Saturday, December 03, 2005

Phonics Roundup

So where are we?

I got very cross here and here.

ninme was so staggered by the idea that children might not be taught how the alphabet works that she missed the point. This is entirely understandable.

Unity followed up with a lovely little insight into where all the research has gone wrong:
"All the research which describes the psychological process of reading is based on assessment of people who can already read - ergo, it tells us quite nicely how people read once they've learned to read but next to fuck all about the process of learning to read itself."
Brilliantly simple.

Timmy puts his customary free market view on things here.

The site administrator at the Reading Reform discussion board picked up on this and linked to me, prompting the delightful "Lesley" to intone with a sigh:
" What a very, very, very satisfying read.
I only wish I'd written it myself!"
Well, Lesley, the feeling is mutual. This is superb:
"Bethan is nothing more than a whole language dinosaur whose time has come. One can sense the desperation in the plodding predictable prog-prose of a creature who knows the show-case in the museum beckons.

Cue David Attenborough in hushed tones..

"And here we see a group, found together in late 2005, reassembled in its natural habitat, the education department of a prestigious university.
There, by the glow of the searchlight, the mighty psightvocabodon is devouring whole words. Beside him the smaller, but equally ferocious guessisaurus and predictoraptor search for clues amid the bushes. And last, but not least, the superficially alluring picturedactyl, seducing its victims into its welcoming arms, lies in wait for small humans."

"We shall not see their like again."
"the superficially alluring picturedactyl": Absolutely top notch.


dearieme said...

"the education department of a prestigious university": old joke:-
Person addressing President of Yale
"Why does Yale not have an Education Department?" President of Yale "When there is something known about Education that is worth teaching, Yale will have an Education Department".

Akaky said...

At least British schoolkids are getting taught to read using some form of phonics; a couple of generations of American schoolkids got hit with the whole word method by fanatics who wanted to do away with any sort of phonics; phonics was old hat, passe, last century's news, etc. etc. The fact that phonics worked didnt seem to matter at all; phonics worked fine in reality, but it lacked a sound theory and so had to go.

ninme said...

No. No it cannot be. How do you teach a language without teaching the alphabet? You learn the little alphabet song, no? Sung to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? You don't then do "A goes aaah, B goes buh, C goes suh or kuh, d goes duh" etc? It's impossible to skip that. It goes against everything, even Sesame Street.

Tom Ainsworth said...

Imagine trying to learn Greek without knowing the alphabet. Oimoi!

Akaky said...

"No. No it cannot be. How do you teach a language without teaching the alphabet?"

They tried, ninme. The idea was that the kid would take a look at the whole word, not just the component parts, recognize the word, and then move on to the next word. This is how adults read. The trouble with the theory, of course, is that kids are not adults and sounding out words from a textbook in class is different from sounding out letters with Bert and Ernie in front of your television set. Now we have a couple generations worth of young people who have a hard time reading and the less said about their ability to write a simple English sentence the better. For a good many of them, even their ability to take notes has been effected; somewhere along the line someone decided that penmanship was obsolete, so more and more young people have a hard time trying to take down the notes on the blackboard because all they can do is print or type on a keyboard; no one ever showed them how to write in cursive. On the lighter side, of course, there's the case of my youngest brother, who loved the alphabet song when he was a kid; he loved the song so much that it took us years to convince him that lmno was not a separate letter.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


" it took us years to convince him that lmno was not a separate letter."

"lmno" is four separate letters, dear heart.

That'll teach you to correct my grammar...


OT: How would a child that has never been taught using phonics cope with the blogger anti-spambot "word" verification, eh? Answer me that.


Toodle Pip!

ninme said...

I still don't get it. You have to learn the alphabet at some point. Even if you don't learn penmanship, you still learn how to write, so you have to know the individual letters. There's no way they couldn't.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


Your analysis is - again - completely accurate. If you are not taught the alphabet, you will not be able to write.

Which is why everything is shot to bits in this country: A HUGE chunk of pupils, particularly from poorer backgrounds, simply cannot read, write, spell or do basic arithmetic - though I agree that this is a different issue - by the time they leave primary school AT THE AGE OF 11. They never catch up.

I am giving very serious thought to the proposal that "advocating anything other than synthetic phonics as a means to teach children to read" should be promoted to the status of "hanging offence" in my manifesto.

Toodle Pip!

ninme said...

But you say 25%. Surely it would be more than that if this was indeed what was being done. Otherwise, that entire 75% (in fact, 100% because I suspect this is what made that 25% in the first place) would be spending money on private tutors or leaving the workplace to teach reading themselves, which would cause a huge outcry because even those parents who don't care what their children do at school will certainly care if their own leisure is meddled with, and they'd have put a stop to it right away.