The methods used to teach reading
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2. Mixture of Methods / NLS Searchlights / A Balance or Range of (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 or Intelligent Guessing (Colin Harrison / Andrew Davis) /  Eclectic Approach / Integrated Approach / Balanced Instruction / 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

''The definition of what reading actually is, was hijacked by the whole language movement to fit in with their world view. Reading was to be reading for meaning, comprehension came from making meaning from the text. Quite how you were supposed to do this without being able to actually decode the letters on the page is how we arrived at the Searchlights model — by guessing, and by memorising, also known as ‘a range of strategies'.’'(Shadwell)

Instruction in mixed method classrooms follows what many early years academics and teachers believe is a biologically dictated, developmental progression; that, as time passes, young children 'naturally' become able to perceive smaller and smaller units of sound (whole-words ->syllables->onset and rhyme-> individual phonemes), so teaching needs to follow this strict order too. Despite a lack of empirical evidence, the early years educationalists strongly suggest that deviating from this supposed developmental pathway, or anything but child-initiated, intrinsic learning, will damage children's development of phonemic awareness and spoil their love of reading. Explicitly teaching reading 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 achieve literacy within weeks of starting formal school - aged seven. What they don't say is that Finland has an almost completely 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) ''Foundation literacy acquisition by non-English European groups is not affected by gender and is largely independent of variations in the ages at which children start formal schooling'' (Seymour/Aro/Erskine p150)

X Map of Europe showing % of errors in word reading at the end of first year of formal school, by country. 2003.
N.B Two cultural factors hugely influence the speed & ease of learning to read and spell a written language accurately: transparency of the language's spelling code (orthographic depth) + the teaching method used.

PIRLS international reading results: both orthographic depth and instruction method are important

Debunking the Finnish fantasy, one piece at a time..

Why Upstart is a non-starter. ''Upstart Scotland is actively campaigning to introduce a Nordic-style kindergarten system between the ages of three and seven, with learning being undertaken through ‘creative play’ rather than ‘formal’ learning''

Synthetic phonics practitioners are not in favour of attempting to teach babies and toddlers to read, especially through the use of 'sight word' flash cards, but would agree with the following advice given in the Rose Report: ''(F)or most children, it is highly worthwhile and appropriate to begin a systematic programme of phonic work by the age of five, if not before for some children...'' (Rose Report 2006. para89) .

The Early Learning Goals guidance applies to Reception Year. The statutory guidance says that by the end of the early years foundation stage (EYFS) children should be able to, ''use phonic knowledge to decode regular words and read them aloud accurately'' and, ''use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds''. Further guidance from the DfE notes that ''Most phonics programmes encourage the teaching of at least one grapheme for all 40-plus phonemes [basic code] by the end of Reception, alongside the skill of blending sounds together to read words'' (DfE)

X 2017. 'Bold beginnings' Ofsted's report into the early years curriculum.

Mixture of methods instruction begins with children memorising a bank of sight words (high frequency words/HFWs) as whole shapes. This is based on the belief that children are biologically primed to view words as whole units at the start of reading 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. Analytic phonics makes a come-back [in the NLS] - but where is synthetic phonics? Includes discussion on the 'logographic stage' theory.

Advocates of the *Dual Route reading theory also recommend that beginning readers memorise the common exception words (HFWs with 'tricky', unusual or unique spellings) as whole units without phonics. They hypothesise that this, ''sets up the direct lexical route to word reading''. Early Years teachers may be unaware of these academic theories but still want their beginning readers to memorise the HFWs as quickly as possible. Until the children know many of these very common words 'on sight', they will find it difficult to read the leveled/banded scheme books which still make up the bulk of beginning reading practice material in the majority of Reception/Y1 classrooms.

Decoding instruction in the old National Literacy Strategy (NLS.1998) 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 [see below- Ruth Miskin's personal account of the creation of Searchlights]. Searchlights encouraged children to learn to read using four distinctive methods simultaneously''(p10)

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 make words.
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 Portsmouth.
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.
I joined a group of like-minded people to push the case for common sense from the sidelines. I was ignored, treated as a weirdo. But I’m not a weirdo; I am a woman who has worked hard to make sure that every child can learn to read'' (Sunday Times 2006)

The NLS 'Searchlight' 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 findings.

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 'Searchlight' 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 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 The Enemy Within Australian Schools:
''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.'' As 'shinpad' comments on this post, ''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''

X Old NLS practices still being used in schools: guided reading using multi-cueing, early Book Bands levels, Look-Say labels 

X 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 slow 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 different 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)

X http://www.spelfabet.com.au/2017/05/questions-about-the-alea-petaa-infomercial/
''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 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

Reading ability is based on two major, essential, interacting but different components: phonics decoding ability x language comprehension.

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 other 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 Should EY teachers encourage children to guess unknown words from context?

Word Guessing

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)

X 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)

''Teaching word parts, analogies and word families creates the "part-word assembler''. This is the child who searches for little, familiar word parts and assembles them into a nonsense word, hoping it will be close enough to guess what it is. Jane sees the word "watermelon", which has these parts in it: wa wat wate at ate ter term erm me mel el lo on. Which of these 13 parts would you use? Jane chose "weatermeon" (D.McGuinness.THE.29/05/98)

''It is ethically unacceptable to pursue teaching methods that may cause anxiety and stress'', says synthetic phonics opponent, Marian Whitehead (Whitehead. 2010 p.141) , yet 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 traditional mixed methods instruction and leveled scheme books (Book Bands) 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.

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)

Substance not style

''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 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 genuine 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 usual 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.

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.

''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

 Common Exception Words and the Muddle over Tricky Words

X 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

Homeschooling dad, Timothy Power, learnt the dangers of teaching global sight word memorisation the hard way. He says, of his small daughter, ''The skill of sounding out simple words, that she had been able to do shortly after she turned three, had been completely lost. If she didn't know a word by sight, she was stuck. Now, with that memory of hers that was able to memorize the 50 states by age two, she could get around this problem without too much trouble: she could just get someone else to read it for her a time or two, and then she would remember the word thereafter, and could even recognize it in new sentences. But this was still a work-around (although an effective one); even if a word was in her spoken vocabulary, she couldn't recognize it on the page if she hadn't seen it before in print, even if it was totally phonetically regular, with all short-vowel sounds. And when she came to these words she didn't recognize, she would try to guess, coming up either with nonsense words or with words that were similar-looking (same starting and ending letter, totally different middle), or with a synonym that bore no visual resemblance to the correct word on the page.''

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 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)

''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 p34)
The case for import controls.

The decoding method taught first, either multicueing 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''
‘'(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 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)

Dr. Seuss and dyslexia.


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 non-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-level 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''. In addition, 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 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''

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.

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

Balanced Literacy: phonics lipstick is not enough

X 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?

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

Illiterate boys: The new international phenomenon

X 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 Brooks, Torgerson and Hall

Whole language high jinks: How to Tell When “Scientifically-Based Reading Instruction” Isn’t:

Phonics and Book Bands.

X Too bound by Book Bands

Why Book Bands block children's reading progress:

X 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''

X 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 program.

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 mixed methods advocates have misappropriated the word 'systematic' and regularly use it to describe their type of teaching using analytic / contextualised / cumulative 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 even '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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