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The Forum > Article Comments > How we lost the plot in reading > Comments

How we lost the plot in reading : Comments

By Kevin Donnelly, published 22/11/2004

Kevin Donnelly discusses why literacy teaching is under attack

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A few basic rules offer such advantages, like being given a roadmap at the start of a journey. They free us up not to have to worry about the basics, as well as being reasonably sure we are all actually talking or writing about the same thing! Much of the modern call for 'freedom' of expression is based on more on fear and lazines than on idealism.
Posted by Mchena, Wednesday, 24 November 2004 3:17:53 PM
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Language is a printed code for spoken words. Each letter stands for a sound, each group of sounds a word. That's how we learn to speak, and to me is the basic building block of learning to read. It's the rosetta stone of the English language-the code breaking sequences that we can't teach just with whole word recognition.

When I first attempted (primary) teacher training I argued against whole of language based on my reading and above conclusion. I was not allowed to question Friere and all the others and was told that whole language by itself was the way to go. I said (at 18) that we are going to turn out functionally illiterate people in 15 years time. I was told that as a student I didn't know what I was talking about, but to me it seemed logical. I left the course because of my teachers inflexible attitudes. I went back and completed a Grad dip Ed in high school education four years later and was told that because I wasn't an English teacher I wasn't to mark essays on spelling, punctuation and grammar. I spent more time trying to decipher what was written than actually distinguishing whether or not the student actually knew what they were writing about. And anyone who tells you that you don't have to be able to spell to use a spell checker has spelling errors in their work.

I think a good mix of both is the way to go, English isn't essentially a phonetic language. Offering more than one way to "skin the cat" so to speak can only mean better learning outcomes in the future.
Posted by Nita, Monday, 29 November 2004 3:42:00 PM
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I tend to agree with the phonics as a necessary part of the yin and yang of reading. It is an important tool to help the fledgling reader especially in a not terribly phonetic language such as English to find their feet. Think of the how important and probably far less questioned role phonetics has in say Italian or Spanish being highly phonetic languages. It also has the added benefit of raising the readers awareness of pronunciation and sound and it can then lead the way to the music of the language and a broader wholistic approach to language learning.

Yeah - and as has been already mentioned - get real if you need to use Microsoft's spell checker then you probably need their grammar, lexicon and structure checker as well , just as you thought - there is no such thing and there is no substitute for knowing the sound, spelling and structure of a language. Would a musician stop and ask - do you think I played an A minor or a B?
Posted by Debonair, Monday, 7 February 2005 10:57:55 PM
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The "In California, after the introduction of whole language in the late '80s, student performance, as measured by national tests, also plummeted. Such was the angst that, in 1996, the Board of Education ruled in favour of phonics and against whole language." is probably an urban myth. I have been unable to find what these tests that were failed were. Anyway, there is no evidence that all of a sudden teachers in a vast system like California suddenly upped and changed their teaching methods. Once you get past the rhetoric about phonetics and non phonetics the main determinant of literacy of the normal child is home background. California by many measures has a poor level of those parameters that contribute to literacy. In particular there has been the influx of unskilled workers from Mexico (amongst others). Phonetics seems to have its promoters amongst the "medical model" of reading ie it is a way of curing a problem rather than the preventive.

Another problem is the miss-spellings that are condemned are often phonetic renderings of non phonetic words or homophones. English is not a particularly phonetic language and almost all the phonetic rules have so many exceptions that they are more confusing than useful. There are 26 letters to produce 44 or so sounds which does not sound too bad but unfortnately all vowel sounds can be made with most of the other vowels eg her, spur bird myrrh Invalid (noun) or invalid (adjective) are pronounced according to meaning. Misled is pronounced miss-led not misle-d etc etc etc. God know how kids deal with Australia whch seems to be pronounced "ostraya" these days

I suggest that rather than attacking teaching methods our society addresses the problem with families before the kids get to school.
Posted by Richard, Friday, 4 March 2005 9:57:54 AM
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I agree, schools have lost the plot...Reading Recovery after millions of dollars has not worked!

Review teacher training...teachers can only put out what they have taken in.
I know this only too well, I went overseas for my literacy training. I now work with children with reading difficulties, most children I see despite being bright indicate a lack of being taught the sound/symbol relationship.
Whole word method has its place;10% of sight words occur in the English language these rely on the visual memory and sight recognition. The other 90% are phonetic and can be sounded out.
However,a child needs to be taught the sounds and symbols in a structured and sequential way.
The English language, however complex,follows a pattern and has rules.These patterns and rules need to be taught systematically. Spelling rules and patterns support reading, so both skills should be taught together. A good speller will go on to become a good reader, a good reader may never be a good speller...

Could our teachers be causing an epidemic of literacy difficulties?
We need to stop placing bright children in learning support,and improve the quality of teacher literacy education;that is the key.

Reasearch indicates phonemic awareness to be a strong indicator of later literacy achievement.
Schools should test children by Grade 1 and not wait until the child feels failure in Grade 3 or 4. Prevention is definitely better then cure.

I now specialise in multisensory language instruction and have helped dozens of children learn to read and spell.
These were children who felt they would never learn to read or spell.
They were children the school system had failed.
Posted by Jodi, Friday, 6 July 2007 7:10:32 PM
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