Saturday, August 27, 2016

Carol Black's A Thousand Rivers and the Great Phonics Debate

"The following statement somehow showed up on my Twitter feed the other day:
'Spontaneous reading happens for a few kids. The vast majority need (and all can benefit from) explicit instruction in phonics.;
This 127-character edict issued, as it turned out, from a young woman who is the 'author of the forthcoming book Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter' and a “journalist, consultant and speaker who helps people understand how we learn and how we can do it better.”
It got under my skin, and not just because I personally had proven in the first grade that it is possible to be bad at phonics even if you already know how to read. It was her tone; that tone of sublime assurance on the point, which, further tweets revealed, is derived from “research” and “data” which demonstrate it to be true.
Many such 'scientific' pronouncements have emanated from the educational establishment over the last hundred years or so. The fact that the proven truths of each generation are discovered by the next to be harmful folly never discourages the current crop of experts who are keen to impose their freshly-minted certainties on children. Their tone of cool authority carries a clear message to the rest of us: 'We know how children learn. You don’t.'"
So they explain it to us.
The 'scientific consensus; about phonics, generated by a panel convened by the Bush administration and used to justify billions of dollars in government contracts awarded to Bush supporters in the textbook and testing industries, has been widely accepted as fact through the years of “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” so if history is any guide, its days are numbered. Any day now there will be new research which proves that direct phonics instruction to very young children is harmful, that it bewilders and dismays them and makes them hate reading (we all know that’s often true, so science may well discover it) — and millions of new textbooks, tests, and teacher guides will have to be purchased at taxpayer expense from the Bushes’ old friends at McGraw-Hill."

From: Carol Black, A Thousand Rivers, http://carolblack.org/a-thousand-rivers/

Note sent to Carol Black, August 28, 2016

You won't be surprised to learn that the "consensus" reached by the National Reading Panel on the value of intensive explicit phonics instruction has been challenged.
Professor Elaine Garan of Fresno State University re-examined the National Reading Panel's own data and concluded that the impact of intensive phonics instruction is strong only on tests in which children read lists of words in isolation; it is minuscule on tests in which children have to understand what they read. In my own work, I have found other studies showing the same thing. 
Study after study has shown that performance on tests of reading comprehension is heavily influenced by the amount of self-selected free voluntary reading that children do, not whether they have had intensive systematic phonics. 
This conclusion is consistent with the views of Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman who have, for decades, presented strong evidence that our ability to decode complex words is the result of reading, not the cause.
Garan's work was published in very prestigious and respectable places but for some reason it has not gotten the publicity it deserves.
Stephen Krashen
Garan, E. (2001). Beyond the smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National Reading Panel report on phonics. Phi Delta Kappan 82, no. 7 (March), 500-506.
Garan, E. (2002) Resisting Reading Mandates. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Krashen, S. 2009. Does intensive decoding instruction contribute to reading comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74.




22 comments:

  1. Systematic study of phonics or grammar only consider elements in isolation. Can you learn to ride a horse by studying its anatomy?

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  2. I had to leave elementary, which I dearly loved. I can only teach upper grades now because I can't stomach the phonics obsession.

    The skills-building epidemic is tragic because, as you say, it "makes them hate reading."

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