Today’s post considers Rule 5 from P. David Pearson’s presentation as a part of the #ILA19 panel titled: “What Research Says About Teaching Reading and Why that Still Matters.” (The links for Rules 1-4 are at the bottom!)
Read Rule #5 again.
Does it sound familiar?
The hue and cry that no one is teaching phonics . . . is almost hysterical in light of this report from EDWeek that Reading First (2001-2008) failed to make gains in reading comprehension due to toooooooooooooo (o’s added for emphasis) much focus on skills like phonics. I personally know of school buildings that were spending an hour each day in the primary grades on phonics in the Reading First era. And a few spent more than an hour because of some slick salespersons.
What didn’t work?
Reading First required all 5 pillars from the National Reading Panel
- phonemic awareness
with the measure of success being an assessment of comprehension which had the lowest amount of time out of reading instruction. So of course, the data for reading comprehension didn’t improve when phonics and fluency were the most popular and most often tested pillars!
Reading First ended. The Common Core State Standards became the next “great golden goose” and whiplash hit teachers when they were told that “close reading” meant no introduction to the story/book and annotations were now the activity of the day. Cold reads. Master individual standards.
. . .
Phonemic Awareness instruction did not disappear.
Phonics instruction did not disappear.
Fluency instruction did not disappear.
Vocabulary instruction did not disappear.
Comprehension instruction did not disappear.
All five areas were still a part of the CCSS standards. And yes, when writing was finally back in vogue, we did celebrate. Under Reading First, writing was pushed out of the 90 minute uninterrupted reading block. In some instances, writing totally disappeared or appeared briefly as a Monday weekend journaling. One day out of five days for 15-20 minutes was eked out for some assigned writing prompt.
When I hear:
No one is teaching phonics.
Teachers don’t know how to teach phonics.
Teachers weren’t trained to teach reading.
I have to take a deep breath. And sometimes a second breath. And even a third breath.
It isn’t ALL teachers as often reported.
Teachers in Iowa under Reading First were required to have 40 hours of professional development each year in those five pillars. And in our region, we offered similar training for districts that did not qualify for Reading First grants because they also needed the knowledge. It wasn’t withheld from anyone. It was research-based, systematic and explicit.
The very nature of these reports that feel like accusations come from high school teachers (yep, they didn’t have that unless they trained in Reading); teachers who come from alternative licensing (didn’t attend a traditional college licensing program); curriculum/marketing personnel and journalists. No pro/con reporting of more than one side of an issue. Instead, reporting on the state of the nation on the basis of a few states. Sometimes even stating their biases although they have never, ever taught a student to read.
Raising your hackles?
Just last week, I had one of those parent calls. A parent whose child had an IEP meeting. The child is currently a junior in high school. They (IEP team) wanted to write a goal for phonemic awareness. (I had to literally cover my mouth on the phone to make sure that I was listening and not expressing my opinion.) Phonemic awareness – sound manipulation – no print included for a 17 year old student with three semesters left in the public school system.
Phonemic awareness – which by National Reading Panel research was to take 20 hours of instruction and be done in kindergarten.
Phonemic awareness – because of a data point that wasn’t “mastered.”
“What do you want and need for your child?”
Driver’s Ed. so she can get to and from a job.
Ability to get a job.
Ability to keep a job.
To keep her kind, helpful “I will try anything” attitude.
To continue to grow and learn to be a successful adult in the community.
Math so she can figure out a budget, pay rent, expenses, and be as independent as she wants.
Approximately 270 days of school left for this child. A program of study to complete. A student who has had phonics as a part of her reading goal for 10 years. LETRS trained teachers. Phonics program after program.
- first grade
- second grade
- third grade
- fourth grade
- fifth grade
- sixth grade
- seventh grade
- eighth grade
- ninth grade
- first half of junior year
and now some folks who have never worked with the child and could not pick her out of a classroom believe she should have a goal in phonemic awareness because of a data point.
After 11.5 years of phonics instruction, maybe it’s not the child.
Maybe it’s the crappy timed test and she just doesn’t do well under pressure.
Maybe the nonsense words really offend her sense of meaning.
And it makes me incredibly frustrated.
Don’t tell me the students haven’t had phonics!
Where is your evidence?
(Disclaimer: I understand the frustration of not having student needs met. As a special ed teacher I have taught dyslexic students. So many students needed different approaches and methodology. I have used an array of tools and programs. One example: After parental requests and with the permission of my administrator, I tried “Hooked on Phonics.”)
The current Reading War is based on a bunch of untruths, misrepresentations, and straw man arguments.
Spend the time to check your facts!
If you have not been following along, here are the posts to date:
“The cat sat on the mat.
The fat cat sat on the mat.
The rat sat on the mat.
The fat cat sat on the mat.
The fat cat and the fat rat sat on the mat.”
“What are we working on today?” I inquired.
“I am practicing ‘the’,” was the earnest reply from the first grader.
“Can you show me where you see the word ‘the’?”
“All of them?” she queried as she pointed to two examples.
“They aren’t the same,” she added. “These begin with upper case and these begin with lower case.”
“Tell me more.” (falling back on that favorite response)
“These line up in a row,” pointing to the The in a vertical column. “And these don’t.”
“What did you learn in this story?” I asked.
“”That cats and rats can sit together,” was the response.
What was the goal?
I saw that the student practiced the page three times as directed and then recorded it onto the iPad on a fourth reading. It was flawless. Every word was pronounced correctly. The student stopped appropriately for end punctuation (periods) and it sounded okay . . . just a bit “sing-songingly” with an attempt to have some rhythm/intonation in the reading.
Is this reading?
What role does this have in reading?
What happens if this becomes a “major portion of a steady diet” for a reader?
Valinda Kimmel had a great post about Guided Reading here last week, “Why Does Guided Reading Get Top Billing?”. Please go read it and consider “WHERE” you believe the above reading work fits in.
Phonics, Spelling and Word Work?
In this instance, the student self-reported that this reading was her fluency practice that she has to do before Independent Reading. Short passage with words she knew. Focus was on sight words “and”, “the”, and “on” according to the posted learning targets.
Fluency has many definitions that include:
reading like an author intended with phrasing, intonation, accuracy, rate, and expression
but all contain some reference to “fluency to support comprehension”.
Fluency – one of the “Five Pillars” of reading from the National Reading Panel report.
And I digress . . . Or do I?
Have I switched topics from Phonics (the title) to Fluency now?
In the classroom next door, the learning target was “practice /at/ phonograms in text and decoding cvc words with short vowel sound made by a.
How did the practice support word work?
37 words total
the – 11 repetitions
on -5 repetitions
and – 1 appearance
/at/- 20 (cat – 4, sat – 5, mat – 5, fat – 4, rat – 2)
This is an example of “decodable” text. Some might call this “barking at print” because the text can be read but there is no deep meaning attached to the words, phrases, sentences or passage. Worse yet, this might be something a student would be required to read multiple times, quickly, without hesitation in 30 seconds or less to meet some pre-determined correct words per minute goal. (Fluency, Automaticity, Word Work in “connected text” might be ways this text would be named._
Phonics – this post listed Faux Pas from the past
A need for Due Diligence and understanding Reading Research was the focus here
and yet . . . doubt remains
Check out Stephen Krashen’s response as well . . .
Comments on Morning Edition, January 2, 2019, What is Wrong with the APM report . . .
“There is no evidence that “Millions of kids can’t read …”. But there is
overwhelming evidence that low reading ability is related to poverty, contrary to
the claim in American Public Media’s report.”
and Basic Phonics.
What do we need?
Increased clarity of purpose by teachers?
A potpourri of effective strategies and methodologies?
I celebrate the questions that lead informed conversations and decisions about the best instruction possible for students!
Alfie Kohn – phonics added! Link
Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Kelsey, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum from Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.