Thursday, November 19, 2020

Reading with your kid podcast - A revisit - Dr. Kathryn Garforth


The following are extracts of the Podcast. You may listen to the podcast  here.

Dr. Kathryn Garforth:

         Reading can be broken down into two components:

i.                     Decoding words

ii.                   Understand the meaning / language comprehension.


Jedlie asked:

Are you able to describe what exactly dyslexia is?

Dr. Kathryn Garforth replied:

Public view of dyslexia – it is a reading disability.

Professionally speaking – when you are talking about a disability in reading that is a specific learning disorder in reading and that is decoding of the words. Someone with dyslexia struggles with word identification and not necessarily with language comprehension. So, when they are struggling is when they are trying to figure out what those words on the page say and how to put those together.

A large weakness that dyslexics most commonly have is something called Phonological awareness – specifically phonemic awareness.

My comment: From both the public view and professional view of dyslexia, as above, it appears that any kid who struggles to read is a dyslexic. 

From my experience of having taught kids who struggle to read I find that a majority of such kids are shut-down kids who disengage from learning to read due to confusion. The confusion is a result of bad instruction.

I had discussed with Dr. Kathryn on phonological awareness but she appears adamant. My question is, how it is possible for a kid, with phonological awareness deficit, to read in Malay and many other languages.

On the other hand,is it phonemic awareness deficit that is the problem? I believe not. Many teachers are teaching the wrong pronunciation of phonemes of consonants and then calling it a phonemic awareness problem. 

Back in 2018 I had written a blog post on my unsuccessful attempt to get Baby TV to remove their episode of ‘Charlie and the alphabet’. It is this kind of wrong teaching of pronunciation of phonemes of consonants that confuse kids who then disengage from learning to read.

Jedlie then asked the following question:

We teach that ‘c’ is for cat and ‘a’ is for apple. We are not letting them know early enough that ‘a’ is for apple most of the time but there are other times when ‘a’ makes (represents) a different sound. When should we introduce that idea to the kids?

The following was Dr. Kathryn Garforth’s response to the above question which I believe did not answer the question. Her answer appears to promote Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP).

I advocate a Systematic Synthetic approach in teaching phonics. So, phonics is the instruction between the letters and the sounds they represent. There are a few letters that have a one to one correspondence.

First, you need to understand the connection between letters and sound and be able to sound out the word.

There are 5 parts to reading i. Phonological awareness, ii Phonics, iii. Vocabulary, iv. Fluency and v. Comprehension.

My comment: This appears to be the standard answer. The definition of reading as given by Dr. Garforth is ‘decoding words’.

Without decoding a child cannot read let alone vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. 

The foundation of learning to read is decoding.

Phonics is sound symbol skills + Blending ability.

As such, if we do not teach the correct pronunciation of phonemes of consonants (sound symbol skills) how can we expect kids to learn to read?

Thank goodness a few kids somehow learn intuitively and a majority figure out after wasting an inordinate amount of time. We should be concerned about the kids who shut down from learning to read who are then wrongly classified as dyslexic.

Dr. Kathryn had promised to respond to my questions or comment on my post found here.

I hope Dr.Kathryn Garforth will be able to assist us with the questions raised.

Note : You may access Reading with your kids podcast at

Jed Doherty @Jedliemagic does a great podcast and asks questions about things that matter. I find that he is a very good listener.


1 comment:

Kathryn said...

I do not believe nor have I ever said that anyone who struggles to read is dyslexic. There are several reasons for someone to struggle with reading and all of them deserve to learn how to read. There are the disengaged students as you call them and I feel these students would not make the diagnostic criteria set out in the DSM-5 for a Specific Learning Disability because after your intensive intervention they were able to read. There are even more requirements for struggling readers to meet the diagnostic criteria for dyslexia.

Every struggling reader does not have a specific learning disability. Every individual with a specific learning disability does not meet the diagnostic criteria for dyslexia.

Teachers come to teaching with a variety of different backgrounds and the majority of them are not linguists or have an extensive background in the English language to understand how to teach reading. They will often make the mistake you talk about pronouncing the sounds of letters with extraneous vowel sounds.
It is easier to ask teachers to follow a packaged program then expect them to do an in-depth study of English. It also takes a lot of effort to create your own phonics program. Why reinvent the wheel when there are programs that are available that have been proven effective when used appropriately. In an ideal world, these programs and the resources needed to use them would be made freely available to everyone who needs them.
I advocate for systematic, synthetic phonics because of the research that supports its effectiveness over other methods of phonics instruction. I suggest SATPIN to start with because of numerous free resources that are available online.

I do not believe that reading only consists of decoding words, I believe that word recognition has to do with decoding words.
The goal of reading instruction is for the individual to become a skilled reader. This requires the individual to work on their word reading and their ability to understand language. This can be worked on simultaneously. Educators can work on language comprehension and decoding at the same time.

I am not sure how you can generalize my comments from a podcast directed at parents and reading to their kids to my philosophy as a whole on education and teaching best practices.