The methods used to teach reading
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2. Mixture of Decoding Methods / NLS Searchlights / A Balance of (decoding) Strategies / Multi-Cueing System / A Variety of Approaches (Hewitt p88) / Book-by-Book Method using banded or leveled patterned text, utilising rhyme, repetition and 'supportive' illustrations / 'Psycholinguistic', 'Informed' or 'Intelligent' Guessing or Predicting (Henrietta Dombey / Frank Smith / Colin Harrison / Andrew Davis / Marian Whitehead) / 'Professional' Eclectic Approach / ''Scaffolding Real Books'' / Integrated Approach: 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 / rhyming analogy phonics...

Recommended links for student teachers = X

Mixture of methods instruction begins with children memorising a bank of high frequency sight words as whole shapes. In fact some early years academics and educators 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) )

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 naturally emerging phonemic awareness and spoil their love of reading. Explicitly teaching 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 analytic phonics as well as synthetic phonics can involve sounding and blending, how can these two methods be distinguished? According to the National Reading Panel (2000, 2-89), in analytic phonics children analyse letters sounds after the word has been identified, whereas in synthetic phonics the pronunciation of the word is discovered through sounding and blending. Another critical difference is that synthetic phonics teaches children to sound and blend right at the start of reading tuition, after the first few letter sounds have been taught. In analytic phonics children learn words at first largely by sight, having their attention drawn only to the initial letter sounds. Only after all of the letter sounds have been taught in this way is sounding and blending introduced. It can be seen therefore that the phonics approach advocated in the National Literacy Strategy is of the analytic type'' (Johnston&Watson. Accelerating Reading and Spelling with Synthetic Phonics)

''The 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)

''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''

2001. Jenny Chew questions the belief in a logographic start and Goswami's onset-rime theory.

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 tell you is that Finland has a very transparent alphabet code and many 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)

''One-third of Finnish children can already read simple text when they begin school'' (https://www.cis.org.au/app/uploads/2018/10/34-1-joseph-buckingham.pdf)

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 spelling/one sound correspondence.

X Map of Europe showing % of errors in word reading at the end of first year of formal school, by country. 2003

Two cultural factors hugely influence the speed and 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 GRB p240)

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)

''The NLS Searchlight was a political compromise to get whole language supporters on board when the original framework was drawn up. It seems so reasonable on the surface, a bit of phonics, a bit of look and say, a bit of whole word guessing, who could argue with that? Well, if you go on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll go on getting what you’ve always got, in this case 25 to 30 per cent of the children in your school unable to read properly. The long tail of underachievement in England is recognised in international studies. It was there before the NLS. The NLS was supposed to get rid of it. It’s still there, complete with gender gap and underachieving boys spawning a whole new cottage industry for advisors and publishers. In synthetic phonics schools there is no long tail of underachievement. There is no gender gap. Boys do not underachieve. Same kids — different teaching methodology.'' (Shadwell)

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 findings.

1999 paper 'The End of Illiteracy?' by Tom Burkard:
- A comparison of analytic and synthetic phonics
- Problems with the National Literacy Strategy
- Problems with SATs

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')

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''

''It’s a code - a very complex code, but a code nonetheless. Codes do not require predictions, guessing and compensatory (and contradictory) rules- if they do then they’re not codes'' ('Reading Elephant' twitter 19/5/18)

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 children.”

X Dr. Kerry Hempenstall's refereed paper on multi-cueing (decoding using guessing strategies)
'The three-cueing system: Trojan horse?'

X Why Book Bands and Levelled Reading Books Should Be Abandoned

The Three-Cueing Model: Down for the Count?'

X The Use of Context Cues in Reading by Louise Spear-Swerling

Multi-cueing: teaching the habits of poor readers.

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)

X Guessing: why it is not an effective ‘reading strategy’

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 phonics 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 phonics opponents

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 p148)

''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 guessing 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.

Whole language advocate Yvonne Siu-Runyan also provides an example of how a child 'decodes' an unknown word using a variety of guessing strategies. "A child encounters the word 'butterflies' in a story," said Siu-Runyan. "The first time he reads it as 'b-flies.' Maybe the next time he reads it as 'butt-flies' and the next time as 'betterflies.' For me to assume he's not going to get it would be a mistake, because finally he'll say to himself, 'Does this make sense?' He'll look at the pictures of butterflies [in the book] and say to himself, 'Oh, this is a story about butterflies!' And he'll get it right after that. It's a lot more complicated a process than handing a child a list of words." (Allen)

''People should judge a school on reading by how the weakest readers read, not how the most able read''  (Nick Gibb. Minister for School Standards)

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 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''.

In one sentence, the problem caused by teaching reading through sight word memorising and multi-cue guessing: A Reading Recovery teacher commented that one of her boys was at ‘level 17’ in reading books but did not reach the benchmark for the phonics check.

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) visually, 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 to shift.

''The secondary curriculum isn't made up of high frequency words. A year 8 who can't decode, even one with a decent sight vocabulary, is likely to flounder'' (Tricia  Millar. Twitter.)

''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 real books] 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 UK-style synthetic phonics, beginning readers are given books from one of the phonically decodable book schemes and are not expected to read storybooks or patterned text, leveled readers, ''until they can read the words in them independently with reasonable accuracy.'' (Turner/Burkard p22)

‘'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)

Cardoso-Martins, C. (2001). The reading abilities of beginning readers of Brazilian Portugese: Implications for a theory of reading acquisition.

''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-Martins 2001)'' (Rice/Brooks p34)

2015 study on brain waves shows how different teaching methods affect reading development - found that beginning readers who focus on GPCs increase activity in the area of their brains best wired for reading.

The decoding 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 word-guessing methods.

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.''
‘'Say, “Close your eyes. Now look again.” Have him close his eyes, open them, and see if his brain can just “get” the word as a sight word, without trying to sound it out''

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 you’re 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, "I’ll read it once more and if I can find two words that rhyme, that’ll 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)

X Balanced Literacy: an instructional bricolage that is neither fish nor fowl.

X http://www.spelfabet.com.au/2015/06/attention-during-learning
Attention during learning: teaching children to use both phonics and multi-cueing for decoding confuses them.

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

Vested Interests?

Phonics advocates have something to sell

Balanced literacy / mixed methods teaching seen through the eyes of a beginning reader.

Illiterate boys: The new international phenomenon

Diane McGuinness comments 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

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.

X Bonnie Macmillan: Rhyme and reading: A critical review of the research methodology
''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''

Weasel words:
'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 the words '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?

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.

That beginning readers should memorise a small number of HFWs using sight alone (Profs Castles,Rastle&Nation. Ending the Reading Wars p15), is considered desirable by advocates of the Dual Route reading model hypothesis. They think that it is important to give early readers immediate practice in using what they call the '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’'.

Dual route model supporters acknowledge that teaching some phonics to beginning readers is necessary and  important. Firstly, 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 believe 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. The phonological word-reading route is only used as a back-up by the brain when the 'direct to meaning route' fails. Failure occurs, they say, whenever the reader encounters a nonsense-word or a previously unseen real word (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, either, that these findings are applicable to adult skilled readers who have no known neurological damage.  

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 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 students rely on the visual matching of spelling probabilities (the statistical 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 children.
''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 morphophonemically complex''

The 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.

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