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Date: Mon, 23 Aug 2004 13:13:16 -0700 From: Stacia Levy Subject: Early Reading Instruction
AUTHOR: McGuinness, Diane TITLE: Early Reading Instruction SUBTITLE: What Science Really Tells Us about How to Teach Reading PUBLISHER: MIT Press YEAR: 2004
Stacia Levy, University of the Pacific
OVERVIEW In this book, the author provides for teachers and scholars a comprehensive review of the research on effective reading methods, starting with addressing early writing systems and how they developed and continuing to the contemporary times. She critiques the work of National Reading Panel (2000) in screening and reviewing thousands of research studies on reading. Thoughout the book, the author addresses the ''reading wars,'' that is, the conflict over which method works best, ''phonics'' or ''whole word,'' coming down strongly on the side of phonics, showing that all languages are based on sounds, and all alphabetic languages are based on sound-letter correspondences which must be explicitly taught. The English sound- letter system is particularly complex or ''opaque,'' as the author calls it, leading to a high failure of reading in English speaking countries. She also critiques research methodology and develops a prototype for an ideal phonics program. She ends by suggesting that the research needs to move beyond the ''reading war'' of phonics or whole word, as we have known for years that phonics is the only effective method of early reading instruction, and now we must move forward to determine which elements of phonic programs are most effective.
CHAPTER-BY-CHAPTER SUMMARY Preface The author addresses world writing systems and the high failure rate in literacy in English-speaking countries. She introduces the work of the National Reading Panel (NRP) and its attempt to sort through the database of reading research of 1,075 studies over the past thirty years, only 38 of which were found methodologically sound. The author also addresses the notion of ''phoneme,'' or individual speech sound, an important concept in reading instruction because in alphabetic writing systems, letters represent phonemes: the spelling ''code.''
Introduction The author provides an overview of the book's purposes: to review the research on reading teaching methods, provide insights into our spelling code and how to teach it, provide a prototype for an effective reading program based on the research, and critique the methodology of reading research. The author also touches on how to teach writing systems, which are based on phonemes or other units below the level of the word, such as syllables or consonant-vowel units. Because there are so many words in a language, ''no one can learn to read by memorizing whole words by sight'' (p. xiv), and instruction should be based on whatever unit the writing system was originally designed of. European languages are written in alphabets, which are based on the phoneme. The author then touches on the ''opaqueness'' of the English alphabet system, with its many exceptions and multiple spellings for the same phoneme. This leads into chapter one.
Chapter 1 This chapter reviews statistics of literacy in different countries. English-speaking countries have a high illiteracy rate compared to European nations: e.g. 43% among American nine-year-olds (Mullis, Campbell, Farstrup, 1993), compared to Austria, where even ''poor readers'' in fourth grade scored close to 100% correct on reading accuracy and spelling tests (Wimmer 1993). This is due to the ''opaqueness'' of the English spelling code, according to the author, with its many exceptions, compared to many European nations' codes with their nearly ''one-to-one'' correspondence of phonemes and letters. In addition, reading instruction is systematic in countries like Austria, where children are taught the letters and the sounds they represent, and reading and spelling are integrated. In English-speaking countries, with an opaque writing system and whole-word methods, neither of these is true.
The author also states that the notion of ''dyslexia,'' or reading failure, presumed to be the property of individual children and of biological basis, is untenable, as the disorder afflicts only English- speaking children.
Chapter 2 On the Nature of Writing Systems The author takes a historic view on the development of writing systems and their properties. The author deals with writing systems as ''codes'' which can be broken and which are reversible: that is, what can be put into code or encoded can also be decoded. So words that are put into print can also be read. She again addresses the phoneme and letter as the basic units in an alphabetic system. Writing systems are invented by scholars; they do not ''evolve.'' As human memory has a limit for the symbols it can contain, some writing systems transitioned from whole-word to phonemic systems but did not evolve. In addition, people do not develop the ability to hear phonemes, an ability present at birth in normal-hearing infants. Because writing systems are inventions and not a part of our evolutionary heritage, as is speech, people have to be specifically instructed in their use. And because our memory has a limit for the amount of symbols it can contain, whole-word methods doom the majority of its learners to failure.
Chapter 3 The Structure of the English Alphabet Code The author again addresses the nature of the English writing code and ways to teach it: teach the sound units first, then the symbols that represent them, from simple to complex. Students must see that this is a reversible code: reading and spelling are connected at every level through seeing, hearing, and writing. The author also addresses the reason for the opaqueness of the English spelling code: the influences of a number of languages on English and attempts historically to reform our spelling system.
Chapter 4 How to Teach Reading: Lessons from the Past Here the author revisits a lot of ground already covered: the opaqueness of our writing system, the NRP's review of the literature and how it has provided ''incontrovertible support'' that whole word methods ''lead to consistently lower reading test scores than methods that emphasize phoneme-grapheme correspondences'' (p. 74) or correspondences between sounds and letters. The author also covers past research on effective reading instruction and problems in doing research on teaching methods. An example is the 1963 Cooperative Research Program, a massive project which set out to study first graders and reading methods to ''settle'' the phonics/basal reader debate. Basal readers tended to emphasize whole-word methods; phonics programs teach sound-symbol correspondences. A number of classrooms were observed and pre-and-post test scores reported. However, because of problems in the final statistical analysis, such as looking at mean test scores from each classroom rather than individual student scores, the research results were ambiguous. This was the last study of its kind, possibly due to later budget cut backs.
Chapter 5 How to Teach Reading: Modern Research The author addresses the ''whole language'' movement, popular throughout the seventies and eighties: the ''natural language'' approach of listening to stories, reading along, creative writing, and invented spelling. It was fun, according to the author, and ''and it took the English speaking world by storm ... with catastrophic consequences'' (p. 108).
Research in the 1960s and 1970s had found that activities such as sound-to-letter analysis, writing letters and words, teaching the basic code of 40 phonemes (sound units and their letters), identifying the sequence of sounds in words, integration of reading and spelling, segmenting and blending, lots of writing activities, led to increases in reading scores; memorizing words, vocabulary lessons, using invented spelling, and listening to stories all led to lower scores. In a review of the literature (Stahl and Miller, 1989), whole language's advantages were mostly in ''nonreading'' effects, such as print readiness and attitudes toward reading.
>From the research, the author provides a ''prototype of an effective reading/spelling program'': no sight words, no letter names, sound-to-print orientation, teach phonemes only, begin with the basic code, teach children to write each letter, and link writing to reading. '' Linguistic phonics,'' a phonics program designed by linguists, is closest to this prototype. The author also reviews a number of reading programs, such as Reading Recovery and Open Court.
Chapter 6: Phoneme-Awareness Training Here the author addresses programs in ''phonemic awareness,'' based on the theory that phonemic awareness is developmental and proceeds from words to phonemes. This idea is not supported in the literature. Phonemic awareness training has a low effect size on standardized reading tests (Bus and Van Ijzendoorn 1999) but does have an effect on phonemic awareness tests.
In addition, it appears that awareness of phonemes is present at birth or shortly thereafter as this is how children learn language: by perceiving the individual speech sounds in their environment and repeating them.
Chapter 7 Reading Fluency The author addresses other reading instruction issues, such as improving speed. Slow readers often are inaccurate readers as well. There are effective methods to improve their reading rates, such as rereading the same passages and setting target rates over a period of several weeks.
Chapter 8 Vocabulary and Comprehension Instruction There is solid evidence on effective vocabulary instruction, such as repeated exposure to the same words over a short period of time. Exposing children to new words though stories is effective but only if the students are guided in understanding the words; allowing them to try to arrive at meaning through ''context'' is not effective. Apparently this is too demanding a cognitive task for most children. Vocabulary can be learned as part of an overall reading comprehension program.
Chapter 9 How Does Anyone Learn to Spell? The English spelling system is ''deeply opaque,'' with multiple spellings for phonemes, only eight of which are reliable, but even half of those have double spellings. Spelling requires recall memory, while reading only requires recognition, so spelling is more difficult. The author addresses issues of spelling ability predictors: IQ, sex, and reading scores. She provides data on poor instructional methods: learning letter names rather than sound-symbol correspondences, reliance on sight-word memory and random word lists, and divorcing reading and spelling instruction. The author then addresses ''stage models,'' which are based on the assumption that children teach themselves to spell and is grounded in Freudian and Piagetan psychology: stages follow a fixed sequence, do not progress backward; old learning is integrated into a new stage and is generalized to new tasks. Stages cannot be taught. This is in contrast to a learning model, in which new skills are gained through training and not a biological program, as is implicit in the stage model. And, according to the author, reading and spelling are the result of learning, not of biological stages. She critically evaluates the literature on ''spelling stages,'' which is weak. Research on poor spellers has found they score below good spellers on reading tests although they did not differ on tests of verbal IQ. They are likely to be poor spellers because they are poor readers and do not read enough to see different spelling patterns. The author also includes instructional tips for teaching spelling, such as writing out words.
Chapter 10: The Many-Word Problem The English spelling code is made up of hundreds of patterns worth teaching: this is the ''many word problem.'' It is impossible to teach all of the exceptions. This problem doesn't exist in languages with ''transparent'' writing systems. For the brain to solve the many-word problem, it must see a lot of print. Stanovich and West (1989) explored this: the best predictor of spelling ability was the author recognition test, designed to determine reading habits.
Aaron et al. (1998) studied the spelling of profoundly deaf children compared to hearing children to tease out the effects of phonological awareness on spelling. Aaron proposed that deaf readers rely on ''statistical probabilities in spelling sequences,'' a ''frequency model'' (p. 284). In addition, while hearing children rely more on phoneme-grapheme patterns, deaf children rely on visual processing. However, on further tests, it was found this visual memory alone is not enough to spell common English words that were flashed on a screen for a short period of time; deaf children performed worse on this test than hearing children. Here the author moves into a discussion of computer models of reading and the question of which model fit the way humans read. Computer models of reading are statistical and process structural redundancy in the input, using feedback from the environment about success. Input on a word is processed in a parallel rather than disconnected pathway, taking into consideration the contextual dependencies of the entire word. All information about a word, such as phonology and syntax, is accessed at once. The author found methodological problems with the research on computer models: there were too many factors involved in reading for the computer programs to account for. Seidenburg and McClelland (1989) and Plaut et al. (1996) found that ''attractor networks'' in computers can decode new words as well as humans, through ''recurrent connections,'' feedback within the system, in deciding on the most consistent interpretation of input (p. 311). Whether or not the human brain does this, the author points out, is a problem for the future (p. 312).
Chapter 11 New Directions for the Twentieth Century This chapter summarizes the book and makes suggestions for future. Whole word methods don't work; teach the code: that is, the sounds of the language and the written symbols that represent them. We have a prototype for effective phonics instruction. We need to know now which specific features of phonics methodology works best: e.g. are kinesthetic/actions and other ''extras'' incorporated into phonics lessons really helpful to learning to read? Is phonemic awareness training beyond linguistic phonics needed in beginning readers? In addition, some research should be done on the effects of rereading and its effect on speed, accuracy, comprehension, and transfer effects. More work also needs to be done researching and designing programs that teach the advanced spelling code: that is, the 136 common spelling alternatives: work to date suggests that teaching this not only improves spelling but also reading and reading comprehension (Smith 1999).
Computer models of reading imply that computer programs simulate how the human brain reads. The author has found problems in the research design of these studies, such as their word lists used to ''train'' the computer program on the input. In addition, the research is based on logical fallacies: e.g., that speed of reading words aloud indicates brain processing time, that fluent readers recognize words by sight because it seems that way. ''The idea that you can infer something about perception, cognition, and brain processing from a single measure of simple response time is extremely naïveÿÿNo single measure can reliably predict a reader's efficiency in decoding text'' (p. 342-343). In addition, the author states, ''Our sense that we read whole words instantly by sight via some direct pipeline from the eye to meaning is an illusion. No matter how much something 'seems like' it happens instantly, it does not. Conscious awareness and brain processing run on different clocks'' (p. 344). However, more recent research has shown that the expectations readers bring to the text based on syntax and semantics govern how the text is read'' (p. 344-345). More research should be done in this area.
Appendices: 1. How Nations Cheat on International Literacy Studies 2. Misuse of Statistics 3. Analysis of Word Lists from Treiman et al. 4. Glossary 5. References 6. Author Index 7. Subject Index
CRITICAL EVALUATION Overall this is a very thorough review of the current and past literature on reading instruction. The author's main thesis is that this research shows that phonics is superior to whole word methods in early reading instruction and that we have a prototype of good phonics instruction; it is now time to move on and stop investigating the differences between whole word and phonics methods. She repeats this point ad nauseam. Her evaluation of the state of reading research is scathing, from the poorly designed studies that nevertheless make it into refereed journals, poor dissemination of results due to publication policies that allow poorly designed studies into the top journals while well-designed studies go begging, to repeated investigation of the same research questions we already the answer to. Throughout the author calls for more and better research.
The book is densely packed with ideas, information, and statistics throughout and can be hard to follow. It is at times repetitive, making the same points over and over again: e.g. we now know the best method to teach reading and the prototype of a good phonics program. The last chapter basically just reiterates these points.
In addition, some of the chapters are jumbled. For example, chapter 10 covers too many topics from spelling instruction to computer models of reading, making the chapter difficult for the reader to process.
A last quibble is that the author seems to spend a lot of time promoting her own phonics program. Her bias for phonics instruction over whole word methods is apparent, but after reading the evidence, it would appear with due cause. Apart from the concerns mentioned, this is a thorough and thoughtful review of the literature on early reading instruction.
REFERENCES Aaron, P. G., Keetay, V., Boyd, M., Palmatier, S, and Wacks, J. (1998). Spelling without phonology: A study of deaf children. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 10, 1-22.
Bus, A. G., and van Ijzendoorn, M. H. (1999). Phonological awareness and early reading: A meta- analysis of experimental training studies. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 403-414.
Mullis, I. V. S., Campbell, J. R., and Farstrup, A. E. (1993). National assessment of educational progress 1992: Reading report card for the nation and states. Washington, D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education.
National Reading Panel (2000). Report. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Plaut, D. C., McClelland, J. L., Seidenberg, M. S., and Patterson, K. (1996). Understanding normal and impaired word reading: Computational principles in quasi-regular domains. Psychology Review, 103, 56- 115.
Samuels, S. J. (1972). The effect of letter-name knowledge on learning to read. American Educational Research Journal, 9, 65-74.
Seidenburg, M. S. and McClelland, J. L. (1989) A distributed, developmental model of word recognition and naming. Psychological Review, 96, 523-568.
Smith, A. A. (1999). The simple logic of sound-to- letter mapping: A reversible code. Unpublished master's thesis, Massey University, Albany, New Zealand.
Stahl, S. A. and Miller, P. D. (1989). Whole language and language experience approaches for beginning reading: A quantitative research synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 59, 87-116.
Stanovich, K. E. and West, R. (1989) Exposure to print and orthographic processing. Reading Research Quarterly, 24, 402-433.
Treiman, R. (1994).Use of consonant letter names in beginning spelling. Developmental Psychology, 30, 567-580.
Varnhagen, C. K., McCallum, M., and Burstown, M. (1997). Is children's spelling naturally stage-like? Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 9, 451- 481
Wimmer, H. (1993). Characteristics of developmental dyslexia in a regular writing system. Applied Psycholinguistics, 14, 1-33.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Stacia Levy is an English and education professor in California. She recently completed her dissertation, which examined the vocabulary patterns found in college student and professional writing. Her areas of research interest include academic writing instruction, adolescent literacy, and vocabulary acquisition.