Phonics Claimd To Be Pushed By Feds

Douglas Bigham TlhovwI at AOL.COM
Thu Sep 12 04:32:14 UTC 2002

I wasn't intending, in any way, to dismiss phonics.  I have done my fair
share of reading on these kinds of teaching issues, and from what I've
gathered, I assumed that most instructors were convinced that a whole
word/phonics combined approach was as good as an approach can get.  I was
(apparently poorly) trying to make a joke.  i.e. Since I wasn't taught
phonics, I couldn't type out the *raspberry* sound, so all I could say was
the word "raspberry".  And it wasn't "phonics-- the approach" that was
*raspberry*ed, but rather the allegedly sketchy way that Bush was pushing it.
 I had originally included yet another anecdote of how my purely whole-word
teaching was a problem for me until the thrid grade when I was taught
phonics, but decided to leave it out for the sake of a punch-line.

Again, I do apologize for any offense that was received.

Douglas S. Bigham
University of Texas - Austin

P.S.   Everyone KNOWS that the singular of "data" isn't "anecdote".... it's
"anecdote that I remembered to write down".

In a message dated 9/10/2002 11:20:09 PM Central Daylight Time,
faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU writes:

> I've been biting my (metaphorical) tongue for all of this discussion, for
> reasons I'll get to in a moment. But I can't let this statement pass. What
> you report is an anecdote. The plural of anecdote is *not* data.
> Participants in this mailing list are not typical of English speakers, in a
> lot of ways, and it's dangerous to generalize too much from our experience.
> Some percentage of children (I have no idea what the actual percentage
> would be) are going to learn to read no matter how they're taught. Chances
> are that many of us are in that group. There are some children who, for
> whatever reason, are going to have extreme difficulty, no matter how
> they're taught. And then there are the kids in the middle.
> For many, many years, part of the research program here at Haskins has
> involved the psycholinguistics of reading. I'm not directly involved in
> this on-going research, but colleagues and friends of mine are, and I'm
> familiar with both published and unpublished findings. Part of what they
> look at is what skills are involved in reading, both from the perspective
> of predicting which pre-school kids are going to have the most difficulty
> in learning to read and from the perspective of trying to figure out why
> adults (and older children) with reading difficulties are having these
> difficulties. The single most important skill is "phonemic awareness", the
> ability to break words into components and to group phonologically similar
> words together. If you don't get that /si/ and /su/ (<see> and <sue>) start
> with the same sound, /s/, it's going to be hard to deal with the notion
> that the letter stands for the sound /s/. And, without this notion,
> it's going to be pretty hard to learn new words through the medium of
> print.
> A lot of kids figure this out without explicit instruction, sometimes
> before entering school. Other kids make the appropriate inferences as they
> learn mappings between whole word orthographic and phonological forms. In
> other words, explicit instruction in phoneme-grapheme correspondences isn't
> always necessary to learning to read. It's *possible* to learn to
> read--including learning phoneme- grapheme correspondences--without
> explicit instruction in phonics. But some kids who don't get phonics
> training *don't* learn this part of the system, or don't learn it very
> well. So, what to do? Well, research done at Haskins and elsewhere suggests
> that explicit and early training in phonological structure (in the form of
> games and rhymes) will jump-start reading for a lot of kids.
> These same colleagues have been working for several years on a
> Federally-funded demonstration project in Connecticut and Rhode Island in
> which teachers work together with research fellows on developing materials
> and classroom techniques for teaching reading in the early primary grades.
> Integral to this program is evaluation of the effectiveness of the
> techniques, based on improvements in standardized test scores. (There's
> some information on the initiative at the Haskins web site
> <>; elsewhere on the
> Haskins web page, there are bibliographic links, though not in a format in
> which it's easy to find specific references--I'll post some actual
> bibliography tomorrow, if I don't get caught up in hardware crises.)
> This leads to the final, touchier, issue, that of profit. There's a lot of
> money in publishing these packages of instructional materials that can be
> adopted by entire school districts at one fell swoop. There's money for the
> people who develop the programs, and there's money for the publishers. That
> doesn't mean that the programs are educationally unsound or based on bad
> science; likewise, of course, it doesn't mean that they're well-founded.
> Only time--and testing scores (on well-established and well-normed
> instruments)--will tell.
> I'm not going to comment at all on the political agenda, aside from saying
> that the fact that I disagree with Politician X on some issues doesn't
> obligate me to consider him or her wrong on *all* issues. Politics makes
> strange bedfellows, and even a blind squirrel can find an acorn...
> --
> ==============================================================================
> Alice Faber
> faber at
> Haskins Laboratories                                  tel: (203) 865-6163
> x258
> New Haven, CT 06511 USA                                     fax (203)
> 865-8963

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