Bored of education

Bored with teaching phonics, educators have turned to trendier and less effective methods, writes Stuart Buck on TechCentralStation. Quoting Professor Plum, an education professor, Buck writes that we know how to teach children to read.

What works is making sure that children are rigorously and systematically instructed in the basics: letter identification, sounding out phonemes (i.e., phonics), learning how to piece phonemes together into words, and then reading words that are progressively harder . . .

. . . Instead of settling on what demonstrably works, some education professors have pushed “whole language” instruction, in which children are taught to memorize the forms of whole words, rely on contextual cues, etc. But when they lack the ability to sound out individual letters and sounds, children inevitably run into difficulty whenever they face a word that they have not memorized wholesale.

I don’t agree that educators abandoned phonics because they were bored with success or needed tenure-worthy topics. Success isn’t universal for any method of teaching reading; repeating old verities is a great way to get tenure. I think educators who value creativity and want school to be fun are predisposed to reject methods that require drill and memorization or risk wrong answers.

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Comments

  1. Mike in Texas says:

    Joanne wrote:

    I think educators who value creativity and want school to be fun are predisposed to reject methods that require drill and memorization or risk wrong answers.

    I think this is a generalization that is basically not true. Phonics is the current hot trend among administrators only b/c the publishing companies are pushing for it hot and heavy. Phonics have their place and their uses, but they shouldn’t be used exclusively. A kid who is taught only phonics will be a kid who doesn’t want to read when he’s older, IMHO.

  2. Actually, phonics is kind of a misnomer. There is a fair amount of research on teaching and learning that supports the practice of teaching these five skills, together, to students in grades K-2: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. These are, in some ways, building blocks for reading. You can’t learn fluency until you have phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary knowledge, for example. But you need not be an expert in one before you can begin to work on another.

    Exactly how to teach these five skills is a little bit up for grabs, although there are some programs that are clearly more effective than others, and some that are more effective for specific populations (think poor and minority kids). And there are some programs that aren’t very good.

    What has emerged from the research is that reading programs for young children in early primary grades is, well, boring to teach. The kids like it and do well, but it’s not creative or fun to teach. This finding comes up repeatedly.

    I talked about the this too, but didn’t give the nod to Professor Plum. Thanks Joanne for offering credit where it is due.

    http://drcookie.blogspot.com/2004/12/bored-maybe-you-should-be.html

  3. nicksmama says:

    “What has emerged from the research is that reading programs for young children in early primary grades is, well, boring to teach. The kids like it and do well, but it’s not creative or fun to teach. This finding comes up repeatedly.”

    Yes. Yes. Yes. As I sit with my 6.5 year old teaching him to read with a phonics primer, I am bored to tears (this is my second time through this process). BUT, it’s all new to him and he is learning to read. Thus, HE is not bored. Teaching and learning are not always FUN. Why, why, why must public school teachers entertain children (or themselves)??? Patience and work ethic are traits even the young can acquire. Why not learn these traits along with reading?

    “Phonics have their place and their uses, but they shouldn’t be used exclusively. A kid who is taught only phonics will be a kid who doesn’t want to read when he’s older, IMHO”

    I have to disagree with Tim. I taught my other son to read using phonics exclusively and he is an avid reader at age 8 and my 6.5 year old is following in his foot steps. But, again, I am just a mere homeschooling mom, not a professionally-trained teacher, so what do I know?

  4. We too went with a phonics based approach and we have a 9 and 11 year old that read 20+ books a week, each.

    Maybe phonics only works for homeschoolers 😉

    Quite frankly, if you can’t find joy in seeing kids learn to read, you probably shouldn’t be teaching.

  5. “Maybe phonics only works for homeschoolers ;)”

    Nope. I got taught phonics in a Catholic school and I still read plenty. As I recall, after the first several months, a whole new world opened where I could escape my miserable existence through the library without anyone’s help, and I never looked back.

  6. Mike in Texas says:

    A kid who is taught only phonics will be a kid who doesn’t want to read when he’s older, IMHO”

    That was me, nicksmama not Tim. Please note my use of the word exclusively which is what many of the phonics based programs like Open Court and Direct Instruction insist upon.

  7. Mike in Texas wrote:

    Phonics is the current hot trend among administrators only b/c the publishing companies are pushing for it hot and heavy.

    Yes, it certainly is detestable when a publishing company makes money. By contrast, teachers going out on strike for more money is noble and courageous.

    Phonics have their place and their uses, but they shouldn’t be used exclusively.

    I assume you have something other then your personal opinion and the revealed truth of the education school orthodoxy to back that statement up?

    A kid who is taught only phonics will be a kid who doesn’t want to read when he’s older, IMHO.

    As opposed to a kid who’s taught only whole word and can’t read.

    Please note my use of the word exclusively which is what many of the phonics based programs like Open Court and Direct Instruction insist upon.

    Well sure. The technique that always works, when combined with the technique that can’t work, is really the best way to teach reading. That makes sense.

  8. Stuart Buck says:

    Perhaps I was unclear, but I didn’t mean to suggest that educators were bored with success in and of itself. Instead, what I meant is that educators (at least some of them) are bored with methods that don’t seem to be as “creative.” I believe that’s consistent with your last line, if I’m interpreting you correctly.

    Best,
    Stuart Buck

  9. Textbook companies sell phonic-based reading programs because that’s what schools want these days. Research, led by Reid Lyons at NIH, has endorsed direct, systematic, explicit teaching of phonics, with extra help for children with poor phonemic awareness, as the most effective way to teach reading. Phonics advocates don’t say it’s all kids need to learn. It’s the first step in a long process of developing comprehension. While some kids easily pick up phonics and other reading skills, most need to be taught systematically.

  10. Mike in Texas says:

    Joanne wrote:

    Phonics advocates don’t say it’s all kids need to learn

    According to Open Court and Direct Instruction it is. That’s why you have the term “Open Court Police” bandied about by teachers. They are being forced to use Open Court and only Open Court. A visit to the Direct Instruction website shows their program must be implemented without any deviations.

    Allen wrote:

    I assume you have something other then your personal opinion and the revealed truth of the education school orthodoxy to back that statement up?

    Only 12 years of teaching experience plus a background in reading testing and diagnosis in reading problems.

    The technique that always works, when combined with the technique that can’t work, is really the best way to teach reading

    And where is your proof this is the best way to do it?

  11. Mike in Texas wrote:

    Only 12 years of teaching experience plus a background in reading testing and diagnosis in reading problems.

    A simple, and honest, “no” would have been sufficient.

    But since it’s an appeal to authority that you’ve chosen to hide in, I’ll see your twelve years of smugly miseducating innocents with my four years of doing literacy volunteer work with adults.

    Interestingly enough, I had a 100% success rate using just cribbed word lists off the Internet and a few hints from an experienced volunteer.

    Turns out all you need is some patience and a modest amount of empathy and anyone who can find their way to a literacy center and speaks English passably can be taught to read.

    So I guess my experience consists of undoing the damage people like you do. And I didn’t even get paid for it.

  12. Mike in Texas says:

    So I guess my experience consists of undoing the damage people like you do. And I didn’t even get paid for it.

    Ahhh, Allen is once again reduced to hurling insults, I’ll see your twelve years of smugly miseducating innocents, so it looks like I win valuable arguement points.

    Congratulations on your achievements doing volunteer work, Allen. It seems to me you found it a rewarding experience and your students benefited from you enthusiasm.

  13. Mike in Texas wrote:

    Ahhh, Allen is once again reduced to hurling insults,

    Oh, is it an insult if it’s the truth? Well, maybe it is. Who cares. I know the teachers who ruined the lives of helpless children and banked on the trust of parents didn’t care. They were warm and happy with their baseless orthodoxy and couldn’t be bothered to recognize the damage they were doing.

    so it looks like I win valuable arguement points.

    Oh did you? Well you just take as much comfort as you can in that because the future’s looking none too promising for the excuse industry.

    The NEA hasn’t been much use politically the past ten or twelve years and the future isn’t looking any better. Charters have spread throughout the nation and look to fill in the gaps. Vouchers are making slow, steady progress among a demographic the Democrats covet but are losing in part due to their submission to the NEA. Hmmm, I wonder who they’ll choose to try and please, the check-writers of the NEA or the voters of the inner-city?

    Bush’s got four more years to build a judiciary that won’t conjure law out of thin air as well as to tighten the screws another couple of turns on the NCLB.

    You think a charter’ll want to hire you? What with all your valuable diagnostic skills and all.

  14. “I think educators who value creativity and want school to be fun are predisposed to reject methods that require drill and memorization or risk wrong answers.”

    While drill and memorization may not be fun, they are THE KEY to creativity. Only when knowledge has been internalized can the mind turn it inside out and piece it together in new and innovative ways.

    Every educator who spouts the fallacy that “you can always look it up” to save their students from memorization don’t get that they’re denying students the chance to be creative with that knowledge. Ironic, huh?

  15. Mike in Texas says:

    Bush’s got four more years to build a judiciary that won’t conjure law out of thin air as well as to tighten the screws another couple of turns on the NCLB.

    Bush got 4 more years b/c he realizes for you and I to be even able to spend our time aruging about education someone needs to protect us from those that would do us harm. I don’t particularly follow the NEA national policies but I can tell you this; I don’t know any teachers at my school who voted for Kerry. The blanket liberal charge you throw on teachers may be true where you are from but it isn’t true here.

    You think a charter’ll want to hire you? What with all your valuable diagnostic skills and all.

    I have been offered jobs teaching at charter schools and at one time was invited to participate in the administration of one. If I chose to work in a charter school it would be one I developed and administered myself. I could make one successful b/c I know the rules for making one so.

    1. Choose your students carefully. You don’t want some poor kid with reading problems dragging your scores down so you’ll need an indepth screen processing.

    2. If some kid gets through has problems turn him to one of the public schools. Tell the parents your curriculum is just too tough for him and he needs to go where school is easier.

    3. At the slightest hint of discipline problems the kid is gone.

    4. Require parents to put in “volunteer” time at the school each month. Nothing drives down the costs like some free labor.

    Charters have spread throughout the nation and look to fill in the gaps.

    Charters are failing all across the country b/c of a lack of accountability, usually when it comes to finances. I believe Edision schools has been involved in some shady dealings lately and is in financial trouble, except where they’ve managed to buy off some local politicians. In addition, voters last month rejected charter schools all across the country.

  16. Oh no, not again 🙂 Oh well, once more into the breach.

    Alan, there’s only one person here arguing for orthodoxy, and that’s you. I’ve never actually met someone (on-line) who fit the “Phonics vs. WL = religion” as closely as you do. As far as I can tell, most posters here tends to follow what now seems common sense:

    – Phonics tends to work better than WL for the majority of children.
    – There are a minority of children for whom phonics doesn’t work very well (at least as a starting point).
    – In the end, we all use WL to read.
    – In the end, we all would benefit from knowing phonics to allow us to handle unrecognized words, etc.
    – Teachers need to be flexible in order to handle the disparate needs and learning abilities of the children in their care.

    I’m still trying to figure out how Alan fits the billion or so learning Chinese into the fact that WL “can’t” work. Are they all closet illiterates :-)?

    Mike, I think you’re being rather unfair to the charter schools. While I can understand your suspicion that the evil charter schools might operate in this fashion, many (most?) seem to be aimed at trying to improve things for the *worst* performing children. I suspect that’s part of the problem with charter test scores.

    Surely if they were so effective at manipulating the test scores and cherry-picking the best students they’d be doing a better job at it :-)? (And please, not the “They’re evil *and* incompetent” reply…)

  17. Andy Freeman says:

    > Charters are failing all across the country b/c of a lack of accountability, usually when it comes to finances.

    That’s because charters are actually accountable, unlike public schools.

  18. “Charters are failing all across the country…”

    GOOD! That’s the way the whole thing is supposed to work. Those charters which aren’t set up will, and should, fail and close. Their models and/or execution are not effective, and closure is the consequence for that. One problem with public schools is that they DON’T operate on this principle. A bad public school can suck up millions of dollars and fail to educate thousands of students every year and never face extinction.

    Instead, people think giving these schools more money is the answer. This kind of behavior is positive reinforcement. It’s akin to giving a kid more crayons after he just used the ones he had to draw on the walls. What do you think the kid’s going to do? Yeah, exactly. Now, if you give a school more money for failing to educate kids, what do you think they’re going to do? Yeah, I thought so.

  19. Mike in Texas wrote:

    Bush got 4 more years b/c he realizes for you and I…

    Anxious to move the topic again? Your just a rhetorical Bedouin, aren’t you?

    Here’s the issue you so obviously want to move off of: the judiciary isn’t going to help the cause of unaccountability.

    The NCLB is in place. The president and congress that’s elected owes nothing to the opponents of the NCLB so won’t be inclined to neuter the legislation. Get used to being measured because you’re not in a position to stop the process.

    As to your misrepresentations about charters:

    1. Choose your students carefully.

    From among those that aren’t doing very well in the public schools or for whom the public schools have little to offer.

    2. If some kid gets through has problems turn him to one of the public schools.

    Which would be where the kid came from and probably where the problem originated.

    3. At the slightest hint of discipline problems the kid is gone.

    As opposed to the public education system where that same kid gets to:
    A) disrupt the educations of every kid in any classroom he’s in and
    B) is unsubtly encouraged to become truant

    4. Require parents to put in “volunteer” time at the school each month.

    Ah, parents. They are a bother, aren’t they? So needy. So demanding. Some of them actually think you have a responsibility to teach their rotten, little whelps something.

    Charters are failing all across the country b/c of a lack of accountability, usually when it comes to finances.

    First, that’s just your opinion. I know, I know. There are thousands of studies that back up your assertion that “charters are failing all across the country”, you just don’t want to burden anyone with too much knowledge.

    Second, if a charter fails it’s public knowledge. A public school can fail for decades and no one knows about it. Well, at least until the NCLB comes to town. 🙂

    Tom West wrote:

    I’ve never actually met someone (on-line) who fit the “Phonics vs. WL = religion” as closely as you do.

    Probably you haven’t come across anyone who both posts and has had an opportunity to see the damage that WL results in. It’s easy to be dispassionate when all you’re dealing with are boring tracts which purport to represent a theory of learning. It’s not quite so easy to gaze down from Mount Olympus when you see the ruination of lives in which WL is complicit.

    Look Tom, I appreciate your parrotting the party line with regard to phonics-vs-WL but let me save you some time: Don’t bother.

    I’m not even slightly impressed by the phony reasonableness that’s supposed to attend the “whatever works” school of thought.

    Not that long ago there was one and only one way to teach reading and that was whole word. WL proponents seemed to vie with each other in their efforts to heap scorn on phonics and where they gained influence they did their best to drive out every vestige of phonics.

    Trouble is, wherever whole word was mandated it was a disaster and no amount of excuse-making changed the percentage of illiterates that WL-mandating sent out into the world. California wasn’t the only example of that sort of disaster.

    That “whatever works” mantra is meant to salvage something from that wreckage by assuming the posture of reasonableness. You’re not an idealogue. You aren’t wedded to any one methodology. No, you’re a reasonable, caring professional who’s willing to do whatever is necessary to get the job done.

    Save it for the reporters covering the education beat. A shit sandwich doesn’t taste better with half the main ingredient removed.

    I’m still trying to figure out how Alan fits the billion or so learning Chinese into the fact that WL “can’t” work. Are they all closet illiterates :-)?

    When you’re through smirking, you can tell me what choice the chinese have other then to memorize, i.e. whole word?

    Poor tools necessitate necessitate offsetting effort and iconographic languages are a more primitive, less efficient way to record information, i.e. a poorer tool. That’s why they’ve been pushed aside by phonemic languages where cultural and political considerations don’t get in the way.

    Dang! Dang! Dang! Adrian beat me to the point about the failure of individual charters being proof that the movement works.

  20. When you’re through smirking, you can tell me what choice the chinese have other then to memorize, i.e. whole word?

    Allen, that’s the whole point of my admittedly snarky comment. Obviously WL *can* and *does* work, the Chinese use it every day. Millions of North American students learned to read using the technique. Your continued claim that it *can’t* work when its obviously false makes you look like a zealot with more invested in the teaching technique than in the outcome for the students.

    Frankly, the reason I continue to harp on this is I consider your attitude harmful to the cause of phonics in the schools. By being an obvious fanatic, you effectively invalidate those of us who are pushing for phonics in schools that are standing on the brink by fitting nicely into the preconceptions of those who consider it a simple two sets of fanatics fighting it out.

    It’s sort of like talking like getting close to persuading a school to actually celebrate Christmas when suddenly a band of loons set up camp outside with their “Gays burn in hell” and “Baby-killers!” signs. You’re instantly lumped into the “loon” faction and all your arguments are tuned out.

  21. Mike in Texas says:

    Tom West,

    I’ve never claimed charter schools were evil or incompetent. Some of them, and I’m going to guess the ones run by educators and not businessmen, may actually do a great job of educating kids.

  22. Tom West wrote:

    Allen, that’s the whole point of my admittedly snarky comment.

    Yes, I know. It’s to divert attention from the speciousness of your use of Chinese as an example.

    Obviously WL *can* and *does* work, the Chinese use it every day.

    And their choices are?

    Chinese have to learn Chinese regardless of the inefficiency and inflexibility of an ideographic language. They either become literate to the degree their intelligence, time and pocketbook allow or they accept a lower standard of living. While less true then it used to be, in China a lower standard of living may mean starving to death.

    That’s a pretty effective goad to learning, wouldn’t you say?

    Frankly, the reason I continue to harp on this is I consider your attitude harmful to the cause of phonics in the schools.

    Hmmm. Let’s see.

    Chinese is an ideographic language and can’t be taught phonetically. There is not phonemic mapping to letter combinations. So, you have to memorize individual words since you can’t sound out words. Your written vocabulary is distinct from your spoken vocabulary since there’s no mapping between them.

    English is a phonetic language with a limited set of letter-sounds and rules. Once you can match up the letter-combinations with the sounds your written vocabulary and spoken vocabulary are interchangeable. Since people are built to speak – no one needs whole speech instruction – the learned skill, reading, leverages off the genetic predisposition – speech.

    Your new-found attraction to the “whatever works” mantra means that you feel teaching English literacy as if you were teaching Chinese literacy, punctuated as appropriate by teaching English literacy as if you were teaching English literacy is an example of open-mindedness and thoughtfullness. I feel it’s the fall back position of the whole language crowd now that their educationist hand-waving no longer impresses the rubes.

    See Tom, here’s the problem you face.

    You’re trying to convince parents who themselves are semi-literate that the same reading instruction techniques they were subject too are the reading techniques that ought to be used on their children. How’s that working out for you?