Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Andrew P. Johnson's flawed views on phonics

Andrew P Johnson is a professor from Minnesota State University, Mankota.

           "The Problems with Phonics-Only Reading Programs
            Students who are struggling readers are often given programs that involve only direct instruction of phonics or other reading sub-skills (McCormick & Zutell, 2011).  There are four problems with these types of phonics-only programs:"

My comment: The above is a sweeping statement which will mislead many readers including teachers, students and parents. It is highly irresponsible for a professor to make sweeping statements which will mislead readers. Firstly, how many programmes teach only direct phonics? More importantly, it is not phonics that is the culprit but the teaching of phonemes by many teachers who do not know the letter sounds. 

  1. "Only about 50% of students with reading difficulties struggle because of phonetic difficulties. By assigning phonics-only instruction to all students with reading difficulties you are prescribing the same medicine for all regardless of the specific cause of the reading difficulty".
My comment: This is nonsense. Where did Andrew P. Johnson get this statistics from? Again, how many teachers teach phonics-only instruction? What are the specific causes of reading difficulties? I believe books that make sweeping statements like the above should be banned before they cause a further downward spiral in illiteracy rate which is already too high.
  1. Phonics-only programs focus on only one of the ten essential elements and only one of six word identification strategies. Thus, you end up with 1/10th of a reading program that provides 1/6th of the total strategies necessary to identify words.  
     My comment: How many programmes are ‘Phonics only programmes’? What an idiotic statement to say that Phonics programmes teach only one of the ten essential elements. 

The problem is that other professors will quote Andrew P. Johnson similar to more than a hundred professors who have been quoting a professor who had in the 1980’s written that ‘phonological awareness deficit’ is the cause of children being unable to read. 

          3.Students with severe reading disabilities often have trouble processing grapho-phonemic information as they read (Spear-Swerling, 2004). This means they are not very good at using phonics to identify words as they read. Phonics-only program focus only on what students can’t do well.  This is like trying to teach a one-handed person to clap.  And worse, the other two cuing systems (semantic and syntactic) are not developed.  Phonics instruction should still be included; however, you must also include strategies that enhance students’ abilities to use syntax and semantics (described in the next chapter).

My comment: Quoting Spear-Swerling does not make what Andrew P.Johnson write to be correct. Soon there will be professors quoting Andrew P. Johnson who does not appear to know much about why students have trouble processing ‘grapho-phonemic’ information as they read. I have written articles on why kids find it difficult to learn to read. It is because they have not been taught phonemes properly. It is because kids tune-off when things do not make sense to them.

Furthermore, Andrew’s analogy of the one-handed person taught to clap and students who cannot read well because they are not good at using phonics is downright ridiculous. Has anyone ever seen a one handed guy clap after undergoing training? On the other hand there are numerous teachers, including me, who have taught disengaged students using phonics and Dolch words.

4. In general, phonics-only programs do not work (Gaskins, 2011). The National Institute for Child Health and Development (NICHD, 2000) reported that early emphasis on code-oriented activities enhances performance on phonological awareness and pseudo-word pronunciation tasks but does not produce reliable gains on word reading or text comprehension.  Instructional strategies that focus on identifying lists of words out of context is not authentic reading and does not teach students to read in authentic ways because it eliminates syntax and semantics as word identification strategies. 

My comment: I am sure all of you, except perhaps Andrew Johnson that is, will agree that syntax and semantics can come a little later. Let a child get a firm grasp of grapheme/phoneme relationship first. How does one teach syntax and semantics to kids who do not know a word of English?

The article continues with the following statement which is very detrimental to kids and completely erroneous.

· Teach the minimum amount of phonics necessary.

My comment: I am dead against the ludicrous statement above.For years now UK, US, Australia and NZ have stated categorically that phonics is the way to teach and here comes a clown purportedly a PhD who says otherwise.

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