Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Learning to Read - Richard Gentry - Part 2


Here is the article referred to in Karen Vaite’s tweet.

The following are extracts from the article.


It takes time—grapheme by grapheme from left to right; Dehaene says, “Beginners need to be told how it works.” Here's an example. Effortful analysis of a word such as rat, along with active engagement and feedback from the teacher, might require the first grader’s teacher to employ modeling and prompts in word study lessons,

Teacher: “Today, we will be learning and listening to our new words for this week. Listen to all the sounds, and then you say the word after me. Ready? The first word is rat. Rrraaat. Rat.”


Yes, this is how I teach my students. Listen to how my son pronounces the sounds of the letters in the first lesson found here.

My question to all the educators is why many kids in classes teaching sounds of letters without extraneous sounds as illustrated by Dehaene, Sue Lloyd and Stephen Parker still end up with kids being unable to read like the majority? 


Professor Dehaene champions three main variables that predict success: 

1) Teaching of graphemes-phoneme relations (phonics and spelling);

 2) increasing the size of the child’s spoken vocabulary; and 

3) in his words, motivating the child to “read, read, read!” 

The more the child reads, the bigger the vocabulary and the more likely to have growth of essential background knowledge for comprehension.


Yes, teach kids to decode and learn spelling. The child’s spoken vocabulary will be increased by listening to parents, friends, teachers and others and by listening to good TV programmes. Children should be encouraged to read but vocabulary and comprehension can be increased by adults reading books to them.  


In his book, Reading in the Brain, he asserts that whole language “does not fit with the architecture of our visual brain” (2009, p. 195) and goes on to say, “Cognitive psychology directly refutes any notion of teaching via a 'global' or 'whole language method'” (2009, p. 219). In the keynote, Dehaene is quite specific:

I claim that whole language or even balanced literacy confuses the attention of a child. What you all need is to focus on phonics [and spelling].

Do not use three-cueing.

Do not guess from context or from the word’s shape.

Guessing plays no role; it’s all in the letter string (the spelling).


Why does Dehaene spoil a good talk with nonsense that he knows or ought to know is untrue?

Where is the evidence that whole language does not go with the architecture of the visual brain?

How did all those who studied during the whole language period learn to read?

How does balanced literature confuse the attention of a child?

Who teaches to guess from word shape?  

How does a child figure out a word such as island if not from context when he first encounters the word in his reading?

How does a child pronounce the word windy in a sentence such as, I drove down a windy road on a windy day, if not from context?

Yes, letter string is paramount but the other tools available for decoding/ pronouncing words are also important.

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