Skip to comments.Bogus reading instruction is the 800-pound quack in many classrooms
Posted on 04/07/2014 5:14:33 PM PDT by BruceDeitrickPrice
The single most important aspect of education is reading.
If children are not reading, their entire education comes to a halt. Thats what has happened in millions of lives.
All the statistics for many decades reveal a curious surprise: our public schools dont actually know how to teach reading or, more likely, they pretend not to know.
This is a bizarre scandal, especially given that children have been learning to read for thousands of years, and 100 years ago this country was thought to be moving toward universal literacy.
An odd thing happened circa 1931. The Education Establishment pushed look-say (or Whole Word) into the schools. This method produced bad results, so much so that in 1955 Rudolf Flesch wrote a famous book explaining why Johnny wasnt learning to read. Mainly, Flesch explained, children need phonetics to learn to read a phonetic language. Imagine that.
Then a second odd thing happened. The Education Establishment refused to acknowledge a blunder. Instead, they concocted catchy new jargon (e.g., Whole Language), cherry-picked research to prove their method worked even though it clearly didnt, and heaped abuse on Flesch.
The result is that the educational landscape became and remains a swamp of sophistry and outright lies. Even well-intentioned people can hardly have an intelligent conversation about reading. Unfortunately, this confusion serves as protective cover for the perpetuation of bad theory. Still, phonics did regain favor; and Whole Word, in its pure form, started losing credibility. Circa 1999 the Education Establishment had to stage an abrupt strategic retreat. They conceded minor points so they could hang on to the most harmful feature, that being the exaltation of memorizing Whole Words. The elite educators basically declared: okay, phonics isnt so bad after all but kids still have to start by memorizing 200+ sight-words.
Note the absurd contradiction. Phonics is important but not right away. So now we hear endless chatter favoring Balanced Literacy and no one method suits every child. All of this is propaganda which allows the Education Establishment to make children begin reading instruction just as they did 20, 40 and 60 years ago, in the darkest days of Whole Word.
Children are no longer subjected to Whole Word in its pure form but they are subjected to a muddled, deceitful version of Whole Word that is almost as harmful. Many children are learning two methods at once, and if they become good at whole-word-reading, their brains are less likely to become good at phonetic reading. Collateral damage includes ADHD and dyslexia.
The common denominator running through every bad idea from 1931 to now is the notion that you can lean to read by memorizing English words as graphic designs or configurations. Suppose a teacher shows you this design, &+; and tells you to pronounce it car. You have to stare at that design, preferably write it many times, and keep telling your memory, thats car. The human brain doesnt have much trouble with a few dozen designs. But in a typical first-grade, children are told to memorize 100 designs, with another hundred or so the next year, and another hundred the year after that. Most children simply give up, overwhelmed and defeated.
This design &+ is an example of what is typically called a sight-word. This is the essential idiocy in all the bad teaching methods. English words are presented to children as a sight-word, something they memorize on sight. There are no letters, no sounds, no blends, no phonics, nothing that is actually necessary if someone wants to learn to read.
For the reader of this article to fully understand the nightmare that was created in our public schools, you have to think of something that you have tried to memorize in your own life, for example, electrical symbols, weather symbols, currency symbols, flags, phone numbers, license plates, something that you were supposed to memorize on sight.
Or perhaps you studied art history in college and had to memorize scores of paintings. It wasnt easy but perhaps doable. Remember, however, that naming a painting is successful if you can do it in a few seconds. But reading speed would be to name three or four paintings per second. Virtually no one can do this.
My goal here is to have everyone feel the frustration and hopelessness of trying to memorize hundreds of sight-words with instant recall. It just cant be done unless someone has a nearly photographic memory. But memorizing hundreds of sight-words is precisely what most of American education is based on. Wherever we look around the country (or the world) and find children struggling to read English, you can be sure that Whole Word or Whole Language poisons the air.
Note that the Education Establishment, when they embraced Balanced Literacy in 1999, basically confessed that everything they had been claiming for the previous 70 years was a mistake. Remember, they had declared phonics evil, wrong, a waste of time. Suddenly they said: never mind! Why would anyone trust these people? They had created 50,000,000 functional illiterates by demonizing a method they now declared essential. Now theyve been creating more functional illiterates by insisting on sight-words in the early grades.
This dogma is still peddled on hundreds of sites: Sight words consist of 220 of the most frequently used words in printed English, excluding nouns. Learning to recognize these words instantly by sight is essential to developing reading fluency and comprehension. Essential, it says. Destructive is what it should say.
Visit a forum concerned with elementary education or reading, and youll hear one wobbly little alibi after another for hanging on to this Frankensteins monster that has done so much to hurt American culture. Further confusion comes because some people say sight-word but theyre really thinking of vocabulary words. Of course, everyone needs to learn vocabulary words. But these words are learned in multiple ways: meaning, spelling, phonetics, similarity with other words, rhymes, personal associations, etc. The memory can seize on many factors. But sight word is a technical term for words memorized in only one way--shapes the eye can see.
Sight-word, both the linguistic term and the instructional concept, is a mistake. We dont need it at all. Everything flows more smoothly if children learn the letters of the alphabet so they can say them and write them. Then they learn the sounds that letters represent; then they learn the blends of those sounds. Very quickly children know how to read. It all happens in 4-8 months. No sight-words required.
Thanks for posting.
I agree that whole word sucks donkey dong, but I do have a serious question. How do chinese kids learn to read chinese?
Funny how they want kids to remember words, but not multiplication tables because to do that would be cheating.???
The pen is mightier than the sword.
So Big Ed has devised a way to neutralize the pen.
But Papa, I can't read!
But you do read, child, you read to me every day.
"But I can't!"
Why do you say that? Because there are words you don't know?
Child, you run across new words all the time. I even run across new words and I have been reading for a long long time.
Yes, but we have the tools to sound them out, and once we understand what they mean they are ours.
Near as I can recall, every single kid learned to read at a functional level.
SEE SPOT RUN. SEE THE DOG RUN.
OH OH OH SEE JANE RUN. SEE DICK RUN.
SEE DICK FALL DOWN. SEE JANE LAUGH.
Where I live, the schools teach phonetics.
Public education can’t teach johnny to read, but at least it costs a fortune.
Basically they took away the tools that enable one to be learned. The sounds, the math tables etc. When my kids were in school, they didn’t want them to memorize their multiplication tables because that would be rote instead of learning. It would be like cheating. Instead they wanted the kids to make equations and figure out how 3x3 became 9??? So they had to do something like 3x3=3+3+3=2+1+2+1+2+1 etc. I kept telling my kids memorizing the multiplication tables was learning how to use a tool that would make math easier for them. Fortunately, learning to read was a combination of methods at their school with me doing a lot of reading with them so I could teach them phonetics more strongly then the school was doing. I learned phonetics in first grade and I remember when it clicked in my brain that letters represented sounds. The first word that made sense was Tag, the name of the dog in the McMillan series. See Tag run. Run Tag run. Wow! God bless the teacher who taught me that. It opened a whole new world for me.
Nothing is more important than for a child to come from a family that reads.
Exactly what I was thinking. Maybe we don’t understand the Chinese pictograms or whatever they are or how they are taught or something, because it seems like a pretty obvious question.
I never understood why they didnt teach some sort of universal shorthand instead of cursive. Cursive is faster than printing, but if thats the point why not teach something thats waaay faster than both? Instead of learning two very similar styles of writing the language you speak. Maybe this is the reason, short hand uses symbology of some sort for many common words and takes more time to learn?
Only using sight words makes no sense. As soon as you come across an unknown and ‘teacher’ isn’t there to help, how do you figure it out? Phonetics gives you the tool to sounding out new words.
Too bad, so sad, evil dumbing-down people!
“How do chinese kids learn to read chinese?”
Every Chinese character has an elaborate story associated with it, including substories for various strokes in the character. Some of these stories are historical in nature, but many are based on fables and fairy tales that go back hundreds of years.
So, they don’t actually memorize whole words, but have an elaborate array of associations on which to pin the words.
One of the most basic and simplest words in Chinese is a squarish like symbol with a vertical line through it, with that word being the name of the Chinese country itself, and it symbolizes the fact that the Chinese have historically considered their country to be the center of the world.
We taught our kids phonetics before they started school. They are both excellent readers today. There is nothing in education (including math) that can be mastered if you do not read well.
I recently applied to tutor kids for the ACT / SAT (at one of the big name tutoring companies) - it seems like a good way to make a few extra bucks. Anyway, I had to take the ACT math and science exams (and get an acceptable score on them) to qualify to tutor. I have been out of school durn near 40 years and was able to pass - not because of subject knowledge (much of which is long gone) but because I am capable of reading and comprehending quickly and accurately. You will not score well on these exams if you cannot read well - and since college admissions and scholarship levels rely on how well you score (unless you are non-white or excel at sports), poor reading skills severely cramp your college prospects.
I hit early elementary school in the early 50s also. We learned phonics. This was in suburban New Jersey, just outside of Camden. And yes, we all learned to read, some better than others, but we all were reading by second grade.
I learned phonics in the first grade (1948 or 9). I loved phonics, as it was such a neat decoding trick. I loved the worksheets, too.
When my four children were little - in the 60s, I taught them all phonics (in a casual way, at the supermarket, reading children’s books, etc. as soon as they showed an interest in deciphering, long before they went to school.
All of them knew how to read before kindergarten, and all of them hated the “reading systems” that were being taught. They found them tedious as entrapping.
All are still avid readers, and figured out that self-learning was much more fun than “school learning”.