked at the attainments of pupils in England between 1995 and 2004. In 1995, in the Key Stage 2 SATs, only 48% of pupils achieved Level 4 or above in reading. According to official figures this shockingly low level of attainment rose to 75% by 2000, but the Massey Report called the reading score rise “illusory” with the real score being just 58%. In 2004, 6 years after the introduction of the NLS with its ''medley of decoding strategies'', only 60% of children achieved Level 4 or above in reading in the Key Stage 2 SATs.
Tymms &Merrell (2007) Standards and Quality in English Primary Schools Over Time: the national evidence. ''£500m was spent on the National Literacy Strategy with almost no impact on reading levels''
Tymms. 2004. Are standards rising in English primary schools?. A
high profile synthesis of data showing how official statistics
had exaggerated the rise in literacy and numeracy in England
1995-2000. The Statistics Commission confirmed the main
X 2004. Diane McGuinness: A Response to ‘Teaching Phonics in the National Literacy Strategy’
In 2006 all of the Rose report's recommendations, including that
the NLS 'Searchlights' multi-cueing decoding strategies should be dropped and replaced
by the 'simple view of reading', were accepted by the government.
In his blog post 'The Enemy Within' (see link below) Gordon
Askew describes what is happening with synthetic phonics
teaching in the majority of primary schools more than ten years after the Rose report: ''Almost certainly the biggest issue of all in many schools around the country is that, although good practice and the new NC require that phonics is taught as 'the route to decoding print', this is not yet happening. Many (I would say most) schools that are teaching a discrete phonics session, even those teaching it very well, continue to encourage multi-cueing when children are practising their reading or applying it at other times in the school day. This means that the benefits of the phonics teaching are seriously diluted and even countered. Phonics does not become the habituated prime strategy and dependence on alternative, unreliable strategies is perpetuated. This will never raise standards in the way that true systematic synthetic phonics teaching indubitably can. To evaluate phonics on the basis of such bad practice is a nonsense. It is like evaluating vegetarianism on the basis of a sample who eat a vegetarian breakfast but then eat a diet including meat for the rest of the day''
X The Enemy Within:
X Balkanism: decoding separate
from reading comprehension
''In the morning kids come in and work on the
grapheme-phoneme correspondence of the day, practise encoding
using the graphemes they have been working on and read decodable
texts. Then, later in the day, they head off to the “Reading
Program” where they use “authentic” texts and multi-cueing
strategies. In the “reading” session students aren’t expected to
use any of the decoding strategies they learnt in the morning
session to makes sense of the text they are reading.''
''Yes, teaching phonics
discretely is important. But you may as well not bother if you
don’t make it explicit to the child that they need to apply
these skills in their ‘other’ reading and writing''
- and provide suitable decodable books to enable them to do
so.'' ('Shinpad' commenting
on blog post above)
Old NLS practices still being
used in schools: guided reading using multi-cueing, early Book
Bands levels, Look-Say labels
Balanced Literacy: An
instructional bricolage that is neither fish nor fowl
In 2014 Ofsted reported on ‘How a sample of primary schools in Stoke-on-Trent teach pupils to read’. John Walker examined the report and rightly declared that ''It makes shocking reading. It is a small sample of only twelve primary schools (out of 77) in Stoke-on-Trent and yet the report declares that in seven out of that twelve, ‘'reading was not taught well enough’' and that six of the schools ‘'were not well prepared for the requirements of the new national curriculum’'
Clear evidence that the majority (90%) of teachers are
still using a mixture of guessing methods for decoding came in NFER's
2013 survey of 583 literacy coordinators
http://goo.gl/MpNsl1 p28 ''However, 90 per cent also ‘agreed’ or ‘agreed somewhat’ with the statement that a variety of different methods should be used to teach children to decode words. These percentages mirror almost exactly last year’s findings, and indicate that most teachers do not see a commitment to systematic synthetic phonics as incompatible with the teaching of other decoding strategies''
Beginning readers and those who are slower to learn to read using phonics should not be encouraged at any time, either in or outside of the discrete phonics lesson, to use different strategies for decoding
words, such as guessing from the picture or context in the
belief that some children need different reading strategies. This is because these strategies lead to inaccurate reading and fail when pupils are faced with unknown words in texts with few context clues. It is true that some pupils are able to absorb phonics by osmosis using these strategies, but pupils who find phonics difficult cannot do this and are unlikely to use phonics if other strategies are encouraged. On the other hand, pupils should be encouraged to use picture and context clues to understand what they have already read (Nonweiler)
''There is actually a name for this type of phonics teaching,
“Embedded Phonics”. Sadly the scientific research shows it’s not
very effective. See, for example,
this 2006 large-scale controlled study, which compared
children explicitly taught about spelling using phonics and
children taught about phonics in the context of literature, and
found “At the end of 5th grade, spelling-context children had
significantly higher comprehension than did literature-context
X The three cueing system in reading: will it ever go away?
The Three-Cueing Model: Down for the Count?'
X The Use
of Context Cues in Reading by Louise Spear-Swerling
Leading whole language advocates, Henrietta Dombey and Frank Smith, are happy to recommend guessing as a word reading strategy; ''Every child also needs a third key, careful guessing from context'' (Dombey. Guardian Comment 30/04/08), and, ''Reading without guessing is not reading at all'' (F.Smith. Psychology and reading). It's notable that many whole language enthusiasts prefer to use a euphemism, 'predicting': ''(I)s it 'Mam' or 'Mummy', a 'horse' or a 'house'? This highly skilled predicting can be more highly tuned and corrected in retrospect if the reader is given the opportunity to go back and self-correct'' (italics added. Whitehead.2010. p160)
Should teachers encourage children to guess unknown words from context?
Teachers who are reluctant to use synthetic phonics often
protest that they, ''aren't anti-phonics'', with most adding
that they have, ''always used phonics to teach reading.'' They usually mean 'last resort phonics' as one of the Searchlight cues, but they may also be referring to onset and rime sound units. Onset and rime is taught using whole words that the children have previously memorised by sight; first the
word's onset is separated out (beginning consonant letters are taught as one
unit even if they represent individual sounds) and then the rest of the word
is analysed to find its rhyming family; for example, the 'ing' family - s/ing, br/ing, str/ing,
th/ing... After much practice in orally breaking previously memorised whole words into onset and rime units it is assumed that children will then be able to use this strategy with previously unseen words; ''Recognising word families and patterns helps children develop inferential self-teaching strategies. If they can read 'cake', they can work out and read 'lake' without blending all the individual phonemes'' (Lewis/S.Ellis p4)
Prof. Snow responds to ''We
already do phonics'' and other arguments made by synthetic
Dr Macmillan explains that, ''teaching children about onset
and rime as a route to discovering individual phonemes is
similar logic to thinking that a person can be taught to read
music by memorising chords on, say a guitar or piano. Although
it may be relatively easy for a person to learn the names of
some musical chords and how to play them, there is little
possibility that this knowledge will lead to the ability to
read musical notation, to the ability to play individual notes
on these instruments in response to the corresponding written
symbols'' (Macmillan p82).
Recent studies, ''have shown conclusively that children do
not use rhyming endings to decode words; hardly ever decode by
analogy to other words; and that ability to dissect words into
onsets and rimes has no impact whatsoever on learning to read
and spell'' (D.McGuinness WCCR
''As it is widely assumed that children need to be aware of
phonemes before they can benefit from a [synthetic] phonics
approach, a ‘new’ phonics or ‘rhyming analogy’ approach has been
recommended as an easier route than [synthetic] phonics for
English beginning readers. This paper argues, however, that
English beginners are just as capable of a phonemic approach as
beginners in other languages, that phonemic awareness is not a
precondition, that beliefs to the contrary are based on
misunderstanding, and that systematically applying
grapheme-phoneme correspondences throughout each word is an
excellent basis for word-identification even in English''
''It is ethically unacceptable to pursue teaching methods that may cause anxiety and stress'', says synthetic phonics opponent, Marian Whitehead (Whitehead. 2010 p.141)
Here is an example
of the rigmarole that a child taught to use 'a range of **'decoding' strategies' is expected
to go through on encountering any word they don't immediately recognise: ''If a child met the word ‘nightingale’
he would use a combination of initial sound (n), segmentation
(night-ing-(g)ale), letter clusters (ight, ing), sight vocabulary
(gale) and context (it’s a bird)’' (Fisher. Practical answers to teachers' questions about reading. UKLA
p8) A better method of inducing anxiety and stress in a beginning reader is difficult to imagine.
Note, that as only the most transparent (Simple/Basic Code)
GPCs are directly taught in mixed method instruction and
leveled scheme books are used from the very start, sounding out GPC by GPC all-through-the-written-word, one of the central tenets of synthetic phonics, will fail as a strategy and is therefore discouraged; ''Sounding out a word is a cumbersome, time-consuming, and unnecessary activity. By using context, we
can identify words with only minimal attention to grapho/phonemic cues'' (Weaver. Reading process & practice: From socio-psycholinguistics to whole language) ''Many ways of teaching reading rely on children learning to ‘sound out’ words they don’t know, but in Reading Recovery we are sceptical of the usefulness of this approach'' (Running Record. Dec. '04 p8)
Retired English teacher Jenny Chew helps with one-to-one reading at her local primary school. She says, ''The trouble is that ‘sound it out’ often doesn’t work, given the mismatch between the books RR [Reading Recovery] children are given to read and the state of their phonic knowledge. I’ve helped voluntarily in an infant school which doesn’t have RR but uses Book Bands, and weak Y1 readers have often been issued with books full of words that they can’t possibly read. I’ve always taken along my own stock of decodable books, and I get the children to try these once I’ve dutifully helped them through their non-decodables. At first they tend to resort to their usual strategies, but when they realise that these are books where sounding out really works, they often get the bit between their teeth. It’s not all plain sailing, however – I can move them on to the next level of decodables when
I see them the following week, but in the meantime they will have been issued with several more non-decodables which will have made them revert to their non-decoding mindset''.
X Video: Alison Clarke illustrates why predictable or repetitive texts are harmful for beginning readers.
X What are decodable texts and
why are they important?
Those who recommend teaching children to use a range of
word-guessing strategies say that this is necessary because, ''All
children are different'', commonly expressed as, ''One size doesn't fit all''.
Prof. Pamela Snow's response is, ''This is one of those
simplistic truisms that got into the education water and is
now difficult to remove. If there’s 7 billion people on this
planet, there are not 7 billion different learning needs.
Teaching would be impossible if that was the case'' (http://pamelasnow.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/whos-in-your-reading-instruction-family.html). In his 2006 report, Sir Jim Rose also responded
to this very widely held view saying, ''(A)ll beginning readers
have to come to terms with the same alphabetic principles
if they are to learn to read and write... Moreover, leading
edge practice (in synthetic phonics) bears no resemblance
to a 'one size fits all' model of teaching and learning, nor
does it promote boringly dull, rote learning of phonics.''
(Rose Review 2006 para.34)
''Excluding students identified as “visual/kinesthetic” learners from effective phonics instruction is a bad instructional practice—bad because it is not only not research based, it is actually contradicted by research''(Stanovich p30)
The opaqueness of the English spelling system is another excuse
given for teaching with mixed methods: ''In Scottish schools
there is a preference for a mixed method which combines the
teaching of a vocabulary of sight words with the teaching
of the letters and decoding procedures. These methods are well
adapted for deep orthographies in which commonly
occurring words contain letter structures which are inconsistent
with the principles of simple grapheme–phoneme correspondence'' (Seymour/Aro/Erskine) Wyse and Goswami express the same view: ''The phonological complexity of syllable structures in English, coupled with the inconsistent spelling system, mean that direct instruction at levels other than the phoneme
may be required in order to become an effective reader'' (Italics
added. Wyse/Goswami p.693) There is no empirical evidence
to support this view.
Asking children to memorise scores of high frequency words
(e.g. Dolch words or the HFWs listed in the government's
Letters and Sounds programme) as random strings of letters
without phonics decoding is a harmful practice and why no high
quality synthetic phonics programme
expects children to learn words as logographs. Firstly, because
words viewed as whole units form abstract visual patterns which
humans find difficult to memorise; examination of different
writing systems reveals that the memory limit for whole
words is around 2,000-2,500, since no true writing system,
past or present, has expected users to memorise more than
this number of abstract symbols. When children reach their
visual memory limits they will struggle to read texts containing
more unusual words if they haven't, in the meantime, been
taught or deduced the alphabet code for themselves.
Secondly, for most children memorising words seems easy at
first and, if its use is encouraged, it will become their
main strategy, subverting their phonological abilities and
setting up a habit or reflex in the brain which can be hard
Attention during learning: teaching children to use both phonics and multi-cueing for decoding confuses them.
''If children receive contradictory or conflicting instruction,
most children prefer to adopt a 'sight word' (whole
word) strategy. This seems 'natural', it is easy to do initially,
and has some immediate success, that is until visual memory
starts to overload...becoming a whole-word (sight-word) reader
is not due to low verbal skills, but is a high risk factor in the general population, and something that teachers
should curtail at all costs.'' (emphasis
in original. D. McGuinness. RRF51 p19)
X Sight words
Teach 100 first spellings, not 100 first words.
X What should parents do when the school sends home lists of HFWs for their child to learn?
How to respond to the 'But some words can't be sounded-out' objection to phonics
In a paper presented at the 2003 DfES 'phonics' seminar, Ehri wrote “…when phonics instruction is introduced after students have already acquired some reading skill, it may be more difficult to step in and influence how they read, because it requires changing students’ habits. For example, to improve their accuracy, students may need to suppress the habit of guessing words based on context and minimal letter clues, to slow down, and to examine spellings of words more fully when they read them. Findings suggest that using phonics instruction to remediate reading problems may be harder than using phonics at the earliest point to prevent reading difficulties'' (www.rrf.org.uk/51%20In%20Denial.htm)
''Today, most primary schools still insist that children
read commercially available storybooks [so-called authentic
texts] or 'graded readers' before they have
mastered the alphabet. This is equivalent to asking children
to add or subtract before they can count to ten'' (Turner/Burkard.
Summary) In stark contrast, in those schools that teach
reading using pure synthetic phonics, beginning readers are given books from one of the phonically decodable book schemes
and are not expected to read storybooks or whole word leveled readers, ''until they can read the
words in them independently with reasonable accuracy.'' (Turner/Burkard
‘'The selection of text used very early in first grade
may, at least in part, determine the strategies and cues children
learn to use, and persist in using, in subsequent word identification....
In particular, emphasis on a phonics method seems to make
little sense if children are given initial texts to read where
the words do not follow regular letter-sound correspondence
generalizations. Results of the current study suggest that
the types of words which appear in beginning reading texts
may well exert a more powerful influence in shaping children’s
word identification strategies than the method of reading
instruction'’(Juel and Roper/Schneider.
Reading Research Quarterly 18)
''Students tend to perceive
words in the way they are taught to perceive them. This appears
to be the case whether or not they are taught in a transparent
orthography (Cardoso-Martens 2001)'' (Rice/Brooks
The reading method taught first, whether whole word
memorising alongside multi-cue word-guessing or
synthetic phonics, forms a habit or brain conditioning that
impedes the future use of the other method. This is the reason
why it is more difficult to remediate difficulties in readers
who have received faulty reading instruction for even a short
period of time. With this in mind, parents should ignore any
publications, including school ones, that encourage them to use
Following are actual examples of misleading
advice given in publications for parents:
''If they get stuck, encourage them to use all the available information and everything they know to make a guess. They should look at the pictures and remember what has happened in the story. Their ability to predict and guess accurately will gradually improve''
‘'(P)ause, prompt, praise’ helps – wait before you correct a mistake so that your child has a chance to get it right themselves, then give your child clues to help them get the word right, and finally praise them if they get the word right or even try to!''
Marian Whitehead believes that, ''(I)t was in order to subvert instructional material like [read simple words by sounding out and blending the phonemes all through the word from left to right] that Dr. Seuss introduced 'The Cat in the Hat' to the English-speaking world'' (Whitehead. 2009. p125) As a matter of fact, the children's author Dr. Seuss created his famous books
using what was described in those days as ''a controlled "scientific" vocabulary'' (high frequency sight words supplied
by the publisher), but he was well aware of how useless the sight word method
was to teach children how to read. In an interview he gave
in 1981, Seuss said, ''I did it for a textbook house and
they sent me a word list. That was due to the Dewey revolt
in the twenties, in which they threw out phonics reading and
went to word recognition as if youre reading a Chinese
pictograph instead of blending sounds or different letters.
I think killing phonics was one of the greatest causes of
illiteracy in the country. Anyway they had it all worked out
that a healthy child at the age of four can only learn so
many words in a week. So there were two hundred and twenty-three
words to use in this book. I read the list three times and
I almost went out of my head. I said, "Ill read
it once more and if I can find two words that rhyme, thatll
be the title of my book." I found "cat" and
"hat" and said, the title of my book will be The
Cat in the Hat'' (Gatto p72-3)
Late Stage Sight Word / Dual Route Theory.
The commonly held assumption that ''Over time, every word is read as a sight word'',
that ''Ultimately, people read holistically, and only rare words or unknown words need to be decoded phonetically'' (D.McGuinness ERI p9)
is not supported by good evidence.
Learning the HFWs as global sight words right from the start by beginning readers is considered necessary by advocates of the Dual Route reading model hypothesis. They think that it is important to give children immediate practice in using what they call a 'Direct Lexical route' to reading; ''A useful strategy for learning [HFWs] might be to learn them as sight words rather than decoding through them. By learning such a sight vocabulary children can begin to set up the direct lexical route to word reading'' (Flynn&Stainthorp p50). In Stuart, Snowling & Stainthorp's paper on the simple view of reading (UKLA.Literacy Vol42.July 2008)
they wrote, ''Children need to acquire two sets of processes in
order to become proficient readers who can link the
orthographic forms of words to their meanings and
pronunciations...The first process is one of sight word
recognition, the other is a phonically based decoding
process’'. Further, advocates say that this fast, lexical/semantic route cannot be used to read nonsense-words.
Dual route model supporters acknowledge that teaching some phonemic and alphabetic knowledge to beginning readers is necessary.
Not just because it gives beginning readers a means of decoding new words, but also because
they believe that it, ''sets up the sublexical route of the dual-route model'' (Flynn &Stainthorp p50)
They assume that once a word has been processed correctly a
few times along this 'slower sublexical route', a 'permanent trace' of the word is made in
an 'orthographic store' in the brain with, ''all letters of the word in correct sequence'' (Rose Review Appendix 1. para 54)
The dual route theorists say that once a word moves into
this orthographic store it becomes a 'sight word' and, from
then on, whenever it is seen in text, the brain is able to
pass it immediately to a ''pre-existing store of word meanings'' (Rose Review Appendix 1. para 52), with no
phonological decoding taking place: ''(A) competent reader almost never decodes anything - they have a visual memory function, as I understand it, capable of storing a sight vocabulary of anything up to 40,000 words'' (E. Carron RRF messageboard) This hypothesis ties in conveniently, if unintentionally, with the whole language rhetoric of 'reading for meaning' (Dombey). The phonological word-reading route is, followers of the theory say, only used as a back-up by the brain when the 'direct to meaning route' fails, as would occur with nonsense-words, or if a new word is encountered (Kerr p19-22, 44-50)
Most of the evidence for this theory came from a study of a small group of adults who suffered brain damage and as a result acquired 'dyslexia' (Flynn&Stainthorp p41).
The British Psychological Society point out that, ''The research supporting a dual route model comes primarily from work with adult patients who have various forms of brain injury or insult. These findings may not be applicable to children who are in the process of learning to read and who have not suffered any known neurological damage (Karmiloff-Smith,1997)'' (BPS.2005.p24) There is no evidence that these findings are applicable to
adult skilled readers who have no known neurological damage either.
A theory can be wrong despite being supported by many
authorities. Coltheart has said that, ''Skilled readers do not recognize or understand words by translating them to their sounds. In my view, being good at phonics helps a child in the early stages of learning to read, but then children subsequently have to give up this way of handling print if they are to become adult-level skilled readers''.
Dr. Molly de Lemos points out that the dual route model theorists have yet to explain the mechanism and evidence for this 'shift'.
The dual route theory may sound intuitively correct; skilled readers may feel
that they are bypassing phonological decoding but, in addition to lacking a credible research base, the theory was challenged convincingly by Glushko back in 1979. He argued that the brain automatically processes ALL the information available about the input signal from each and every word in parallel, processing multiple modalities simultaneously (much of which does not reach consciousness) and processing is NOT carried out along separate routes or pathways (D. McGuinness ERI p289)
Modern eye-movement studies also show that expert readers, even when reading silently, process all the information about a word at once using parallel processing.
As Dehaene says, ''The adult brain does
not use global word shape: it still processes
the letters, but all at once (in parallel)'' and Ashby and
Rayner confirm, ''The word-superiority effect demonstrates that skilled readers process all of the letters when identifying a word' and ''represent complex aspects of a word's phonological form, including syllable and stress information'' (italics added. Ashby/Rayner p57/p58), but this is done at a subconscious level. Only when the skilled reader comes to a previously unencountered word do the skills of phonological decoding come back into consciousness.
Silent reading isn't so silent, at least, not to your brain
Brain studies show that ''the process of mentally sounding
out words is an integral part of silent reading, even for the
highly skilled''. Studies of the profoundly deaf
(Aaron et al.'98 -see link below), who have no phonological
sensitivity, have found that they are incapable of learning to
spell words correctly after the age of 8-9 years, because they
cannot decode via the phoneme-grapheme route at all. Deaf
on the visual matching of spelling probabilities (the repetition of visual spelling patterns in words). This latter is something the brain does automatically, and we are not aware of it.
Spelling without phonology: a study of deaf and hearing
''Rote visual memory for letter patterns and
sequences of letters within words, however, appears to play a
role in the spelling by deaf students...but phonology is
essential for spelling words whose structure is
This research clearly shows that skilled readers do not read words as wholes or as a sequence of letters, eschewing sound, as Coltheart and others believe. Additionally, research by Share, Siegel and Geva revealed that struggling readers behave much like deaf readers, relying mostly on visual information to decode words as they lack knowledge of the phonological information contained in words; the alphabet code. (D.McGuinness ERI. pp338-347)
Do fluent, adult readers read whole words as 'sight words'?
Debunking speed reading: literature review on eye movement &
word identification. ''readers naturally
access the sounds of words while reading silently'' p16
Share: On the Anglocentricities of Current Reading Research and Practice. Includes
extensive discussion of the dual route model /
the late stage sight word theory.
Balanced Literacy: an instructional bricolage that is neither
fish nor fowl.
Balanced Literacy: phonics lipstick is not enough
The Enemy Within:
A litany for failure. Reading practices that set up children to struggle:
''It is a dangerous fallacy to think that guessing at words from context helps developing readers to make meaning from text.''
Long-term effects of synthetic v analytic phonics teaching on the reading and spelling ability of 10 yr old boys and girls
Fact and Fiction about the Synthetic Phonics Study in Clackmannanshire
A matter of balance
Balanced literacy / mixed methods teaching seen through the eyes of a beginning reader.
Illiterate boys: The new international phenomenon
http://dyslexics.org.uk/comment.pdf on the review of the
Research Literature on the use of Phonics in the Teaching of
Reading and Spelling by Torgerson, Brooks and Hall
Whole language high jinks: How to Tell When “Scientifically-Based Reading Instruction” Isn’t:
Phonics and Book Bands.
Too bound by Book Bands
Why Book Bands block children's
What's wrong with predictable or repetitive texts -with video.
Daniel Willingham: Collateral damage of excessive reading comprehension strategy instruction
Goswami's onset-rime theory debunked.
More debunking of Goswami's dyslexia and onset-rime theories.
Shanahan: No studies show that teaching rhyming improves reading achievement.
X Bonnie Macmillan: Rhyme and reading: A critical review of the research methodology
Download complete paper:
''There is debate over whether children’s early rhyme awareness has important implications for beginning reading instruction. The apparent finding that pre‐readers are able to perform rhyme tasks much more readily than phoneme tasks has led some to propose that teaching children to read by drawing attention to rime units within words is ‘a route into phonemes’ (Goswami, 1999a, p. 233). Rhyme and analogy have been adopted as an integral part of the National Literacy Strategy (DfEE, 1998), a move which appears to have been influenced by three major research claims:1) rhyme awareness is related to reading ability, 2) rhyme awareness affects reading achievement, and 3) rhyme awareness leads to the development of phoneme awareness. A critical examination of the experimental research evidence from a methodological viewpoint, however, shows that not one of the three claims is sufficiently supported. Instructional implications are discussed''
The three-cueing system in reading: Will it ever go away?
Multi-cueing: teaching the habits of poor readers.
Comprehensive critique of Australia's 'L3' early literacy
Levelled literacy intervention (LLI). Is it really effective?
F&P's Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI)
''LLI had no impact on students’ reading comprehension and
a negative impact on mastery of English language arts/literacy
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less' Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland.
Describing phonics solely as 'systematic' is open to abuse by those who wish to keep genuine synthetic phonics out of the classroom or who have no real understanding of the synthetic phonics principles. Even Sir Jim Rose seemed to feel it was politically expedient to avoid using the 'synthetic' description as much as possible in his final report and, instead, focused on the phrase 'high quality phonics'. This is unfortunate as
the 'mixture of decoding methods' advocates have misappropriated the word 'systematic' and regularly use it to describe their type of teaching using analytic / contextualised / cumulative
/ embedded phonics with the justification that, ''the phonics concepts to be learned can still be presented systematically''. www.readingrockets.org/article/254
Caution is also needed with 'phonics only', 'balanced', 'predict' '**decode', 'discrete'
and 'multi-sensory', as teachers who prefer to use mixed methods are likely to interpret these words differently from synthetic phonics teachers. Even the word 'reading' could be considered a weasel word in some contexts; does the person using it mean decoding or comprehension or both?
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