Friday, June 5, 2020

SSP proponents and their tale of the three legged rabbit

On 5.4.2020 I saw a tweet that had my name tagged along with a few others. I copied some extracts from the article linked to the tweet and when I wanted to respond the tweet disappeared together with the linked article.

You may find the thread here.

 Here are extracts from the article and my comments.

Jennie @Jennie52672752

If we favour one way to learn to read …., we push students who can’t/don’t learn that way to the margins.

The above is what I have been harping on for a decade. It does not matter which way we teach as long as we teach in a way that kids will not disengage/shut down from learning to read. 

By shut down, I mean many kids will stop listening to teachers when they are confused. They will find excuses to leave the class or stay away from class when reading lessons are held. This was already made known to Dr. David Boulton and his gang on Children of the Code by many children who were interviewed 15 years ago. 

Whether you teach using phonics (whatever kind) or whole language, kids will not disengage from learning to read if the consonants are not taught with extraneous sounds. I will take on anyone who wants to debate me on this matter. Teaching this foundational skill is the most important as far as teaching kids to learn to read is concerned.

You state in your twitter feed that “The entire vignette uses weasel words like "allegedly scientifically evidenced skills" to imply that what we know about the brain and language acquisition is contentious, and that using this knowledge to teach privileges some children over others.” We were referring to the McKnight et al article that questions what evidence-based is in the field of education. Not that we think the evidence around the teaching of phonics etc is ‘alleged’. We actually stated that there is evidentiary weight for the teaching of phonics. We never stated that phonics should not be taught.

I don’t think there should be any question on the efficacy of teaching phonics. Phonics should be taught and it definitely is an effective and efficient way of teaching a kid to read. However, I do not agree with the SSP proponents who insist that nothing else works. That is similar to a fable where a prince caught a three-legged rabbit and insisted that all rabbits are three-legged. 

What do we know about the brain and language acquisition? From experience, in testing kids who came to me for tuition in 3 languages, I realized that there is no problem with language acquisition. The dyslexia advocates keep insisting that it is a language acquisition problem when in fact it is not. All my students spoke good English and Malay. Those who went to Chinese schools could also speak Mandarin and their own Chinese dialect.

The problem is with reading in English. Kids do not have a problem with reading in Malay. Their problem is learning to read in English. They cannot read because of confusion created by teachers teaching the wrong pronunciation of phonemes of consonants. 

I agree totally with your statement that, “If John can't read, and with adjustments to his instruction he might learn more effectively, then don't the Disability Standards in Education demand that we make those adjustments?” And yes, its vital we need to know the needs of our learners. And yes, I agree that “If the PSC helps us understand the needs of our learners, isn't that a good thing?”. As our article discusses, it’s the reasons why it is being implemented beyond knowing how kids learn that is concerning to us.

What do all learners need? They need to be taught the correct sound symbol skills. Why is this difficult to get through to educators? All educators may get together and question me and I will prove beyond doubt what kids need, to learn to read.

The simple answer is that any practice that is one size fits all and narrowed by the use of scripts, as some programs are, do not allow for adjustments. Adjustments are central to equitable practice. The PSC uses an SSP approach which is not the only approach to teaching phonics and has never been ‘tested’ by comparing it to other approaches. Unless you refer to a 20 year old Scottish research report used in the famous Reading Panel, that assessed the progress of 60 or so kids there has been nothing since.

This ‘one size does not fit all’ nonsense has been used to defend wrong teaching ever since someone said it in 1996. There is only ‘one size that fits all’ when it comes to teaching sound symbol skills. I will take on any educator/ researcher/ scientist who says otherwise.

Agreed, SSP is not the only approach and may not even be the best approach. Teach kids basic phonics like they did 30 to 50 years ago and get kids to learn the Dolch Words (Most frequently used words) and all kids will be able to read in no time.

I have taught my students using simple phonics and Dolch words and it has worked. Recently a group of teachers in Australia is using this method and teaching 5 and 6 years old kids to learn to read.  

Theories allow academics to do this. I also hope that teachers can critique what they are asked to do and not blindly follow practices that are determined by their employer.

​Do not blindly follow people with a vested interest who insist on certain ways. Learn from experienced people who speak more than one language and who gladly share what they have learned with no ulterior motives.

Let us work together to reduce illiteracy around the world.

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