Along side, the social and economic values of reading and writing are multiplying in both number and importance as never before.
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We clearly do not need to get back to the old ways of teaching children to read — the old ways were really no better than and some would argue, no different than the current ways. Relatively recent research has given us great insights into why some children have difficulty learning to read, and the next frontier in reading education is to help teachers understand and apply that research information. Research indicates that both of these claims are quite wrong, but both are surprisingly pervasive in reading instruction. The idea that good readers use context cues to guess words in running text comes from a method of assessment developed by Ken Goodman that he called "miscue analysis" which has given rise to the popular "running records" assessments.
For his dissertation, Goodman examined the types of mistakes that young readers make, and drew inferences about the strategies they employ as they read.
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He noticed that the children in his studies very often made errors as they read, but many of these errors did not change the meaning of the text e. He surmised that the reason must be that good readers depend on context to predict upcoming words in passages of text. He further suggested that for good readers, these context cues are so important that the reader only needs to occasionally "sample" from the text i.
Goodman's model, which eventually gave rise to the "Three Cueing Systems" model of word recognition, is very influential in reading instruction, but unfortunately, it has never been supported by research evidence. In fact, repeated studies have shown that only poor readers depend upon context to try to "guess" words in text — good readers depend heavily upon the visual information contained in the words themselves i.
Keith Stanovich has been especially critical of the three cueing systems model because the predictions made by the model are exactly the opposite of what has been observed in research studies. Philip Gough and I addressed the second claim and showed that, in fact, good readers almost never make any mistakes at all when they read, which means the notion of conducting a "miscue analysis" is somewhat suspect — how can you perform a miscue analysis when there are typically no miscues? We had over college students read a passage of text from Ken Goodman's book Phonics Phacts , and showed that the modal number of mistakes made by these students was zero — almost all of the students read the passage flawlessly.
However, to be sure, we examined how accurate people would be if they were forced to use semantics and context as their only cues. We concealed the passage of text and asked our college students to guess each of the words in the passage one at a time; after each guess, the correct word was revealed, and students were asked to guess the next word. This process was repeated for every word in the passage, so the students always knew the words leading up to the unknown word. We found that, given unlimited time to ponder, students were able to correctly guess one out of ten content words in the passage.
It is clear that good readers depend very heavily upon the visual information contained in the word for word identification what is commonly called the graphemic information or orthographic information. The semantic and syntactic information are critical for comprehension of passages of text, but they do not play an important role in decoding or identifying words. For good readers, word identification is fast, fluent, and automatic — it needs to be so that the their attention can be fully focused on using semantics and syntax to comprehend the text.
Unfortunately, it is true that a lot of people do selectively search and sample the research literature, citing only the research that seems to support their pre-conceived notions. Often research results are skewed or biased to appear to be consistent with hypotheses proposed. And unfortunately, there are many people who are unwilling to reject a hypothesis or a theory even when research evidence does not support that theory. Adding to the problem of poor research is the problem that the public is largely uninformed about what the hallmarks of good research are.
Many articles seem to be "research" articles, but are not. The article you are reading right now, for example, might be cited as "research" by some, but in fact this is not a research article — this is an article written by a researcher, and that is an important distinction. This article, and others that appear in journals like Phi Delta Kappan and The Reading Teacher are typically created as informative journalistic documents.
These articles are meant to be analogous to newspaper articles, but are often more like editorials and commentaries. They stimulate thought, and focus attention on interesting issues, but they are not in any way "research" articles. Real research is much more rigorous. Real research requires peer review. Real research is tested and scrutinized from many angles by multiple, unrelated researchers. There is documented objectivity associated with real research, and where possible, there is replication. And even after all of that, a healthy skepticism is still adopted by the research community.
Researchers know that one piece of research evidence is nothing to get excited about. Several bits of evidence might get some attention. But it is only when there is substantial convergent evidence from multiple sources supporting a theory that the research community is willing to embrace the theory. It takes years to convince the research community that a theory has merit, but it takes no time at all to convince the public. People outside of the research community tend to pay attention to unexpected or unusual findings. Cold fusion is an example of the type of inappropriate attention the public and media pays to unusual research findings.
There is a mountain of evidence showing that cold fusion is not possible given our current technology and understanding of physics. But when one research team circumvented the normal channels of peer review and claimed that they had found a solution for cold fusion, they were celebrated in the media, and the public payed a great deal of attention to their claims. When there is a preponderance of evidence supporting a theory, the research community puts a great deal of faith in that theory, but when there is one claim that refutes the preponderance of evidence, the public tends to pay inordinate attention to the exceptional claim while ignoring the substantial evidence that would refute that claim.
A wall of mundane consistency fades to the background when one incongruent speck appears. It is true that new research-based fads and programs come and go, but that stems from a misuse of the term "research based. And we also need to learn to pay more attention to the research evidence and less attention to the messenger — the credentials of a researcher are important, but even researchers can editorialize and put forth unfounded opinions.
Just because a well-known researcher said it, that doesn't make it so. In short, we should always remember the researcher's credo: "Remarkable claims require remarkable evidence.
The evidence showing the importance of phoneme awareness to literacy acquisition is overwhelming. Still, there are some who are not convinced.
Some claim that teaching children to develop phoneme awareness is not necessary or even beneficial. They usually accept that children do develop phoneme awareness as they learn to read, but they claim that phoneme awareness is nothing more than a byproduct of reading acquisition that arises as a result of learning to read — not the other way around. Further, it is often argued that phoneme awareness instruction is "inauthentic" and "unnatural," and is therefore inappropriate.
The research evidence, however, does not support this view. First, it is quite clear that phoneme awareness is a necessary prerequisite for developing decoding skills in an alphabetic writing system such as English. Phoneme awareness in the early grades is one of the best predictors of future reading success. All successful readers have phoneme awareness. People who do not have phoneme awareness are always poor readers, and poor readers almost never have phoneme awareness almost never — phoneme awareness is necessary but not sufficient for reading success. However, the most compelling evidence for the importance of phoneme awareness stems from the research that has shown that when children are taught to develop phoneme awareness, they are more likely to develop good word decoding skills, and they develop those skills faster and earlier than children who are not taught to be aware of phonemes in spoken words.
Second, phoneme awareness instruction can be very authentic and natural. Teachers can use music, tongue twisters, poetry and games to help children develop phoneme awareness.
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Children actually enjoy playing these games; they love to experiment with language, and teachers should give them every opportunity to explore speech. Given the importance of finding developmentally appropriate ways of helping children to develop foundational reading skills as early as possible see the Matthew Effect discussion in Myth 2 , assessment of phoneme awareness should begin early, and games and lessons that help children to develop an awareness of phonemes in speech should be used to help those who need it.
The belief in an underlying genetic cause for dyslexia ignores the fact that reading and writing simply have not been around long enough to become part of our genetic makeup see the Naturalness argument in Myth 1. It was long argued that when a disparity existed between a person's intelligence and their reading skill, the person should be described as a dyslexic. The term "dyslexic" eventually became a catch-all term used to account for people who failed to learn to read despite apparent intellectual capacity and environmental support.
Frankly, the term "dyslexia" is basically meaningless.
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The term simply means difficulty with words, and anybody who has not learned to read could be called dyslexic. There is nothing about that taxonomy that addresses the underlying reasons for the difficulty with words.
We know that people fail to learn to read for a very wide variety of reasons, and categorizing all non-readers under the dyslexia umbrella belies the complexity of reading disorders. Clearly, some people have more difficulty learning to read than others. In broad strokes, the three reasons people have difficulty developing basic reading skills are,.
Difficulties developing decoding skills very often arise from difficulties processing sounds in speech phonological processing skills. Some people seem to have an easier time than others mentally breaking spoken words apart and tuning into the subparts of spoken words e. To learn to decode words at least in alphabetic systems like English , it is necessary to understand that the letters in text represent the phonemes in speech.
For people who have difficulty hearing and manipulating the phonemes in speech because of poor phonological processing skills , it is unlikely that they will make the connection between letters and phonemes. It could be argued that there is a genetic foundation for variations in phonological processing skills — some people do seem to naturally tune in to speech sounds, and others seem to have difficulty examining and manipulating the phonemes in speech.
Furthermore, these abilities do have a tendency to run in families. However, even if there are genetic foundations for phonological processing skills, we know that it is quite easy to teach children to be aware of the phonemes in speech regardless of their genetic tendencies. While some children have difficulty developing decoding skills because of poor phonological processing skills, other children simply do not get adequate instruction in other necessary knowledge domains that are important for developing good decoding skills concepts about print, letter knowledge, and knowledge of the alphabetic principle.
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